Should we really avoid waking a sleepwalker?

Surely we have all heard that you should never wake a sleepwalker. According to scholars, this is actually a very old idea regarding sleepwalking, and few people know the real reason behind this rule.

According to Dr. Mark Mahowald, a sleep specialist at Stanford University, this idea stems from an ancient belief that the soul leaves the body during sleep. Thus, waking up a sleepwalker would risk depriving him of his soul. The argument certainly lacks a scientific basis.

Currently, more information is available regarding sleep and sleepwalking. We are thus better able to distinguish the true from the false.

Stop misconceptions

Professor Harriet Hiscock of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute claims that a sleepwalker is actually stuck between deep sleep and light sleep. If we try to wake him up, he will be very confused and disoriented. Hiscock added that you’re not really likely to cause a heart attack or kill the person, but you can make them very agitated.

According to Dr. Raghu Reddy, pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist at UAMS, sleepwalking in itself is not harmful to health, but it is the indirect consequences that pose risks. Indeed, the main fear is for the sleepwalker’s safety, for example if he leaves the house, uses a lighter, handles kitchen knives or bumps into sharp objects.

How to do it ?

In the most extreme cases, sleepwalkers can put themselves in dangerous situations like driving while asleep. In 2005, a 15-year-old sleepwalker even climbed a 40-meter crane before falling asleep again. Fortunately, she was rescued. Thus, in dangerous situations, it is justified to wake up patients, but with caution.

According to Dr. Reddy, there is no consensus on the approach to adopt when dealing with a sleepwalking patient. Waking it up is safe, but some experts discourage doing so as this approach is unsuccessful and can confuse the patient. Thus, it would be preferable to bring the patient back to bed, without abrupt movements, or otherwise to monitor him carefully to ensure his safety before trying again.

Sleepwalking usually occurs in childhood and usually resolves on its own. However, if in doubt, it is best to consult a doctor.


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