Researchers found that about 3.6% of US adults–or upward of 8.4 million–are prone to sleepwalking. Their research also showed an association between nocturnal wanderings and certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety. The study, the researchers noted, "underscores the fact that sleepwalking is much more prevalent in adults than previously appreciated."
Maurice Ohayon, MD, DSc, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford University, is the lead author of the paper, which appears in the May 15 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
For this study, the first to use a large, representative sample of the US general population to demonstrate the number of sleepwalkers, the researchers also aimed to evaluate the importance of medication use and mental disorders associated with sleepwalking. Ohayon and his colleagues secured a sample of 19,136 individuals from 15 states and then used phone surveys to gather information on participants’ mental health, medical history, and medication use.
Participants were asked specific questions related to sleepwalking, including frequency of episodes during sleep, duration of the sleep disorder, and any inappropriate or potentially dangerous behaviors during sleep. Those who didn’t report any episodes in the last year were asked if they had sleepwalked during their childhood. Participants were also queried about whether there was a family history of sleepwalking and whether they had other parasomnia symptoms, such as sleep terrors and violent behaviors during sleep.
The researchers determined that as many as 3.6% of the sample reported at least one episode of sleepwalking in the previous year, with 1% saying they had two or more episodes in a month. Because of the number of respondents who reported having episodes during childhood or adolescence, lifetime prevalence of sleepwalking was found to be 29.2%.
The study also showed that people with depression were 3.5 times more likely to sleepwalk than those without, and people with alcohol abuse/dependence or obsessive-compulsive disorder were also significantly more likely to have sleepwalking episodes. In addition, individuals taking SSRI antidepressants were three times more likely to sleepwalk twice a month or more than those who didn’t.
Among the researchers’ other findings:
- The duration of sleepwalking was mostly chronic, with just over 80% of those who have sleepwalked reporting they’ve done so for more than 5 years.
- Sleepwalking was not associated with gender and seemed to decrease with age.
- Nearly one-third of individuals with nocturnal wandering had a family history of the disorder.
- People using over-the-counter sleeping pills had a higher likelihood of reporting sleepwalking episodes at least two times per month.