5 Things That Can Cause Sleepwalking, Even Though You'd Never Expect Them To, According To Experts
Sleep is a lot of things — good, bad, necessary — but there’s one adjective you rarely hear shut-eye being described as, and that’s eerie. I’m not referring to those weird, almost nightmarish dreams you wake up from in a fog that leave you searching for the right words to communicate what you experienced throughout the night. Rather, I’m talking about sleepwalking, and the fact that you could be out of bed and roaming the halls without realizing you are. Personally, it gives me the creeps, which is why I need to know all the things that can cause sleepwalking. That way, at least, I can do everything in my power to lock that bedtime behavior down-pat.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply that, if you’re a sleepwalker, it’s something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, because it’s not. In fact, according to data collected by UK-based mattress and bed retailer, Mattress Online, 4 percent of adults in the UK (aka roughly 5 million people) are regular sleepwalkers. I’m just a naturally anxious person, so the idea of roaming my apartment in the dark without being fully conscious of it makes me feel just the slightest bit uneasy. But I digress.
It's also worth noting that, as common as sleepwalking is in adults, it’s even more likely for a child to be a sleepwalker. Per statistics that Mattress Online shared with Elite Daily via email, 40 percent of children will sleepwalk at least once between the ages of 3 and 8 years old, while 3 to 5 percent of children sleepwalk on the reg. Chances are, you've been there, too. Just ask your parents.
And on that note, it’s one thing to be the person who’s sleepwalking, but I can only imagine it’s a whole other ballgame trying to get a sleepwalker — whether they’re a child or full-grown adult — back to bed. But to set the record straight, sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo, Chris Brantner, tells Elite Daily that even though rumor has it that waking a sleepwalker is “dangerous,” he’d like to put that myth to rest ASAP.
Waking up a sleepwalker isn't dangerous in the way that the urban legend describes. Basically, the thought stems from the belief that, during sleep, a person's soul leaves their body, and if you wake them, their soul won't be able to return, Brantner explains. "That myth later morphed into the belief that waking a sleepwalker could cause a heart attack or other dangerous consequence," he tells Elite Daily. But the truth is, the only real "danger" that could come from waking up a sleepwalker is injury, either to themselves or others, depending on how they act out in response to your attempt at waking them.
"If you absolutely must wake a sleepwalker, don't shake them," Brantner warns. "You have no idea how they will interpret your actions in their state, and they could react violently. Instead, try to use loud noises from a safe distance."
But while it can be useful to know how to wake a sleepwalker, it's also good to know what causes sleepwalking in the first place so that you can prevent yourself from developing this fascinating, yet slightly strange habit. Here are some of the most common causes of sleepwalking, according to experts.
You're Drinking Caffeine Too Close To Bedtime
Back in August 2017, Michelle Miller, Physio Logic's clinical nutritionist, told Elite Daily that, ideally, you should give yourself six to eight hours of time in between your last cup of coffee and the time you plan on going to bed. The reason being, caffeine makes it harder for your body to wind down, so if you consume caffeine later in the day, it's probably safe to assume you'll be staying up a bit late that night. That, or your sleep quality will likely be poor.
"Caffeine makes it difficult to get into deep sleep," Brantner tells Elite Daily over email. When your body is in non-REM sleep mode — meaning your brain isn't active, but your body is still capable of moving — that's when you're most likely to sleepwalk. In other words, caffeine doesn't allow your body or brain to give in to sleep fully, making it easier for your body to just get up and go in the middle of the night.
You're Stressed AF
If you wake up in the middle of the night somewhere other than your bed, or a roommate lets you know first thing in the a.m. that they caught you roaming around the apartment during the night, you might want to check your stress levels.
"Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia, making it difficult for the brain to properly shut down and get rest," Brantner says, so be sure to go through your checklist. If there's a hard deadline at work that's making you sweat, or a conflict looming over your head, you might want to get these things sorted out ASAP, for the sake of your sleep.
You Have Poor Sleep Hygiene
If your mind is drawing a blank here, no worries. Prior to it being my job to know what sleep hygiene is, the terminology never rang a bell for me, either. Basically, "[sleep hygiene] focuses on all behaviors that affect sleep, both day and night," Brantner explains — think setting a schedule for your sleep and wake times, making sure you're getting enough sunlight during the day, limiting light exposure at night, as well as caffeine and alcohol consumption, and creating a sleep environment that is relaxing for you.
Without sleep hygiene, you're bound to experience some poor-quality sleep. And what can poor-quality sleep lead to? I'll give you one guess. "Most causes [of sleepwalking] are linked to poor sleep hygiene, so the first thing you should do to curb sleepwalking is take a hard look at your sleep hygiene and improving it," Brantner suggests.
You're Sipping On An Alcoholic Nightcap
In the same way that caffeine makes it hard for your body to hit snooze and stay asleep, alcohol isn't much better for your system. "Alcohol sedates you, but disrupts sleep as the body processes it," Brantner explains, so you might want to switch to a warm glass of milk or herbal tea before bed, instead.
You're Not Getting High-Quality Sleep
Be honest: How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? If the answer is anything but good, it's probably time to re-evaluate your sleep schedule and make any and all adjustments necessary.
Experts from Mattress Online tell Elite Daily that not getting enough or poor-quality sleep, taking too long to fall asleep or falling asleep instantly, and a low-quality sleep environment can all contribute to sleepwalking habits, so you might want to spruce up your sleep space. You can also track your sleep with an app like Sleep Cycle to know for sure what areas need improvement. And, as always, it never hurts to check in with your doc about these things.