In 17 percent of patients who became violent while asleep, medical care was needed for at least one episode of such behavior. The researchers defined violent behavior as "physically aggressive or potentially dangerous behaviors for patients and co-sleepers." They noted that for six patients (five males), a bed partner needed medical care after being attacked.
The findings are not a surprise to Dr. Maurice Ohayon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, who has published his own studies on sleepwalking. In his research, he has found that about 4 percent of the adult population sleepwalks.
The sleepwalkers studied by Dauvilliers, he said, are more severe cases than he found in his look at the general population. The study patients had been referred to a sleep clinic. Even so, he said he found some of the same issues with the sleepwalkers he studied. They often had a family history of the problem, and they reported depression and the need for sleeping pills due to insomnia.
How to reduce sleepwalking? People need to avoid the triggers, Dauvilliers said. Severe cases may require medication such as benzodiazepines, which are drugs that have sedating effects, he explained.
Ohayon agreed that both medication and paying attention to habits can help. "For example, reducing stress, keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule and getting enough sleep" all help, he said.
Increasing the safety of the environment can also help reduce injury, Ohayon suggested. "A bell on the door is a good idea," Ohayon said, "but it must be loud enough to awaken the sleepwalker."
He also advises sleepwalkers to sleep on the ground floor if possible, to install extra locks on doors and windows, and to install motion detector alarms.
Dauvilliers reports receiving honoraria and travel expenses from UCB Pharma
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