The most common triggers for sleepwalking include; stress, depression, sleep deprivation, sedative agents (including alcohol), fever, obstructive sleep apnea, abnormal heart rates, nighttime seizures, nighttime asthma, a gastro-esophageal reflux disorder, hormonal imbalances, menstruation, and pregnancy. Medications that have been shown to precipitate sleep walking include; benzodiazepines, anti-seizure medications, stimulants, antihistamines, and anti-arrhythmic drugs. Psychiatric components include posttraumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.
Sleepwalking and Violence
Sleepwalkers are indeed capable of violence. This violence is most prominent in male sleepwalkers, who account for almost 95% of all somnambulism violent cases. Additionally, sleepwalkers have a heightened pain threshold, which may further increase the likelihood of violence. Behaviors during adult sleepwalking are often quick, impulsive, inappropriate, and goal-oriented.
Can Sleepwalking Be a Murder Defense?
According to the experts, the answer is; "Yes, it is possible." Sleepwalking appears to be the most frequent sleep disorder invoked as defense against murder. This defense has been successful at times. The defensive argument is that the defendant was not in his normal state of mind when he committed homicide. The legal stance is that any harmful actions committed in this state of sleep walking cannot be blamed on the perpetrator. The question is should an individual be punished for a crime against a loved one, in which he had no memory of the act, had no motive for the death, made no attempt to cover his crime, and was extremely remorseful? Add the additional facts that the individual has a history of substantiated childhood parasomnias, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and had no previous history of violence. Although EEG and brain imaging has been used to improve making a differential diagnosis of sleepwalking violence, there is no reliable test to prove the same. Any prosecutor could have a difficult time convincing a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this man was guilty of anything. Verdicts in these cases have been anything but consistent or predictable. Some sleepwalkers have been found guilty of homicide; others have been set totally free.
5 Essential Safety Tips for the Sleepwalker and Their Families
It has been established that approximately 25% of sleepwalkers harm themselves during their night walks. Remember, safety is the most important factor for sleep walkers.
- Secure all firearms, other potential weapons, and power tools.
- Hide all sharp and dangerous subjects from the sleepwalker’s room
- Make sure that a sleepwalker sleeps on the ground floor.
- Lock windows and doors
- Additionally, a little bell on doors and windows
One common misconception is that a sleepwalker should not be awakened. While it may be difficult to wake sleepwalkers, it is not dangerous to do so. Although some sleepwalkers may become aggressive when awakened, most of the time they are simply confused, disoriented, scared, or embarrassed upon awakening. Leading the sleepwalker back to bed, and waking him or her if necessary, is the safest option. Waking a sleepwalker should be done as gently as possible to avoid aggressive responses. It is common for the person to be confused or disoriented for a short time after being awakened.
Sleepwalking is common in children and is usually outgrown over time. However, it can occasionally persist into adulthood, or may even begin in adulthood. In most cases, no treatment is necessary because sleepwalking rarely indicates any serious underlying medical or psychiatric problem. However, if an individual is having frequent episodes, injuring himself or herself, or showing violent behavior, medical and/or psychiatric treatment is advised.
When sleepwalkers exhibit violent behaviors drug therapy is indicated. Sedative-hypnotics, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants have been helpful in reducing the incidence of sleepwalking in some people. Traditionally Klonopin and Elavil are the drugs of choice.
Additional long-term therapies include relaxation techniques, mental imagery, and anticipatory awakenings (waking the individual for approximately 15-20 minutes before the usual time of sleepwalking event, and then keeping him awake through the time during which the episodes usually occur). Treatment for sleepwalking in adults may include hypnosis.