Kid Stuff: Bedtime Story
Maybe you’ve heard stories: A woman wakes up in her kitchen having cooked—and eaten—an enormous snack in the night. Maybe you’ve got stories of your own, like falling asleep in your bed, but finding yourself on the porch in the morning.
The common theme here: sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism. This disorder affects about 4 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in America. Stories about it may sound cool and funny. But sleepwalking can result in injuries, according to pediatrician Sangeeta Chakravorty. At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s Pediatric Sleep Evaluation Center, she helps families deal with sleepwalking.
Sleepwalking can run in families or be caused by medicine, accidents, fevers, or stress. Scientists don’t understand all the reasons why it happens. It seems that although it is supposed to be shut off as we sleep, the “walk” program in our brains somehow gets turned on while dreaming. When this happens, says Chakravorty, “skeletal muscles and nerves receive impulses and respond automatically, without the . . . knowledge of the sleeper. The body moves without the brain centers that control consciousness being fully engaged.”
Sleepwalkers may do things other than walking. They might run, talk, pee, or eat snacks (maybe with the wrappers still on them). Children are more likely to sleepwalk because the electrical connections in their brains that link asleep and awake centers haven’t grown strong yet. They tend to outgrow sleepwalking by the time they’re teens.
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