CBS BOSTON — The idea we can sleepwalk is both disconcerting and mystifying. Noel Schenk started sleepwalking when she was just four years old. “I would go into the refrigerator and open the door and I would wonder around,” she said.

Sleepwalking is most common in children between the ages of four and eight. Most sleepwalkers usually outgrow it and don’t require treatment.

Dr. David Shulman, an expert on sleep, explained, “Sleepwalking can be thought of as the state halfway between being fully awake and being fully asleep. The brain is doing things that it would do in wakefulness, but it would never recall them in the future.”

Experts are not exactly sure what causes sleepwalking, but by some estimates, it can affect up to 15%of the population. Dr. Shulman added, “We don’t know why the young brain seems to get caught in this half awake, half sleep circumstance. There are some genetic contributors. We know that if your parents were sleepwalkers then you’re more likely to be a sleepwalker.”

If an adult happens to start sleepwalking, it is usually because of sleep deprivation. Other causes include an illness, sleeping pills, other medications, and alcohol. The big question is what to do if you encounter a sleepwalker.

Dr. Shulman said, “It is probably best to try to redirect a sleepwalker to bed, than to try to shake them awake and ask them what they’re doing.”


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