What causes walking or performing other activities while asleep and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to find yourself walking around your house, completely unaware of what you’re doing? Or perhaps you’ve been told stories of your nocturnal activities, like rearranging furniture or even cooking meals, without any recollection of these events the next morning. These experiences are known as sleepwalking, a type of parasomnia that involves unconscious movement during sleep. In this article, we will explore what causes sleepwalking and other nocturnal activities, as well as how to treat them.

Sleepwalking: Understanding the Phenomenon

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder that falls under the category of parasomnias. It typically occurs during the deep stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, usually within the first few hours after falling asleep. Sleepwalkers may engage in a variety of activities while asleep, ranging from simple actions like sitting up in bed to more complex behaviors like walking, talking, or even driving a car.

While the exact cause of sleepwalking is still not fully understood, several factors have been identified as potential triggers:

  • Genetics: Sleepwalking tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition.
  • Stress and anxiety: Emotional distress can increase the likelihood of sleepwalking episodes.
  • Sleep deprivation: Lack of sufficient sleep or poor sleep quality can contribute to sleepwalking.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, may be associated with sleepwalking.
  • Medications and substances: Some medications, as well as alcohol and illicit drugs, can increase the risk of sleepwalking.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Sleepwalking can manifest in various ways, and the severity of the symptoms can vary from person to person. Some common signs of sleepwalking include:

  • Getting out of bed and walking around the house or other locations.
  • Performing routine activities, such as dressing or undressing, without awareness.
  • Talking or mumbling incoherently while asleep.
  • Having a blank or glassy-eyed expression.
  • Being difficult to wake up during an episode.
  • Having no memory of the event upon awakening.

If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms regularly, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and guidance on treatment options.

Treating Sleepwalking and Nocturnal Activities

While there is no specific cure for sleepwalking, certain measures can help manage and reduce the frequency of episodes. Here are some strategies that may be beneficial:

1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Routine

Creating a regular sleep schedule can promote better sleep hygiene and reduce the likelihood of sleepwalking. Aim for a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.

2. Create a Safe Sleeping Environment

Remove any potential hazards from the bedroom that could cause injury during a sleepwalking episode. Keep the floor clear of objects, lock windows and doors, and consider using safety gates if necessary.

3. Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or meditation, before bedtime can help alleviate stress and anxiety that may contribute to sleepwalking.

4. Improve Sleep Quality

Ensure your sleep environment is conducive to quality rest. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Avoid stimulating activities, such as using electronic devices or consuming caffeine, close to bedtime.

5. Medication and Therapy

In some cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe medications or recommend therapy options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to manage sleepwalking and associated sleep disorders.

6. Safety Measures

If sleepwalking poses a significant risk, implementing safety measures can help prevent accidents. Installing alarms or bells on doors, using motion-activated nightlights, or sleeping on the ground floor can provide added protection.


Sleepwalking and other nocturnal activities can be puzzling and potentially disruptive to both the individual experiencing them and those around them. While the exact causes of these behaviors are not fully understood, various factors such as genetics, stress, and sleep deprivation can contribute to their occurrence. By implementing strategies to improve sleep hygiene, reduce stress, and create a safe sleeping environment, individuals can effectively manage sleepwalking episodes. If symptoms persist or significantly impact daily life, seeking professional guidance is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment. Remember, a good night’s sleep is crucial for overall well-being, and addressing sleep disorders can lead to improved quality of life.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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