Greatest Hits of '07: Should You Wake a Sleepwalker?

Ransom Riggs

There are all kinds of urban legends and uninformed speculations about the peculiar phenomenon of sleepwalking, and whether or not somnambulists should be woken up whilst engaging in those vespertinal semi-conscious perambulations. This blogger has even heard -- in the context of campfire stories and internet rumors -- that waking someone from a sleepwalk can kill them. In fact, according to Scientific American, the opposite is true: sleepwalks can often be dangerous in and of themselves, and it's best to wake walkers and soothingly lead them back to bed, however jarring it is for them. (Kids are at especially high risk for somnambulism, so keep an eye on your 11- and 12-year-olds' sleeping habits.) Much scarier than being woken from a sleepwalk, however, is what sleepwalkers can do to themselves or others without knowing it:

"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," says sleep disorder specialist Carlos Schenck. "So there are a number of ways that sleepwalkers can be dangerous to themselves and others during their episodes." For example, he notes, Sandy, a slender female in her teens, tore her bedroom door off the hinges one night. She was unable to replicate that strength when awake. And a young man frantically drove to his parent's house 10 miles away. He woke to the sound of his own fists beating on their front door. In dramatic cases like these, doctors will prescribe benzodiazepines to ease a patient's nighttime activity.

I've had some wicked dreams in my life, and have been known to dream about being in school and wake up with my hand raised, but that's as close to sleepwalking as I've come. How about you? Any interesting sleepwalk experiences, dangerous or otherwise?

Photo by Smith Eliot.