I recently had a patient come into my clinic complaining of wrist and shoulder pain. As it turns out, the patient fell out of his truck in the middle of the night when he was sleepwalking.
This is the first case that I have encountered in my career of a truck driver injuring themselves from sleepwalking. In light of this, I decided to research the topic in more detail.
The medical term for sleepwalking is somnambulism and refers to the act of getting up and walking around while asleep. Although sleepwalking can occur at any age, children between the ages of four and eight are most likely to suffer from this condition.
Individuals who are sleepwalking usually have a glazed or glassy-eyed expression on their face. Common behaviours during sleepwalking include sitting up in bed, walking around the house opening and closing doors or turning lights on and off. In some cases, people will perform common activities such as housework or even driving a car. Often, sleepwalkers will speak or mumble but may also scream very loudly.
Sleepwalking usually occurs one to two hours after falling asleep. Scientists have concluded that sleepwalking most often occurs during deep sleep and as a result, it rarely occurs during naps.
The frequency at which sleepwalking occurs varies from person to person. It may occur nightly for some individuals or only once for others.
Presently, the causes of sleepwalking are not well understood. It is thought that there are many factors that contribute to this condition. Stress, fatigue, anxiety and certain medications may increase the risk of sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking is also associated with underlying conditions that affect sleep such as migraine headaches, head injuries and restless leg syndrome. It is important to note that alcohol and illegal drug use can also trigger sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking on its own is not a serious medical concern. However, it can become very dangerous if the sleepwalker leaves their home or truck just like in the case of my patient.
If sleepwalking occurs too frequently, it may lead to daytime fatigue.
The diagnosis of sleepwalking is quite simple. Your doctor will determine the severity and cause by conducting a detailed medical history and by performing a physical examination.
If necessary, your doctor may refer you for a sleep study. During a sleep study, cameras and sensors will monitor things such as your breathing, eye movements, heartbeat and brain waves.
Your doctor will then interpret the results of the sleep study in order to determine the presence of any sleep disorders. In the majority of sleepwalking cases, treatment is not necessary. If you witness someone sleepwalking, gently and calmly lead them back to bed.
Contrary to popular belief, it is okay to wake a person who is sleepwalking. However, the person may be startled and disorientated when awakened.
If you live with someone who sleepwalks frequently, it is important to create an environment that is safe. Locking windows and doors, blocking staircases and removing any tripping hazards are a good place to start.
From there, survey your home and use common sense to identify and eliminate any possible threats. Truck drivers should follow the same guidelines with their trucks.
The good news is that sleepwalking usually goes away on its own with time. Until next month, drive safely.