I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
People who are completely asleep are known to engage in such activities as driving a car, going outside and walking long distances, and raiding the fridge. It’s more common among youngsters and usually goes away during the teen years, but for some adults it lingers on.
Dealing with Sleepwalking
The Mayo Clinic tells us that sleepwalking is classified “as a parasomnia—an undesirable behavior or experience during sleep.” It occurs during the deepest period of sleep and factors that contribute to it are:
- “Sleep deprivation
- “Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions.”
There are several conditions that can trigger its onset such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, substance abuse, certain medications, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The Mayo Clinic says, “Treatment for occasional sleepwalking usually isn’t necessary,” but if it persists a doctor should be consulted.
Dangers of Sleepwalking
For children who sleepwalk there are always adults around to make sure they are safe. For adults it can be a different story.
Carlos Schenck is with the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He told Scientific American “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.”
Emma Evans, 37, was on holiday in Majorca in December 2017. During the night she started sleepwalking and plunged off her hotel room balcony. She was killed by the 50-foot fall.
There’s a story out of Australia that has been reported by sleep physician Peter Buchanan, of Sydney’s Royal Alfred Hospital. The BBC notes that one of his patients “who was a respectable middle-aged woman with a steady partner, would leave the house while sleepwalking and have sex with strangers.”
In 2003, a woman in Colorado began her sleepwalking adventure by chugging down half a bottle of wine. She then took her car for a drive and crashed it. Police arrived to find her relieving herself in the road and when an attempted arrest was made she kicked and punched officers. In court, she used the sleepwalking defence and the judge agreed that, because she was asleep, she was not fully responsible for her actions. And that, brings us to Kenneth Parks.
The Sleepwalking Defence
At the age of 23, Kenneth Parks of Toronto was under a lot of stress. He had stolen $32,000 from his employer to cover his gambling debts. Understandably, he was fired and had a wife and child to support. The result was insomnia and anxiety.
In May 1987, he got out bed early one morning. He got in his car and drove 23 km to the home of his in-laws. He had a key to the front door and entered the house. In the couple’s bedroom he choked Denis Woods into unconsciousness and beat Barbara Ann Woods with a tire iron before stabbing her with a kitchen knife. Barbara died but her husband survived.
He left the house and drove to a nearby police station. Deeply distraught he told officers “I just killed someone with my bare hands; oh my God, I just killed someone; I’ve just killed two people; my God, I’ve just killed two people with my hands; my God, I’ve just killed two people.”
He had cut tendons in both his hands yet felt no pain, a condition known as dissociative analgesia that sometimes goes along with sleepwalking.
After extensive medical testing it was found that Kenneth Parks had no underlying mental health conditions and that he had acted in a state of non-insane automatism. In other words, he had no control over what he did and, therefore, could not be held responsible for the murder and assault. He was free to go.
Fortunately, not all night time wanderings have such terrible outcomes. There are many stories of people rising from their beds and cooking a meal without eating it or waking up. Others wake up to find themselves sitting in a bath tub with no idea how they got there.
An anonymous woman told The Guardian “I sleepwalked out of a friend’s house and went goodness knows where, but the next day my friend played me a voicemail I had left her at 3 a.m. that morning, in which I said I was ‘outside her house with a can of spinach.’ ”
In 2012, police found a person in Manchester, England wandering about the streets at 4 a.m. He had sleepwalked out of his hotel but had been sleeping naked and had neglected to put any clothes on.
Also in England, a lady reported to ABC Newcastle on the excitement an another household: “My friend’s husband, who was drunk, woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, he ended up in front of a rotating electric fan, the urine sprayed everywhere waking her and the kids . . .” It’s reasonable to assume the man’s family was quite pissed off.
- According to The British Journal of Psychiatry, sleepwalking runs in families, with 80 percent of somnambulists having a family member who is similarly afflicted. An identical twin is five times more likely than a non-twin to sleepwalk if the other twin does.
- While a large number of children sleepwalk only one to three percent of adults do.
- It’s a myth that waking a sleepwalker will kill them. The best thing to do is gently guide them back to bed.
- According to healthcentral.com, several classes of medications have been associated with sleepwalking; “these include beta blockers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and even sleeping pills such as zolpidem.”
- “Sleepwalking.” Mayo Clinic, undated.
- “Fact or Fiction?: Waking a Sleepwalker May Kill Them.” Robynne Boyd, Scientific American, April 5, 2007.
- “Sleepwalking Mum Fell 50ft to Her Death from Holiday Hotel after Sleeping on Balcony as Room too Hot.” Richard Youle, The Mirror, December 21, 2017.
- “Sleepwalkers Who Have ‘Sex Sleep.’ ” BBC, October 15, 2004.
- “Sleep Driving and Sleep Killing.” Berit Brogaard, D.M.SCI., PhD, Psychology Today, December 13, 2012.
- “Sleepwalkers’ Stories: ‘I Could Have Died and no one Would Have Known.’ ” Sarah Marsh, The Guardian, May 24, 2016.
- “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Sleepwalking.” Martin Reed, healthcentral.com, April 5, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Rupert Taylor
Binoy from Delhi on September 11, 2020:
very interesting stories. Nice read.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 11, 2020:
It's amazing what some people do in their sleep! Thankfully I've never walked in my sleep.