Tips for Helping a Loved One Who Sleepwalks

Nov 15, 2023

 Tips for Helping a Loved One Who Sleepwalks

Don’t wake up a sleepwalker. It’s dangerous for you and the sleepwalker. You’re probably familiar with this sleepwalking tip, but it’s not entirely correct.

While it’s always better to guide a sleepwalker back to bed rather than wake them up, you should wake a sleepwalker if they’re going to hurt themselves or someone else.

Sleep medicine expert Dr. Rajendra Rampersaud at NY Metro Sleep in The Bronx, New York, diagnoses and treats sleep disorders like sleepwalking. The goal of treatment is to keep the sleepwalker safe.

 In this month’s blog, we want to share some tips on how you can help a loved one who sleepwalks so you can keep them safe.

About sleepwalking

Seeing your loved one sleepwalking is a bit unsettling. They engage in activities like they’re awake but are actually in a deep state of sleep and completely unaware of what they’re doing.

Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia, a sleep disorder category in which someone engages in unusual behaviors while they sleep, like talking, eating, or walking. Night terrors are also a type of parasomnia. 

When someone sleepwalks, they get out of bed and walk around and may engage in odd activities like moving furniture or climbing out a window. 

Sleepwalking occurs during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, a deep sleep that starts early during the cycle. During this stage of sleep, it’s harder to wake someone up, which is why a sleepwalker may not respond when you call out their name or touch them. 

Sleepwalking episodes can last a few seconds or more than 30 minutes. Children and young adults are more likely to sleepwalk, and the sleep disorder tends to run in families.

Tips for helping sleepwalkers

Whether you should wake your sleepwalker or not depends on their engaged activities. Keeping your sleepwalker safe is the priority. Most sleepwalkers return to bed soon after getting up. You can help your sleepwalker stay safe by gently guiding them back to bed.

Other tips for keeping your sleepwalker safe include:

  • Locking windows and doors
  • Putting up safety gates in doorways and at the top of stairs
  • Keeping breakable and dangerous items out of reach
  • Clearing the floor of clutter

Don’t yell out or roughly grab your sleepwalker. Aggressively waking someone up during NREM triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, and your sleepwalker may lash out to protect themselves. You should only wake your sleepwalker if they risk hurting themselves or someone else. 

When to see a specialist

Occasional sleepwalking isn’t a major health concern but something you should mention to your loved one's primary care provider. You should see a sleep specialist, however, if your loved one:

  • Sleepwalks frequently
  • Engages in dangerous activities while sleepwalking
  • Starts sleepwalking as an adult
  • Has excessive daytime sleepiness from sleepwalking

At our practice, we review symptoms, medical history, and your loved one’s sleep routine. We may also do a sleep study to confirm or rule out an underlying sleep disorder responsible for sleepwalking. Finding the root cause of the sleep behavior helps direct our treatment.

Treatment may include management of an underlying condition, adding or adjusting medications to improve sleep, psychotherapy, or a combination of these. 

Are you worried about your loved one’s sleepwalking? We can help. Call our office today or use the online booking feature to make an appointment.