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Sleepwalking a Common Phenomenon in Adults

< May. 16, 2012 > -- Taking a late-night stroll is one thing - doing it while asleep is another thing entirely. Yet more people than researchers expected are affected by sleepwalking.

Photo of man sleepwalking

A study published this week in the journal Neurology reports that just under 30 percent of U.S. adults have sleepwalked at least once. And people with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are especially at risk for sleepwalking.

"Sleepwalking is a really interesting phenomenon in that it represents the brain in different states -- part of the brain, in a sense, is awake, and part is asleep," says B. Tucker Woodson, M.D., at the Medical College of Wisconsin, who wasn't involved in the study.

Sleep habits surveyed

For the study, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine interviewed 19,136 people ages 18 and older from 15 states. They asked participants about their sleep habits, including sleepwalking; general health; medications they took; and any mental disorders they had.

Nearly 30 percent said they had sleepwalked at least once, and 3.6 percent said they had sleepwalked in the last year.

People with a family history of sleepwalking were more likely to sleepwalk. Those who were depressed were 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk, and those with OCD were nearly four times more likely to sleepwalk.

More research needed

Study author Maurice Ohayon, M.D, says it's not clear whether the psychiatric conditions themselves or drugs used to treat them were responsible for the increased number of sleepwalking incidences.

"An association doesn't mean you have a causality link," Dr. Ohayon says. "It means at maximum, the SSRIs are triggering sleepwalking, but are not the cause. That is clear."

Drs. Ohayon and Woodson say more research is needed to explore the factors that contribute to sleepwalking.

"We're learning that other disorders may have similar brain activity . . . with mixed states of wake and sleep," Dr. Woodson says. "I don't think we understand them all that well. Most are not associated with serious medical consequences, but obviously sometimes they can be."

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Are You Getting Enough Shut-Eye?

Chronic lack of sleep can increase your blood pressure, affect your work, and contribute to stress, car accidents, and errors of judgment.

To determine if you're getting enough rest, answer these questions:

  • Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up on time, or feeling refreshed after sleeping?

  • Do you have at least one of the following problems?

    • Low energy

    • Attention, concentration, or memory problems

    • Poor work performance

    • Daytime sleepiness

    • Making errors at work or while driving

    • Frustration or worry about your sleep


If you answered yes to several of these questions, it's likely you're not getting enough sleep. Talk with your doctor if you take steps to get more rest and still have problems with sleep.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Sleep and Sleep Disorders

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep

National Sleep Foundation - Sleepwalking