If I Should Walk Before I Wake

In January of 2009, in Northern Wisconsin, Timothy Brueggeman walked out of his house in the middle of the night in only his underwear. He walked for miles in the dead of winter. The next day his body was found by authorities in a pile of snow along the road; he had frozen to death. Timothy had struggled with sleep walking for some time and the final report on his death stated that he simply slept walk until his body finally gave out.

When we sleep, neurological mechanisms suppress commands to certain muscle tissues to prevent us moving. This is a part of the brain’s safety mechanism to prevent us from injuring ourselves. However, for a person who suffers from sleepwalking, or somnambulism, these systems are never shut off which allows the person to get up and walk around. In most cases this happens during childhood; possibly because children spend more time in deep, or “REM”, sleep. Also, the chemical messenger gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) is still developing and have not made all the necessary connections to suppress the motor neurons.

It can be extremely difficult to wake someone who is sleep walking, and if they are awakened they are usually confused and irritable as they will have no memory of the event. The old idea that waking a person who is sleepwalking can kill them is false. There have been no reported cases of such an event.

There is no official treatment for sleepwalking other than improving sleep quality and avoiding sleep deprivation, which is a common source of sleepwalking symptoms. It is recommended that those who experience symptoms of sleepwalking consult a sleep specialist for preventative therapies.

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