What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking or somnambulism is a sleep disorder where the sufferer engages in activities that are normally associated with wakefulness while asleep. While it is more common in children (1-17%) of children, more frequent in boys), sleepwalking can affect people of any age.
Sleepwalking is one mainfestation of the fact that in sleep, certain parts of the brain may not "shut down" properly and sporadically cause outward signs of brain activity. Other examples of this sort of activity are sleeptalking and night terrors. They are techinically disorders of incomplete arousal. Activities such as eating, dressing or even driving cars have also been recorded as taking place while the subjects are technically asleep. There are even very rare instances of sleepwalkers, unknowingly, committing murder while in this trance-like condition. Most cases of sleepwalking, however, usually consist of walking, without the conscious knowledge of the subject.
Sleepwalking is a disorder characterized by complicated actions that result in walking during sleep. Sleepwalkers engage in their activities with their eyes open so they can navigate their surroundings, not with their eyes closed and their arms outstretched as parodied in cartoons and Hollywood productions. The victims eyes may have a glazed or empty appearance and if questioned, the subject will be slow to answer or unresponsive. Sleepwalking behavior can range from simply getting out of bed and walking around the room to driving a car. Sleepwalking usually occurs during the slow-wave stages of non–rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep (stages of sleep in which eye movement does not take place; for details of stages of sleep see Sleep: Understanding the Basics). Persons affected with this disorder usually have their eyes wide open in a stare.