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True or False? Waking a Sleepwalker could be Fatal

Have you ever seen a sleepwalker? If yes, then you can definitely say that sleepwalkers do the oddest things. Numerous witness says that these people leave their homes wearing only their underwear or getting out of bed to prepare a meal before going back to sleep without even tasting it. These stories are typically prefaced with the dire warning that waking a sleepwalker could result in their death. Yet, is waking a sleepwalker fatal? Can it literally kill them?

According to Michael Salemi, general manager at the California Center for Sleep Disorders, it is entirely untrue to claim that someone would die from shock, even though it is true that waking a sleepwalker, especially aggressively, may discomfort them. "You can startle sleepwalkers, and they can be very disoriented when you wake them up and they can have violent, or confused reactions, but I have not heard of a documented case of someone dying from being woken up."The danger of sleepwalking is more closely related to what a sleepwalker might run across when ambling around during the night.

Sleepwalking, a condition known as "somnambulism," includes night terrors, REM behavior disorder, restless legs syndrome, and  "parasomnias." The majority of sleepwalking activities are just mundane like sitting up in bed, roaming around the house, or getting dressed and undressed. A few sleepwalking activities, however, perform more complex behaviors, including preparing meals, having intercourse, climbing through windows, and driving cars—all while actually asleep. The duration of these episodes might range from a few seconds to up to 30 minutes or even longer.

Carlos Schenck of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Minnesota School says that a person can be in a twilight state if theta and delta waves are produced by the brain. Sleepwalking most frequently happens on the third and fourth stages of non-REM sleep, which are the deepest sleep stages and are characterized by sleep and little to no dreaming state.

Up to 17% of kids have experienced sleepwalking at least once. They reach their height between the ages of 11 and 12, after which they begin to fall. Even while episodes are less common in adults (2.5% of the population), stress, lack of sleep, or abnormal sleep patterns can all contribute to them. Children developmentally are much more at risk of sleepwalking," Schenck says. "If a child does sleepwalk, waking up the child 45 minutes after going to sleep can interrupt the cycle. In general, soothing and leading them back to bed is the best way to handle the situation."

Sleepwalking's potential danger is nevertheless more unsettling than the odd nocturnal stroll.

"Sleepwalkers can harm themselves and others, and even kill themselves and others, and they can engage in highly complex behaviors such as driving long distances and hurt others with sleep aggression and violence," Schenck says. "So there are a number of ways that sleepwalkers can be dangerous to themselves and others during their episodes."

He also mentions Sandy, a thin female in her twenties, who one night tore her bedroom door off the hinges. When she was awake, she was unable to duplicate such strength. And a young man hurriedly made a 10-mile trip to his parent's home. His own fists pounding on their front door awakened him. In situations like these, doctors will recommend benzodiazepines to help their patients sleep at night.

Typically, though, sleepwalking is a moderate, infrequent occurrence most easily managed by leading a sleepwalker back to bed by the elbow.

Thus the chances of killing a sleepwalker due to the shock of sudden awakening, however, is about as likely as somebody expiring from a dream about dying.

Warning: If a person who sleepwalk is laughing over the incident in the morning, they might be by themselves because memories of the somnambulist drift through the entire incident.

Source: Scientific American, Science Focus

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