Who is affected?

  1. It is most common in children but many adults are also impacted by it. One study shows that one in every 10 children and one in every 50 adults were sleepwalkers.
  2. Genetic – It can run in families and occurs in boys more often than girls. It is 10 times more likely to happen in families where another person also sleepwalks.

Childrens brains are still developing and can be overactive as they haven’t yet developed the ability subconsciously to fully differentiate fact from illusion (e.g. Santa Claus – flying reindeers – tooth fairies – monsters etc).

  • Sleepwalkers tend to move in a shuffling rigid manner with a blank stare and are unaware of their surroundings. They rarely respond if spoken to and if they do it is usually a vague mumble. They tend to have amnesia about the experience. In order to be woken up they usually need to be spoken to in a loud voice or shaken while their name is being repeated.
  • Depressed individuals are three times more likely to sleep walk.
  • In hypnosis, clients can be in trance with their eyes open therefore deep somnambulism and sleepwalking share commonalities such as talking.
  • Sleepwalking can occur in the early stages of Parkinsons, Alzheimers or during seizures.
  • Sleepwalkers can speak and have even been known to drive (not good obviously!) and produce art work.
  • The famous Medical Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson used to hypnotise himself when he was in college so that he would write articles at night and then retrieve the finished works in the morning with no conscious recollection of having written them!

Why does sleepwalking happen?

The conscious mind is inactive but the body is active. Like hypnosis there are many theories but no definite empirical conclusions.

A neurotransmitter is a chemical that transmits signals from one part of the body to the other. During normal sleep amino-butric acid (gaba) stops the activity of the brain motor system. In children and young people the chemicals that produce gaba are still developing. Therefore, they are unable to keep the motor system of the brain under control. In some cases this system remains under-developed and persists into adulthood.

Other factors that may cause sleepwalking include: stress, intoxication, sleep deprivation, sleep disturbance, sedatives, stimulants and anti-histamines.

What is sleepwalking or what is technically called somnambulism?

The deepest state of hypnosis is called somnambulism. There are generally four stages of hypnosis:

  1. Light
  2. Medium
  3. Deep
  4. Somnambulistic

and these four stages roughly correlate to the four stages of sleep:

  • beta – waking state
  • alpha – hypnoidal state
  • theta – dream state
  • delta – deep sleep

The EEG (machine that monitors brainwaves) results of sleepwalkers initially shows a sleeping brainwave pattern, however if the sleepwalking persists after a number of minutes it usually changes to light sleep on beta, alpha states.

In somnambulism or sleepwalking people can do other activities besides sleeping such as walking around the house, going to the toilet, having a shower, eating a meal, taking the dog for a walk or even smoking outside the house.

According to the Stanford School of Medicine it has been found that one in 25 people are prone to sleepwalking and 30% claim they have done it since childhood.

It generally happens in the NREM – non rapid eye movement stage (alpha – theta stage). Hormones are being release to refurbish and regenerate the body. Practical arousal between deep sleep causes dissociation between deep sleep and wakefulness. Therefore, sleep and wakefulness can co-exist.

Hypnosis is very effective for sleepwalking.

As hypnosis accesses the same mental domain as sleep in the subconscious mind it is very effective for any or all conditions related to sleep including sleep apnoea, nightmares, night terrors, lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis etc

One ex-British soldier was found to walk in his sleep and at the same time began to strangle his wife. In hypnosis he released Post Traumatic Stress dealing with strangling several German soldiers during the second world war.

I’ve worked with a number of cases of clients who have sleepwalked and urinated in inappropriate places thinking that it was the toilet. Hypnotherapy has been very successful for many children and teenagers who are found hysterically crying while trying to through a window or door. On finding the causes of these problems the sleepwalking generally improved.

Sleep walking typically occurs during partial arousals from deep sleep such that there is a state dissociation in which elements of sleep and wakefulness co-exist and allow for the unconscious production of potentially complex motor activity.

In small-scale studies conducted by researchers such as Peter Hauri, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic, results have shown that properly screened sleep walking patients can experience significant improvement with the use of clinical hypnosis. These techniques have been  used in small-scale studies with remarkably positive effect. In fact, hypnosis has shown encouraging results for a range of parasomnias such as nightmares and sleep walking. In a recent five year follow up study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Hauri, Silber and Boeve reported that sleep walkers treated with hypnotherapy and a 50% improvement after 18 months and 67% after 5 years.