“Sleepwalking is probably a 24-hour disease, instead of only a disorder that occurs during the night,” lead study author Dr. Regis Lopez, a sleep medicine specialist at Gui-de-Chauliac Hospital in Montpellier, France, told The Huffington Post.
Of the 100 sleepwalking patients in the study, nearly half experienced chronic pain or headache. Twenty-two percent suffered from migraines. Sleepwalkers were also more likely to experience daytime sleepiness or insomnia than the general population.
Oddly, pain is not an issue during actual episodes of sleepwalking: 79 percent of study participants reported they couldn’t feel pain when they injured themselves during an episode.
While scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes sleepwalking, Lopez says it’s likely a dissociation between sleep and wakefulness in the brain, with some regions in “awake mode” and others stuck in deep sleep. Lopez thinks that same dissociation that could impact pain perception. This disconnect can be dangerous for individuals who don’t remember their nocturnal activities, including complex actions such as walking, eating, bathing and even driving, HuffPost previously reported.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepwalking affects between 1 and 15 percent of the population, but is more common in children, especially those with sleep apnea or who experience bedwetting. The disorder also runs in families.
Despite the genetic link, however, there are environmental precautions that sleepwalkers can take — in addition to consulting a sleep specialist — to mitigate their risk. Sleepwalkers should avoid sleep-disrupting triggers like alcohol and spicy food, and avoid becoming sleep deprived by prioritizing getting sufficient high-quality sleep each night.