What goes bump in the night? In many U.S. households: people. That's according to new Stanford University School of Medicine research, which found that about 3.6 percent of U.S. adults -- or upward of 8.4 million -- are prone to sleepwalking. The work also showed an association between nocturnal wanderings and certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
The study, the researchers noted, "underscores the fact that sleepwalking is much more prevalent in adults than previously appreciated."
Maurice Ohayon, MD, DSc, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is the lead author of the paper, which appeared in the May 15 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Sleepwalking is a disorder "of arousal from non-REM sleep." While wandering around at night can be harmless and is often played for laughs -- anyone remember the Simpsons episode where Homer began wandering around and doing silly things in his sleep? -- sleepwalking can have serious consequences. Episodes can result in injuries to the wanderer or others and lead to impaired psychosocial functioning.
It is thought that medication use and certain psychological and psychiatric conditions can trigger sleepwalking, but the exact causes are unknown. Also unclear to experts in the field is the prevalence.
"Apart from a study we did 10 years ago in the European general population, where we reported a prevalence of 2 percent of sleepwalking," the researchers wrote in their paper, "there are nearly no data regarding the prevalence of nocturnal wanderings in the adult general population. In the United States, the only prevalence rate was published 30 years ago."
For this study, the first to use a large, representative sample of the U.S. general population to demonstrate the number of sleepwalkers, the researchers also aimed to evaluate the importance of medication use and mental disorders associated with sleepwalking. Ohayon and his colleagues secured a sample of 19,136 individuals from 15 states and then used phone surveys to gather information on participants' mental health, medical history and medication use.
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