Why Does A Person Sleepwalk At Night?


Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a peculiar and sometimes perplexing phenomenon. It occurs when individuals partially awaken from deep sleep, typically during the non-REM (rapid eye movement) stages of the sleep cycle, and engage in activities that would normally be reserved for wakefulness. This behavior can range from sitting up in bed to more complex actions like walking around the room.

The question is, why does this happen? What leads people to engage in such activities while still technically asleep?

Understanding the Sleep Cycle

To grasp why sleepwalking occurs, it’s crucial to understand the stages of the sleep cycle. Sleep is not a monolithic, unbroken state but rather a complex series of stages, including non-REM sleep and REM sleep.

During REM sleep, our brain activity resembles that of wakefulness, and it’s when most dreaming takes place. Conversely, non-REM sleep is divided into several stages, with the deepest being stage 4. This is the stage where sleepwalking often occurs.

The Role of Sleep Paralysis

When we’re in non-REM stage 4 sleep, our body usually experiences sleep paralysis. This natural mechanism prevents us from acting out our dreams. It’s a safeguard that keeps us from physically responding to the often bizarre and potentially dangerous scenarios that play out in our dreams.

However, in some cases, such as those who sleepwalk, this sleep paralysis doesn’t fully engage. As a result, individuals can awaken to some extent and carry out various actions while still in a sleep-like state.

The Role of Stress and Irritants

One of the intriguing aspects of sleepwalking is its connection to stress and irritants. The dream content and the specific stage of sleep during which sleepwalking occurs can provide insights into why people sleepwalk.

During periods of stress or when individuals experience irritants or disturbances in their dreams, they might attempt to act out the actions that are in response to those scenarios. It’s as if the brain is trying to resolve a problem or react to a perceived threat. The partial awakening allows them to carry out these actions.

Other Triggers

While stress and dream content are significant factors, other triggers can contribute to sleepwalking:

  • Genetics: There is evidence to suggest that sleepwalking may have a genetic component. If a family member has a history of sleepwalking, an individual may be more predisposed to this behavior.
  • Lack of Sleep: Sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns can increase the likelihood of sleepwalking.
  • Alcohol and Medication: Certain medications and the use of alcohol can disrupt the sleep cycle and contribute to sleepwalking.


Sleepwalking remains a subject of fascination and scientific inquiry. While stress, dream content, and the interaction of the sleep cycle all play roles in its occurrence, the precise mechanisms behind sleepwalking are not entirely clear.

It’s essential to recognize that sleepwalking can sometimes be a symptom of underlying issues, and if it becomes frequent or problematic, seeking medical advice is recommended. Understanding the phenomenon of sleepwalking, however, brings us one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of the human mind during slumber.

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