Sleepwalking is not just a random or harmless habit to be ignored. Rather, when it is a chronic behavior and results in actions that are potentially harmful to the patient, it is an issue that should be addressed through mental health treatment.
How can you identify a sleepwalking disorder in someone you love? There are a number of different signs that can indicate the disorder. They may:
- Feel confused, fatigued or disoriented upon waking
- Have no memory of behavior during sleepwalking episodes
- Have open eyes and otherwise appear to be awake but are completely nonresponsive
- Have a blank look that indicates they don’t hear you or see you
- Talk but make no sense
- Walk around and perform detailed activities
Though it can appear to be an act, regular sleepwalking can ruin a good night’s sleep, impairing the patient’s ability to perform well at work, at home and/or behind the wheel the following day.
Learn more about treatment for sleepwalking disorder when you contact us at the phone number listed above.
Causes of Sleepwalking Disorder
In many cases, sleepwalking disorder is not an isolated issue; it can be caused by a number of different factors or a combination of factors. Possible contributions to the development of a sleepwalking disorder include:
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse. Drinking heavily or using certain drugs can cause someone to sleepwalk.
- Prescription medication. The use of sleep medications like Ambien and some sedatives prescribed for anxiety can trigger sleepwalking episodes.
- Underlying mental health disorder. Anxiety is just one of many mental heath disorders that can cause sleepwalking.
- Medical disorder. Neurological disorders, seizures and other medical issues can cause sleepwalking.
Because there are so many possible causes, it is important to troubleshoot the issue with a medical/mental health team at a Dual Diagnosis program equipped to not only help you identify all potential triggering issues but provide treatment for those problems as well.
Are Those Who Suffer from Sleepwalking Disorder Violent?
Though it does occasionally happen that a person can commit violent acts during partial arousal from sleep, it is not the norm. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry explored the topic and suggested that when violence does occur while sleepwalking, it may be attributable to an overlap of two disorders outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: sleepwalking disorder and sleep terror disorder. In most cases, sleepwalkers are not violent during episodes.
Sleepwalking Disorder Triggered by Zolpidem
Patients who struggle with sleep disruption – that is, difficulty falling asleep at night or staying asleep through the night – often seek pharmacological assistance to aid them in getting a good night’s rest. One of the most commonly prescribed drugs in this instance is Ambien, or zolpidem.
Unfortunately, however, patients can find that use of the drug brings a host of unexpected and unusual side effects that ultimately make it even more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
A report published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine explored the topic of zolpidem side effects and found that many patients not only experienced sleepwalking but performed a number of activities while sleepwalking, including eating, shopping, driving and having sex.
Co-occurring Disorders: Substance Abuse and Sleepwalking
It is not uncommon for those who struggle with mental health issues to also engage in drug or alcohol abuse. When a sleepwalking disorder co-occurs with substance abuse or addiction – like the abuse of sleep medications such as Ambien – it’s ineffective to attempt to address the sleepwalking disorder through treatment without also treating the drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.
Why? Because when drug abuse is so deeply entwined with the mental health disorder, if drug use continues, there will be no ability to manage the mental health symptoms. Especially in the case of sleepwalking disorder and Ambien addiction where the sleepwalking is often triggered by use of the drug, there is little point in attempting to manage the sleepwalking disorder without the immediate cessation of use of all illicit substances. In the same way, if a medical or mental health disorder is causing sleepwalking episodes, primary treatment should be focused on helping the patient overcome this underlying disorder.
Risks of Avoiding Treatment for Sleepwalking Disorder
When a patient avoids treatment for sleepwalking disorder, they put themselves at risk for a number of issues. It is not a harmless problem. Rather, it requires immediate treatment due to the following risks:
- Accident or injury while sleepwalking. Some patients will use knives, move heavy furniture unsafely, drive, or attempt other activities that can cause them harm.
- Accident or injury the following day. Sleepwalking does not allow a patient to get a full night’s sleep. The next day can result in injury due to a lack of care or attention caused by sleep deprivation, especially if the problem is chronic in nature.
- Lack of care for underlying disorders. If the reason for sleepwalking is an untreated mental health, medical or substance abuse disorder, avoiding treatment can prolong care for these life-altering or life-threatening issues.
The Ongoing Problem of Sleep Disruption
It is also important, however, not to understate the seriousness of the sleep disorder. Patients who abuse Ambien or develop a dependence upon the drug usually started using the drug in order to combat a sleep disruption issue. This won’t disappear when they stop taking the medication.
During treatment for drug use and dependence, it is important that patients get help for all issues that are triggers for drug use – including sleep disruption – as needed.
In some cases, another mental health disorder may be triggering the sleep disruption issue. Anxiety, depression, and manic episodes common to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses can cause sleep disruption. Identifying any of these problems during the initial evaluation process can help to ensure that patients get treatment for the cause of the sleep disorder if it is indeed a mental health disorder in addition to the substance abuse problem.
Lifestyle Changes: Helping Yourself Heal
The ability to withstand the temptation to relapse, to learn how to fall asleep and stay asleep, and to improve the management of other mental health symptoms all increase when you undertake certain lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can work to help the patient to lower overall stress and anxiety, improve physical well-being, and increase their ability to manage acute stressors when they arise.
- Good nutrition. Eating well doesn’t necessarily mean losing weight, though when sleep disruption is an issue, losing weight can help to alleviate the problem. Getting the right combination of nutrients and vitamins, however, can improve mood, increase energy, and help one to fall asleep. Learning how to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer saturated fats and sugars can go a long way toward improving mood and energy.
- Regular exercise. Patients don’t have to train to run a marathon in order to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Regular walking, swimming, bike riding – or even dancing or gardening – can help to burn unwanted calories, increase heart rate, and improve mood.
- Drink lots of water. Eight 8-ounce glasses per day is recommended on average. Staying hydrated increases energy and helps patients to process the nutrients from the food they eat.
One caveat is that though all of the above will help patients to improve mood and overall wellness, it is recommended to avoid all of them in the hours before bed. Eating a big meal can make it more difficult to get to sleep as can heavy exercise. Drinking lots of water throughout the day is important, but drinking too much right before bedtime can cause its own sleep disruption as patients have to rise multiple times to use the bathroom.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
If it were as simple as a few lifestyle changes to treat a mental health disorder or substance abuse problem, everyone would be doing it.
Unfortunately, drug and alcohol addiction and sleepwalking disorder – and any underlying mental health disorders triggering the sleepwalking issue – are medical and mental health problems that must be addressed through intensive treatment.
How can you or your loved one benefit from Dual Diagnosis rehab when struggling with a sleepwalking disorder?
- Evaluation. No matter what the issue underlying the sleepwalking disorder is, a Dual Diagnosis rehab program should start with an intensive evaluation to pinpoint all the possible causes – and be prepared to address those issues medically and therapeutically.
- Personalized treatment. Based on the results of the evaluation, the symptoms expressed by the patient, and the patient’s goals for recovery, a unique treatment plan can be created to provide directed treatment.
- Integrated care. Addressing all the driving forces behind symptoms – including substance abuse and sleepwalking in addition to any others – increases the likelihood that the patient will find a firm hold in recovery before leaving treatment and be empowered to continue improving after returning home. Rehabilitation programs designed to treat more than one mental health condition at a time are uniquely qualified to provide this level of care.
- Follow up. During treatment, the patient will not be set on a treatment course and then left to navigate it alone. Rather, there will be regular follow-up sessions to ensure that he or she is benefitting from treatment and the ability to update or change therapies and treatments as needed.
- Aftercare support. When a stay in a Dual Diagnosis rehab program is over, treatment must still continue in order to provide continuous support to the patient as they transition into independent living. Alumni groups, referrals, and other ongoing support options should be integrated into a long-term treatment plan for the patient at the program’s end.
Find the Help You and Your Family Needs: Call Now
Finding a Dual Diagnosis rehabilitation program is hard enough. Finding one that is uniquely able to assist you in getting yourself or your loved one the best possible care necessary to overcome a sleepwalking disorder and other mental health and/or substance abuse issues is even more difficult – especially when you are in crisis.
Contact us at the phone number listed above today for assistance. You will be connected with an admissions coordinator who can:
- Answer your questions about sleepwalking disorder and associated substance abuse issues
- Talk to you about your options in Dual Diagnosis treatment
- Connect you with the program most able to provide you or your loved one with directed treatment for their personal goals for recovery
- Assist you in the initial stages of enrollment and admissions
Don’t wait to reach out and get the help that can change your life or the life of your loved one if co-occurring disorders like a sleepwalking disorder and a substance use disorder are present. We’re here to assist you day or night. Call now.
Further Reading About Sleepwalking Disorder
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.