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Sleepwalking signal of deeper troubles

May. 06, 2013 @ 12:15 AM

In one episode of "The Honeymooners" Ralph (Jackie Gleason) is trying to figure out how to stop Norton (Art Carney) from nightly sleepwalking; it makes for great 1950s TV humor. But today, we understand more about the affliction -- and guess what? It's really not a laughing matter. Sleepwalking is often a signal of deeper troubles, like depression and anxiety. In some cases, a late-night snooze 'n' stroll even ends violently. One study found that 58 percent of sleepwalkers lash out while in the trance, and 17 percent inflict enough harm that either their bed partner or the sleepwalker ends up in the emergency room.

Sleepwalking inflicts damage to the body during waking hours, too. That's because it prevents you from going into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a state of heightened brain activity and muscle immobility that is essential for information processing, memory formation and tension regulation. REM deprivation triggers chronic fatigue, weight gain, and a wide range of health issues, from headaches to heart disease.

If you live with someone who sleepwalks, note the timing of late-night strolls. When you see a pattern, set your alarm 15 minutes BEFORE your bedmate's expected exit and jostle him or her into a semi-awake state. This will change the sleep cycle and hopefully prevent sleepwalking. Stress-reduction techniques -- including exercise (10,000 steps a day is a good goal), meditation and psychotherapy -- also may help. And many people get good results from going to a sleep clinic (this is particularly important if you live alone). Happy trails and sweet dreams.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.