Sleepwalking Linked to Depression and OCD

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A new study published on Monday found that almost a third of American adults have sleepwalked at least once in their lives. Some 3.6 percent are actually prone to doing so fairly regularly, a statistic that translates into some 8.5 million people, according to a report by MSNBC.

What are the details of the study and how was it conducted?

USA Today reported that the study, which was conducted through the Stanford University School of Medicine, involved gathering information on some 19,136 American adults spread out across 15 different states. Participants were asked to complete phone surveys that delved into each individual's sleep habits, overall health, any current medications that they were taking, and whether or not they had a history of mental disorders.

What did the study find?

That the incidence of sleepwalking among adults is much higher than previously believed. While nearly 30 percent of those surveyed said that they had sleepwalked only once over the course of their lifetime or very infrequently, 3.6 percent acknowledged that they had sleepwalked at least once in the past year. 2.6 percent of those surveyed said that they had sleepwalked as many as 12 times in that interval.

There is apparently no difference between genders regarding this phenomenon. Researchers report that men and women were equally likely to have sleepwalked, and equally likely to do so frequently.

Did the researchers gain any insight into what causes sleepwalking?

Not conclusively. Reuters reported, however, that they did discover certain traits or occurrences that appeared to make it more likely that a person would sleepwalk. People who already suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, were more likely to report having sleepwalked. Certain mental disorders appeared to increase the likelihood that a person would sleepwalk as well, particularly depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In addition, there appeared to be a connection between certain medications and an increased risk that a person will sleepwalk, according to WebMD. Specifically, medications used to treat depression and OCD, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Paxil, Zoloft or Lexapro, were shown to increase that risk. Previous research has also indicated a link between prescription sleeping pills and a higher risk that a person will sleepwalk.

Are there any medical issues or dangers related to sleepwalking?

Scientists aren't sure if sleepwalking actually causes a person permanent or long-term harm, although some have pointed out that there are risks and detriments to habitually not getting enough sleep. A person who is sleepwalking can injure themselves more immediately, however, by bumping into objects or falling.

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.

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