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Sleepwalking: more common than you may have thought.

photo: Ha-Wee via Flickr

You may not know it, but you may be one of every three Americans who will sleepwalk during their life.

University of Minnesota Medical School Professor of Neurology Mark Mahowald, M.D. and fellow researchers from across the nation found that 29% of adults will sleepwalk during their lifetime and 3 to 4% of us–or 8.4 million Americans–have sleepwalked in the past year. Mahowald and his colleagues’ findings were published this week in the journal Neurology.

“It was formerly thought that sleepwalking was seen commonly in children but not in adults,” says Mahowald. In reality however, sleepwalking is “very, very prevalent”.

Sleepwalking’s prevalence among the general population is much higher than many medical professionals and members of the community think.

Because parts of the brain can be awake while other parts are still asleep, the brain is capable of carrying out complicated behaviors (such as sleepwalking) while the conscious mind is still asleep.

While Mahowald and colleagues’ study found that Americans already suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia, those taking sleeping pills and those suffering from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) were more likely to sleepwalk than other groups, Mahowald emphasizes that anyone can sleepwalk.

“Initially, it was thought that it was related to psychiatric and psychological problems,” he says. “People don’t want to bring it up because they are afraid they will be told it’s psychiatric. But, clearly, it’s not related to psychiatric problems.”

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