Sleepwalking: the causes
Despite the extensive research on the subject, scientists are still struggling to unlock all the secrets of sleep disorders.
According to a study published in the international journal of sleep, 59% of the patients studied present other symptoms parallel to sleepwalking: lack of sleep, anxiety, migraines or depressive states. According to Professor Yves Dauvilliers, head of the study, it is difficult to determine whether these symptoms are causes or consequences of somnambulism.
Genetic predispositions seem to be a factor in somnambulism. According to a study conducted by Bern University Hospital, 80% of sleepwalkers have at least one parent with the same disorder.
In adults, the phenomenon can appear after the age of 20 years. In this case, sleepwalking may be due to emotional trauma or excessive alcohol consumption.
Bedwetting can also cause sleep disturbances, especially in children.
More rarely, epilepsy and taking certain psychotropic drugs can cause sleepwalking attacks.
If the seizures persist or appear after puberty, it is important to consult a doctor. The latter will determine the cause of sleepwalking. He can then recommend a treatment adapted to each case.
Somnambulism: the consequences
Also according to the study conducted by Professor Dauvilliers, in 90% of cases patients do not remember their involuntary acts when they wake up. They become aware of their sleepwalking through the stories of their spouse or the state of the bedroom. Often, sleepwalkers are disoriented when they wake up.
During a seizure, a sleepwalker can behave in ways that are dangerous for him or those around him. While sleeping they may drive, go out in the street or fall. Rare cases of physical violence have been reported.
While somnambulism is not a real danger in itself, it nevertheless has harmful consequences on health. The sleepwalker sleeps less well. He may therefore be prone to insomnia or drowsiness during the day.
Despite popular belief, waking up a sleepwalker carries no neurological risk. To avoid any accident, waking up must be done gently. The individual must be redirected to his bed for a gradual return to reality.
Cause or consequence, depression is common among sleepwalkers. In addition to difficulty in performing daily tasks, depressive states lead to significant consequences on the natural sleep cycle : decrease in total sleep time, reduction in deep sleep, difficult awakenings.
The individual's age and the causes of the sleep disorder have different consequences. Each case must receive specific treatment prescribed by a doctor.
When sleepwalking is detected in adults or adolescents over the age of 16, their lifestyle should be improved. Simple solutions can be applied: have good sleep hygiene, moderate alcohol consumption, avoid stressful situations and do not look at a screen before going to bed. Sleep centers teach these changes to sleepwalkers.
In children, we can practice programmed awakenings. By waking them up 15 to 20 minutes before the average time of onset of seizures, these will diminish until they completely disappear.
Following a medical consultation, a specialist may recommend treatment with benzodiazepines. These are molecules contained in anxiolytics such as valium. By eliminating the phases of deep sleep, these drugs suppress sleepwalking attacks. To be effective this treatment must be used sporadically.
Hypnosis is a drug-free alternative to sleep disorders. The results seem effective and the treatment is of short duration.
When the cause of sleepwalking is of psychological origin, a specialist can intervene. By treating an emotional shock, the involuntary nocturnal acts will disappear.
Somnambulism and sleep apnea
Like sleepwalking, sleep apnea is a parasomnia. An overlay of wakefulness and deep sleep, parasomnias are nocturnal adverse events.
Sleep apnea results in repeated breathing pauses in the sleeper. It causes asphyxiation and a drop in the level of oxygen in the blood. The health consequences can be minor (disturbance in sleep quality, drowsiness) or very serious (hypertension, heart trouble, stroke). Once diagnosed, sleep apnea can be treated effectively.
This sleep disorder is usually caused by obstructions in the pharynx (obstructive sleep apnea syndrome). In some cases, the problem is due to a malfunction of the brainstem (central sleep apnea syndrome). A medical consultation makes it possible to detect the cause of the phenomenon.
In the event of obstructive apnea, small devices make it possible to release the passage of the air and thus, to eliminate the breathing pauses. Back2SleepTM is a nasal stent that is inserted through the nose and whose end reaches the soft palate. It helps maintain regular breathing.
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