15 Chinese Herbs for Insomnia

There are quite a few herbs used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners in order to treat sleeplessness (insomnia). Below are some examples along with their indications (specific conditions for which the herb is used) and contraindications (conditions in which the herb should not be used).

If you’re interested in purchasing a personalized remedy for any sleep or dream-related problem, get in touch. I also provide free consultations. 

The below herbs are powerful medicines. Do not take them without consulting with your physician first, especially if you suffer from any disease or are taking medications. Note that herbs which are sedatives should not be taken while driving, etc. or together with other sedatives.

Bai He (Bulbus Lilii)

Botanical names:

  • Lilium brownii
  • Lilium lancifolium
  • Lilium pumilum

English name: Lily.

Parts used: Bulb.

Indications: Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Lily is especially beneficial when there is as an underlying chronic respiratory disorder, involving dry cough, and can also help with night sweats. It may also be helpful in cases of chronic stomach pain.

Contraindications: Diarrhea; wet cough.

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Bai Jiang Cao (Herba cum Radice Patriniae)

Botanical names:

  • Patrinia scabiosifolia
  • Patrinia villosa

English name: Patrinia.

Parts used: Herbage.

Indications: As an essential oil, it is a powerful sedative and hypnotic herb (said to be twice as strong as Valerian) and is useful in some cases of chest/abdominal pain as well during viral infections such as influenza and the common cold (it’s antibiotic).

Contraindications: Abdominal pain due to cold/deficiency.

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Bai Shao (Radix Paeoniae Alba)

Botanical name: Paeonia lactiflora.

English name: Chinese peony.

Parts used: Root.

Indications: A mild sedative, this herb is especially helpful when sleep is disturbed by night sweating, gynecological disorders such as dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), restless fetus, lower back pain, or muscle spasms.

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Hou Po (Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis)

Botanical name: Magnolia officinalis.

English name: Magnolia bark.

Parts used: Cortex.

Indications: As a CNS suppressant that may affect GABA receptors, this herb is helpful when sleep is disturbed due to abdominal fullness or bloating as well as due to cough and wheezing.

Contraindications: Avoid if taking anticoagulent or antiplatelet medications.

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Jiao Gu Lan (Rhizoma seu Herba Gynostemmatis)

Botanical name: Gynostemma pentaphyllum.

Parts used: Rhizome.

Indications: A sedative, hypnotic, and analgesic herb, Jiao Gu Lan may be able to reverse the effects of mescaline. It may be helpful for people who can’t sleep due to conditions, such as asthma, headache, migraines, and pain.

Contraindications: Do not combine with other sedatives.

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Long Dan Cao (Radix Gentianae)

Botanical names:

  • Gentiana scabra
  • Gentiana triflora
  • Gentiana manshurica
  • Gentiana rigescens

English name: Gentiana.

This is a Dream...

Parts used: Root.

Indications: Gentiana is a CNS stimulant at small dosages and a sedative/tranquilizer at higher dosages. It’s recommended for people who suffer from insomnia especially when it is accompanied by high fever, severe tinnitus, ear pain, or headache. It can also help with nightmares.

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Mai Men Dong (Radix Ophiopogonis)

Botanical name: Ophiopogon japonicus.

English name: Dwarf lilyturf.

Parts used: Root.

Indications: This herb is useful when insomnia is accompanied by irritability, restlessness, or fever. It may be especially beneficial for elderly people who suffer from dizziness, tinnitus, back pain, or palpitations.

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Qin Jiao (Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae)

Botanical names:

  • Gentiana macrophylla
  • Gentiana straminea
  • Gentiana crassicaulis
  • Gentiana dahurica

English name: Large leaf gentian.

Parts used: Root.

Indications: This herb is a sedative, but in high dosages it may be excitatory.

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Suan Zao Ren (Semen Zizyphi Spinosae)

Botanical name: Ziziphus jujuba.

English name: Jujube.

Parts used: Seeds.

Indications: Jujube seeds have sedating and hypnotic effects, at least in animals. They are used in Chinese medicine to treat insomnia which is accompanied by palpitations, excessive dreaming, shallow sleep, irritability, dizziness, tinnitus and vertigo, and night sweating.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy.

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Tian Ma (Rhizoma Gastrodiae)

Botanical name: Gastrodia elata.

English name: Gastrodia.

Parts used: Rhizome.

Indications: Tian Ma is a sedative. It also has anti-seizure effects and can help with nerve pain. It is used when sleep is disturbed due to spasms, epilepsy, headache, migraines, and other painful conditions.

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Tian Nan Xing (Rhizoma Arisaematis)

Botanical names:

  • Arisaema consanguineum
  • Arisaema heterophyllum
  • Arisaema amurense

English name: Jack-in-the-pulpit.

Parts used: Rhizome.

Indications: This herb exhibits sedating, anti-seizure, and anti-convulsant actions. It is used when the sleeping problem is related to seizures, epilepsy, dizziness, or muscle and joint pain.

Contraindications: Toxic. Do not use during pregnancy.

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Wu Jia Pi (Cortex Acanthopanacis)

Botanical names:

  • Eleutherococcus gracilistylus
  • Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus
  • Eleutherococcus henryi
  • Eleutherococcus giraldii
  • Eleutherococcus leucorrhizus
  • Eleutherococcus setchuenensis

English name: Eleuthero / Siberian ginseng.

Parts used: Cortex.

Indications: Eleuthero is a mild sedative, but its main benefit is as an adaptogen. It also possesses anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Wu Jia Pi is thus helpful when sleep is disturbed due to stress, pain, or muscle aches.

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Xie Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Valerianae)

Botanical names:

English name: Valerian.

Parts used: Root.

Indications: Valerian is used both in Chinese medicine and Western herbal medicine as a treatment for insomnia. In addition to its strong sedative effects, it’s also an analgesic and an antispasmodic herb. It is thus beneficial when sleep is disturbed due to muscle spasms, stomach cramps, dysmenorrhea and PMS, as well as muscle aches and pain. It is also recommended when insomnia is accompanied by emotional stress or excessive worrying.

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Zhi Zi (Fructus Gardeniae)

Botanical name: Gardenia jasminoides.

English name: Cape jasmine.

Parts used: Fruit.

Indications: As an analgesic, this herb can help topically with various aches and pains. It is also a CNS suppressant and a sedative and analgesic. Use when insomnia is accompanied by irritability, fever, or depression.

Contraindications: Do not use if loose stools are present or while dieting.

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Huang Lian (Rhizoma Coptidis)

Botanical names:

  • Coptis chinensis
  • Coptis deltoidea
  • Coptis teeta
  • Coptis omeiensis

English name: Goldthread.

Parts used: Rhizome.

Indications: Coptis is used for insomnia when it is accompanied with irritability, mania, or tinnitus. It may also be helpful for nightmares.

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Source

Chen, J. K. and Chen, T. T., Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press, Inc. City of Industry, CA, USA.

Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a part of the brain made of different nuclei that serve a variety of functions, such as to control fatigue, sleep, and circadian rhythms.

The hypothalamus regulates sleep by a homeostatic mechanism, wherein pressure is built up during waking hours in the form of adenosine accumulation, which is relieved at sleep onset (or when caffeine is ingested).

According to another theory, the hypothalamus can shut off the arousal system, thereby bringing on sleep.

This is a Dream...

The hypothalamus has an anterior as well as posterior areas. When the anterior portion is damaged, it leads to insomnia, while sleepiness results when the posterior portion is damaged.

This suggests that sleep may be a result of activation of the anterior hypothalamus and inhibition of the posterior hypothalamus.

The Anterior Hypothalamus and the Ventrolateral Preoptic Nucleus (VLPO)

The ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (VLPO), which is also known as the intermediate nucleus of the preoptic area (IPA), is located in the anterior hypothalamus.

The VLPO is part of the brain’s sleep-promoting nuclei. One of its functions is to control states of arousal, sleep, and transitions between these two states.

How does it accomplish that?

During sleep, it becomes activated (by the accumulation of adenosine) and releases a neurotransmitter called GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, which inhibits the wakefulness promoting ascending arousal system.

During wakefulness, on the other hand, the VLPO is deactivated by the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and acetylcholine.

The Posterior Hypothalamus

The posterior hypothalamus may activate the ascending arousal system, thereby promoting wakefulness.

In narcolepsy, this system is damaged, resulting in excessive sleepiness during the day as well as frequent nocturnal awakenings.

Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS)

There is a structure in our brainstem known as the reticular formation. It includes ascending pathways which lead to the higher brain and descending pathways which lead to the spinal cord. Its functions include sleep and consciousness. The ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in particular is involved in behavioral arousal and consciousness as well as the regulation of wakefulness and low consciousness-high consciousness transitions (e.g., transitioning from relaxation to high attention).

According to a behavioral neurophysiological theory propounded by Moruzzi and Magoun in 1949, wakefulness is an active state which is maintained by the ascending reticular activating system, while sleep is a passive state which results from reduction of its activity.

Supporting this theory, when this structure is electrically stimulated with electrodes, it produces arousal from sleep, wakefulness, and consciousness. Moreover, when this area was injured in cats, they exhibited immobility as if they were sleeping. Indeed, injury to the reticular formation can result in irreversible coma.

Under the influence of barbiturates, such as amobarbital, pentobarbital, and secobarbital, the reticular response is difficult to elicit or is abolished, which explains why they produce sleepiness.

On the other hand, lesioning of a different portion of reticular formation produces insomnia in cats.

When REM sleep was discovered, the ascending reticular activating system theory was found to had been wrong.

Now we know that arousal is not facilitated by a single system, but by several distinct neurotransmitter systems, all of which facilitate waking (and REM or Dreaming, which is also a waking state relative to the deeper stages of sleep) through different mechanisms.

These different systems may be responsible for different aspects of wakefulness. The ascending reticular activating system may mediate an externally, not internally, directed vigilance, an awareness of one’s surroundings.

Adenosine for example is a substance that is continuously released in our brains (specifically in the hypothalamus) while we are awake. The more adenosine we have circulating in our brain, the more tired we feel. Adenosine reaches the reticular activating system, where it acts to promote sleep. Caffeine induces wakefulness by inhibiting the release of adenosine.

According to one of the prominent neurochemical theories regarding differences between dreaming and waking consciousness, the unique nature of dream consciousness results from a massive increase of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) during REM sleep relative to the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin.

This is a Dream...

(This may help explain why choline can be used to induce lucid dreaming, while 5-HTP, a precursor of serotonin, is used to induce deep sleep.)

Another system which affects our wakefulness is influenced by norepinephrine and epinephrine, which may increase arousals and reduce deep and REM sleep due via a stimulation of the RAS.

Bandersnatch

Music to “get in to the flow”

  • Non Physical Evidence
  • The Glove
  • Tangerine Dream
  • The Cure
  • Bauhaus
  • Tomita
  • Edgar Froese
  • Joy Divison
  • The Birthday Party

Colin’s monologue on LSD

People think there’s one reality but there’s loads of them, all snaking off, like roots. And what you do on one path affects what happens on the other paths. Time is a construct. People think you can’t go back and change things, but you can. That’s what flashbacks are. They’re invitations to go back and make different choices. When you make a decision, you think it’s you doing it, but it’s not. It’s the spirit out there that’s connected to our world that decides what we do and we just have to go along for the ride. Mirrors let you move through time. The government monitors people, they pay people to pretend to be your relatives, and they put drugs in your food and they film you. There’s messages in every game. Like Pac-Man. Do you know what PAC stands for? P-A-C. Program and Control. He’s Program and Control Man. The whole thing’s a metaphor. He thinks he’s got free will but really, he’s trapped in a maze, in a system, all he can do is consume, he’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own head. And even if he does manage to escape by slipping out one side of the maze, what happens? He comes right back in the other side. People think it’s a happy game. It’s not a happy game, it’s a fucking nightmare world and the worst thing is it’s real and we live in it. It’s all code. If you listen closely, you can hear the numbers. There’s a cosmic flowchart that dictates where you can and where you can’t go. I’ve given you the knowledge. I’ve set you free. Do you understand? I’ll show you what I mean. Come with me. We’re on one path. Right now, me and you. And how one path ends is immaterial. It’s how our decisions along that path affect the whole that matters.

This is a Dream...

Do you believe me?

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Do you have trouble falling asleep at a time society at large would consider “normal”? Do you stay up till past midnight before you even consider giving the old shuteye a chance?

If so, you may have delayed sleep phase disorder, a condition which is as annoying as it is incurable.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

While most of the time, adult presence of this condition goes on to be a lifelong problem, it can indeed be managed and its impact on your quality of life completely eliminated.

Before we delve any deeper into the ins and outs of delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD) let us try to conjure up a more or less proper definition of the condition.

Also known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, DSPD is a sleep disorder characterized by the delay of a person’s bedtime, by 2 or more hours. The result of this delay is that the affected person only manages to hit the sack at around 2-3 AM, to then wake up at around noon.

That said, the sleep phases are normal, and unless there is another condition in the picture, the quality of sleep remains satisfactory as well. The biggest issue with this sort of delayed sleep schedule is that it goes against societal norms, and thus it forces its bearers to forcefully modify it, or attempt to do so. Such attempts will result in the sufferer living in a constant jet-lag-affected state. Long story short: it is not pleasant.

DSPD can also be defined as a chronic dysregulation of one’s circadian rhythm.

A far higher percentage of teenagers suffer from DSPD than adults. A typical DSPD-affected teenager will be prone to catching a nap during the afternoon, after which he/she will feel energized and ready to tackle life. This state extends far into the night. In fact, such “night owls” will be exceptionally active, energized and productive even around midnight. The following day though, they will find it nearly impossible to wake up in time for school.

What are the symptoms of DSPD?

Its most obvious symptom is obviously the above-discussed inability to go to bed at the desired time. As specified above, this comes coupled with the inability to wake up at the desired time. The second one of these is considered the most obvious symptom of the condition, since that’s the first clue parents get about the circadian troubles their offspring is facing.

To complete the palette, the above two symptoms are not accompanied by any other sleeping problems. When a DSPD  sufferer is allowed to complete his/her sleep cycle on his/her own terms, he/she will awaken without problems, and the quality of sleep will be adequate as well. This does not mean that DSPD cannot be present together with other sleep disorders, but it usually is not.

Last but not least – especially in sufferers unable to get their desired sleep on their own terms – the condition can unfortunately trigger depression and various behavioral problems. These issues are usually not directly attributable to DSPD, but rather to the attempts made to “correct” it, and to various societal pressures.

What causes delayed sleep phase syndrome?

Unfortunately, the exact causes of delayed sleep phase disorder are not known. What’s science fact at this point is though that it is much more frequent in teenagers than it is in adults and even children. Some 5-16% of this age-group is affected by the condition, compared with around 0.15% in adults. What that means is that it is probably linked to puberty and the changes in one’s circadian rhythm that it triggers.

The behavior is definitely NOT deliberate, although it may indeed seem exactly that at times.

What I can personally tell you is that there are behaviors which can aggravate the condition. I experienced DSPD-like symptoms myself on several occasions, following months of delayed sleep schedule. In my case though, simply putting down work/curtailing other activities around normal bedtime, and going to sleep corrects the problem every time. For a true DSPD sufferer, such an approach does not work.

How to manage DSPD?

There are two main avenues of approach to delayed sleep phase disorder: a non-pharmacologic approach and a medication-based one.

In my opinion the most logical approach to the management of DSPD involves light therapy and darkness therapy (which is about restricting evening light). It is believed (and I personally believe it too) that DSPD sufferers may exhibit a sort of genetic oversensitivity to evening light. Thus, even mild forms of such light stimulate their brains, fooling it into delaying the sleep phase.

In this regard, eliminating all sources of evening light, such as artificial light, computer and mobile phone screens and even wearing goggles that block blue light, is generally considered a good idea. I have personally experimented with this approach and it worked well for me, whenever I had my sleep phase delayed for limited periods of time. Again: I’m not a DSPD sufferer, so my experiments hardly mean anything in regards to the condition.

Light therapy is obviously the opposite of darkness therapy, and as such, it consists of the stimulation of the sufferer’s eyes with light around the time when his/her spontaneous awakening is due. This therapy takes 30-90 minutes, its drawback being that it contributes to the further lengthening of the patient’s morning routine.

Phase delay chronotherapy is another non-pharmacological approach to the management of DSPD, but it is no longer popular, on account of its rather intrusive nature, and the fact that may indeed end up worsening the condition, even triggering non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder, which is quite a bit worse than “simple” DSPD. Phase delay chronotherapy is about the gradual delaying of the onset of sleep, by around two hours at a time, until the desired bedtime is reached.

Used in a controlled manner, sleep deprivation may be a treatment tool as well. One such treatment path prescribes the staying awake of the patient for a full day and night, after which he/she is put to bed 90 minutes earlier than before. The patient is then required to stick to the new bedtime for a week, after which the process can be repeated.

Other ways to promote more conventional bedtimes call for earlier exercise and earlier mealtimes.

The medication-based approach of delayed sleep phase disorder management is mostly focused on melatonin – no big surprises there…Melatonin is known as a hormone that can influence the circadian rhythm, and taken about an hour before bedtime, it can indeed induce drowsiness. Smaller doses of melatonin can be taken earlier too, in an effort to reset the body’s internal clock.

Melatonin is not side-effect free, but sticking to smaller doses can eliminate most of these side-effects. The bottom line in this regard is that it is certainly worth a shot, if DSPD has a big negative impact on the quality of your life.

While melatonin supplements are widely available, alternative medications can be used for the management of DSPD as well. The drug Rozerem comes to mind here, which is a melatonin agonist (acts in a way similar to melatonin and binds to the same receptors). Science still hasn’t cast a definitive verdict on the suitability of melatonin for DSPD-management though. There are studies out there which confirm the link, while others deny it.

This is a Dream...

Yet another medication-based solution is presented by drugs used to treat shift-work sleep disorders. Indeed, this disorder shares a many similarities with DSPD, therefore it makes sense that sometimes drugs such as Modafinil are prescribed for sufferers.

Vitamin B12 used to be considered an alternative for DSPD management, but it was later proven to be completely ineffective.

Negative impact of DSPD

Most of the negative impacts of the condition are societal in nature. Someone with DSPD will find it impossible to function at an optimal level, within the daily time-frames required by society. Thusly, such people will often be labeled lazy, incompetent and generally inadequate.

One of the biggest problems is this regard is lack of awareness. DSPD – as weird as that may seem – is extremely difficult to diagnose, and indeed, it seldom gets recognized for what it is. Most of the time, the bare diagnosis contributes enormously to the coping-capacity of a sufferer. Misdiagnoses is also frequent, and it often leads to the administration of psychoactive drugs to patients.

How can I cope with the effects of DSPD?

As said above, if you are properly diagnosed with the condition, you are already on the right path. Working the night or evening shifts at your job can be the solution to your woes, and knowing what you’re dealing with, you can actively seek out such solutions. Working from home is obviously also a potential path to management.

The good news is that DSPD awareness is on the rise. There are indeed schools and universities out there which have begun allowing DSPD-sufferers to take exams at hours more appropriate for their needs.

What is advanced sleep phase syndrome?

ASPD is a circadian rhythm disorder, much like DSPD, but with symptoms that can best be described as the opposites of DSPD’s. People suffering from this disorder will feel extremely drowsy early in the evening (as early as 6 PM), and they go to bed early, only to awaken around 2-3 AM, and not be able to go back to sleep.

The societal implications of this condition are quite similar to those of DSPD, at least on a theoretical level. Due to the actual sleep/wake times involved though, ASPD is without a doubt much less disruptive than DSPD.

ASPD is treated with light- and chronotherapy.

Conclusion

Delayed sleep phase disorder is an incurable condition, often referred to as an “invisible disability.” Given proper diagnosis and management though its disruptive effects on the sufferer’s life can be almost completely eliminated.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep-related condition defined as a long-lasting neurological issue, which leads to the inability of the sufferer to properly regulate his/her sleep/wake cycle.

The most common symptom of narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness, which may strike at any time through the day and which may last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

There’s a lot more to narcolepsy, symptoms- as well as complications-wise though.

Narcolepsy

Is Narcolepsy considered a disability?

Given the potential severity of narcolepsy, it is no surprise that – under certain circumstances – it is indeed considered a disability, and those suffering from it are indeed held eligible for SSD (Social Security Disability) benefit.

Those suffering from severe forms of narcolepsy will fall asleep at any time, without any warning. They might also experience sleep paralysis, as well as sudden muscle weakness when in an emotionally heightened state.

What conditions does narcolepsy have to fulfill to be considered eligible for SSD, and what sort of documents do you need to produce for your application?

Detailed medical reports are obviously a must. These reports need to contain the formal diagnosis, information pertaining to the frequency and severity of the symptoms, the presence of such symptoms even in the wake of prescribed medical treatment as well as the conclusion that these symptoms severely affect your ability to normally function.

This is a Dream...

While severe narcolepsy is indeed no child’s game, the SSA (Social Security Administration), does not have it formally predefined in its manual, as a potentially disabling condition. For this reason, sufferers applying for SSD will need to prove that the condition does indeed impact their “residual functioning capacity.”

This residual functioning capacity is determined by the way the sufferer is able to handle day-by-day living and various functions associated with it. The ability to drive, to cook and care for oneself, as well as the ability to go to the store are all considered in this regard.

The above mentioned medical reports need to show beyond doubt that this residual functioning capacity is indeed affected.

Can narcoleptics drive?

If one’s narcolepsy is severe enough to qualify for SSD (as specified above), then the answer is a definite NO. The dangers that narcolepsy entails when it comes to activities such as driving, operating heavy machinery or even just cooking, are rather obvious.

While driving, opportunities for a “nap” abound. A narcoleptic can fall asleep at the stoplight, while sitting around stuck in traffic, or worse: while driving at high speed on the highway. The highway is indeed a special challenge for narcoleptics, due to the relatively dull and often drowsiness-inducing nature of the monotonous high-speed travel.

Cataplexy (the above said sudden loss of muscle strength induced by emotionally trying situations) is an added problem. Due to this issue, a narcoleptic can indeed lose control of the vehicle he/she is driving, even while being awake and well aware of the surroundings.

Science is not on the side of narcoleptic driving either. According to several studies, more than half of narcoleptics who ever drove a car, fell asleep at one point or another. This fact alone is scary enough to warn all those suffering from this condition off driving for good. Around a third of driving narcoleptics have actually had accidents due to feeling drowsy/falling asleep.

Long story short: narcoleptics are 3-4 times more likely to have a car accident than people free of this condition.

What can you do though if you are a narcoleptic and (for one reason or another) you really need to drive?

In this case, your first step is to have an honest self-assessment session.

Ask yourself if you can indeed maintain the alertness needed for driving, for the required period of time. If this accomplishment seems out of reach, call off the whole thing right there and then.

Ask someone close to you for honest feedback.

Again: if the feedback is negative, do not even consider going through with the deed.

Definitely ask your doctor for his/her opinion. If you need an actual, scientifically-based assessment of your driving abilities, there’s an actual test for that, called MWT (Maintenance of Wakefulness Test). Completing this test will give you a good idea of how well you can handle keeping vigilant under boring circumstances.

How do you get narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a hard nut to crack in regards to its triggers. I can safely say that thus far, science has failed to come up with a explanation in this sense.

Despite that, certain genes linked to the condition have been identified by specialists. These genes are responsible for controlling the release of certain chemicals in the brain, which control sleep and wake cycles. Once these cycles are thrown out of sync, narcolepsy strikes.

One of the chemicals researchers are currently looking at, is called hypocretin (orexin).

In addition to the chemical side of the equation, there are a number of brain irregularities involved in narcolepsy too. These irregularities – while not directly responsible for narcolepsy – are apparently involved in symptom development too. These factors are also involved in REM sleep disturbances, so their impact may in fact be further reaching that currently suspected.

Setting a proper diagnosis for narcolepsy is extremely difficult. The symptoms are not exclusive to the condition, and specialized tests are needed to properly identify it. There are several such specialized tests, but two of them are considered essential: the MSLT (Multiple Sleep Latency Test) and the PSG (polysomnogram).

The PSG test is an overnight one, which is focused on the tracking of sleep cycles. The REM stage of sleep is of the essence here. Through PSG, specialists track its appearance, and see whether it shows up at abnormal times.

MSLT, on the other hand, is focused on the time the narcolepsy-suspect spends awake. This test too is focused on REM sleep, looking for traces of it popping into the picture at inappropriate times.

What is the main cause of narcolepsy?

As said above, the main known cause/trigger of narcolepsy is hypocretin deficiency. Since this chemical regulates sleep cycles, it is indeed a logical starting point to consider. The problem is though that there are narcolepsy cases where a lack of hypocretin is not present.

Furthermore, hypocretin deficiency might just be a sort of middle link in the pathologic chain. It is apparently caused by an autoimmune problem, which prompts the sufferer’s immune system to attack certain parts of the brain, the ones responsible for hypocretin production.

The original trigger may in fact be a protein called trib 2. Trib 2 is produced by the same area of the brain that produces hypocretin. The autoimmune response is apparently targeted at this protein, and it inadvertently damages hypocretin production too.

None of the above theories explain though why some people with normal hypocretin levels have narcolepsy.

I would say that a number of other factors have to be considered too. The genetic inheritance factor is definitely one of them, as is stress, a sleep-pattern mix-up, a major infection or hormonal changes.

Interestingly, the flu vaccine Pandemrix has also been linked to narcolepsy. While its effects in this regard have been determined to be extremely minute, they were still considered significant enough to warrant the discontinuation of the vaccine for people under 20.

Given that it is a brain-condition we are talking about, narcolepsy can indeed come about as a result of another condition. In such cases, it is called secondary narcolepsy. Problems that can potentially induce narcolepsy are brain tumors, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, and various mechanical head injuries.

Can you cure narcolepsy?

Being the complex problem that it is, narcolepsy cannot currently be cured.

The good news is though that there are treatments through which the severity of the symptoms can be alleviated, and the condition as a whole can be kept under control.

The optimal treatment is set on a case-specific basis. Your personal symptoms determine the course of the treatment, which will consist of lifestyle changes, medication and counseling.

The ability of narcolepsy to impede normal life cannot be underestimated. Symptoms such as the sudden onset of sleep and cataplexy can be extremely embarrassing and uncomfortable. Often, sufferers will descend into depression, which will then compound the problem. Reaching out to a support group might be a difficult step to take, but it is a potentially very useful move as well.

Lifestyle changes might not be easy to usher in either, but they represent the factor over which the sufferer has the most control and they do indeed produce positive results.

Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and nicotine is generally a good idea, and it can indeed make a major difference with narcolepsy.

Scheduling sleep periods also makes sense. While narcoleptics get about the same amount of sleep on average that non-sufferers do, the quality of this sleep is much worse. By scheduling brief daytime naps, a narcoleptic may make up for this lack of sleep-quality.

Exercising is also recommended, and so is the avoidance of activities which may leave the sufferer in a dangerous position at the onset of a sleep-bout.

The medication side of the treatment is focused on antidepressants, stimulants and sodium oxybate. That makes it obvious that this treatment angle is focused on symptoms too, rather than on the root causes of the problem.

What are the dangers of narcolepsy?

The dangers brought about by narcolepsy are rather obvious.

Sleep-attacks may strike at any moment, and thus they may easily overwhelm the victim at times when he/she is in precarious positions. When falling asleep while driving, climbing a ladder or leaning over a pot of boiling soup, disaster is indeed never more than a fraction of a second away.

Can narcolepsy go away on its own?

According to the currently available science on narcolepsy, the condition is indeed a lifelong one, which means that it will likely not go away on its own.

While the current treatment-repertoire is focused almost exclusively on the management of symptoms, hope remains that solutions will be developed that will eventually address the root causes of narcolepsy.

A lot is already known about the underlying causes of the condition, but a lot still has to be learned, especially in the case of Type 2 narcolepsy.

What is the best medicine for narcolepsy?

Sodium Oxybate (XYREM) is an extremely important component of every narcolepsy treatment. Since it reduces the effects of cataplexy, it can indeed make a major difference for sufferers.

Antidepressants on the other hand are aimed at tackling the REM irregularities which accompany/trigger this condition. EffexorXR (Venlafaxine) is essentially a Serotonin-Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, just like Atomoxetine. Prozac and Zoloft are also on the menu so to speak, as are Tricyclic Antidepressants such as Protriptyline and Imipramine.

In regards to stimulants of the central nervous system, Methylphenidate, and Mixed Amphetamine Salts such as Adderall IR and XR have to be mentioned.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Legs Syndrome may have a “cute” name and – at first glance – it may have nothing to do with sleep, but it is indeed one of the most persistent and irritating sleep disorders, on account of the symptoms it generates.

Is there anything you can do to alleviate these symptoms? Can Restless Leg Syndrome be cured? Who is most likely to develop the condition? All that and more answered below.

Restless Legs Syndrome

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Currently classified as a disorder of the nervous system, Restless Legs Syndrome is indeed a peculiar condition. By generating uncomfortable sensations in the legs (and sometimes other body parts) of the sufferer, it compels her/him to move her/his legs.

Restless Legs Syndrome is much more common in women than men, and it usually rears its head from middle age onward, though that does not mean that it cannot appear in young girls too.

The above said “uncomfortable sensations” are comprised of itches, pinpricks and various crawling feelings. The intensity of these sensations ranges from the mildly annoying to the unbearable.

These problems are apparently the worst when the sufferer is sitting or lying down.

What’s worse still, is that the sensations are amplified in the evening or at night.

The above makes it clear that while it has no direct links to sleep, Restless Leg Syndrome does indeed cause sleep disruption, which – over the long run – can become quite debilitating for the sufferer, in terms of sleep as well as overall quality of life.

The exact science behind RLS is not currently clear, which means that its diagnosis can be very difficult (as it is mostly based on the elimination of other conditions that might trigger the same symptoms) and its treatment is sort of hit or miss as well.

What are the causes of restless leg syndrome?

As I stated above, the exact causes of Restless Legs Syndrome are not currently known. Doctors have their suspicions, but there is no scientifically accepted explanation to why this condition strikes the people that it does.

Genetics definitely have a role in its development. People who suffer from RLS tend to have at least one family member who also struggles with the condition.

Other than that, only a few factors that may help with the triggering of the symptoms or the worsening of the condition, can be served up causes-wise.

In this regard, chronic diseases and the acute lack of certain minerals and trace elements, have to be brought into the picture. A chronic iron deficiency can be a major aggravating factor, together with a slew of diseases, such as Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy and diabetes. Those who suffer from these illnesses will usually have their RLS symptoms relieved by effective treatment of the underlying condition.

Certain medications are also known to make the symptoms of RLS more severe. In this regard, you should keep your eye on antidepressants in general, on various antinausea solutions and even on allergy-aimed medications, especially those that contain antihistamines.

Pregnancy is thought to be one of the factors that can bring about RLS syndrome, especially during its later stages. RLS issues triggered by pregnancy tend to go away on their own after delivery though.

Sleep deprivation, alcohol use and smoking have never done anyone any good, so it is not exactly surprising that they too can contribute to the worsening of your RLS symptoms.

What triggers restless leg syndrome?

While – as said above – the scientifically substantiated triggers of RLS are unknown, if you suffer from the condition, over time you’ll learn your own personal triggers. Knowing these triggers is indeed very important when it comes to the management and even treatment of the condition.

Restless Leg Syndrome triggers can cover an impressively wise range of activities, positions, medications and other chemical factors.

As mentioned above, certain medications will trigger bouts of RLS. I’ve given you a rundown of some of the risk factors in this regard above, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself of which medications you need to steer well clear.

Alcohol, caffeine and smoking and lack of sleep are also possible triggers – as mentioned above. The presence of sleep deprivation on this list is especially perverted, given how it is a product of RLS, and as such, it becomes part of a vicious, self-intensifying circle, that can indeed make the life of a RLS sufferer hell.

Sitting still for significant periods of time (like at the movies or during a longer flight) can also be a possible trigger. Such extended periods of sitting produce a number of adverse physical effects in one’s body (especially in the legs) which can then trigger an existing but dormant condition such as RLS.

Stress and temperature are two other possible triggers. Refined sugar has to be mentioned here as well. Try to steer clear of it: it too is generally bad for your overall health anyway.

Sensitivity to certain types of fabrics and clothing cannot be disregarded either. Make your observations in this regard and avoid clothing that may have given you bouts of RLS in the past.

How do you know if you have Restless Leg Syndrome?

I already described the symptoms above, although I may not have been specific enough.

The symptom most commonly associated with RLS is the need/urge to move. This urge may be associated with unpleasant feelings described as creepy-crawly, pinprick-like or even painful. Inactivity usually worsens the symptoms while moving relieves them. The range of motions which can bring relief to RLS is rather wide. It includes the rubbing of the legs, walking, pacing, jiggling the legs and even stretching and flexing.

RLS sufferers may also find relief at night by tossing and turning in bed. This sort of behavior will obviously result in lost sleep though. This is where Periodic Limb Movement comes into the picture too. Caused by RLS, this phenomenon keeps pestering sufferers, even in their sleep. It causes the twitching and jerking of limbs in 10-60 second intervals, which will often result in the rousing of the sufferer, whose sleep quality further deteriorates due to this issue.

In regards to the pain part of the symptom equation: it has to be noted that RLS-induced pain is not sharp. It is more of a dull ache.

RLS-related symptoms usually rear their heads in the calves/lover leg. They can however be present in the thighs as well as the arms.

What can you do for restless leg syndrome?

While the condition itself cannot be cured, its symptoms can be managed/minimized, and in some cases, it is quite easy to deal with them.

It is important to be aware of the fact that in and of itself, RLS does not cause health problems. Most of its ill-effects are due to the sleep disorder its symptoms indirectly cause.

Some of the best ways to deal RLS a blow are linked to lifestyle changes.

Exactly what can you do in this regard?

Make use of time you would spend relaxing, to give your legs a massage. You can do that while watching TV, or if you spend a lot of time sitting at work: there and then.

Take hot baths. They are great for relaxing and they do seem to relieve RLS’ symptoms too.

Interestingly, sometimes ice packs seem to do the trick as well. They’re certainly worth a try too.

As I stated above, sometimes RLS may result from iron deficiency. Do not self-medicate in this regard. Tell your doctor about your condition and ask for qualified advice.

Since the most harmful effect of RLS is sleep deprivation, do everything you possibly can to ensure a good night’s sleep. Stick to a healthy sleep schedule, avoid caffeine, alcohol and other chemical factors that might interfere with healthy sleep.

Try meditation or progressive muscle relaxation when going to bed.

Avoiding napping during the day can be helpful too. If you get drowsy during the afternoon, get up instead of taking a nap or drinking coffee, move around a little and give your legs a good rub-down.

Up the amount of exercise you get during the week. Mild RLS symptoms can often be eliminated through proper exercise. By proper, I mean moderate. Moderate exercise is what you’re looking for here, as a far too vigorous approach can have an effect contrary to the desired one, and worsen your symptoms.

If you are forced into a passive, sitting position by the circumstances (you’re taking a long business flight for instance), try to get up and move about as often as you possibly can. With that in mind, requesting an aisle seat is always a good idea.

What is best for restless leg syndrome?

The above discussed symptom-management measures double as your first line of Restless Legs Syndrome treatment. If you are on some sort of medication, bring it up with your doctor and review every one of the drugs involved, in relation to RLS.

If you happen to have some sort of underlying medical condition, you will have to sort it out. In this regard, special attention needs to be paid to anemia, various nutrition-related deficiencies, Parkinson’s, thyroid disease, kidney problems, diabetes and varicose veins.

Various vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin D, have to be considered as well.

If your RLS is the result of one of the above mentioned underlying medical conditions, through the effective treatment of this condition, chances are indeed good that you will get rid of RLS too.

If all else fails, there are medications used for the treatment of RLS. In this regard, obviously, only a doctor can hand down verdicts and actual prescriptions.

Opiates are used to treat pain and they sometimes prove useful for the management of RLS symptoms too. This treatment path is not a sustainable one though, since opiates are indeed highly addictive.

Anticonvulsants address nerve pain as well as chronic pain. As such, they too can be used to alleviate RLS symptoms.

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Other substance classes used for RLS treatment are dopamine agonists (these are in fact the most commonly used drugs), dopaminergic agents and sedatives belonging in the category of benzodiazepines. Alpha2 agonists are used with the goal of simply turning off the section of the nervous system responsible with involuntary muscle movements.

As you can plainly see, the drug-based treatment of RLS is no walk in the park. The substances used elicit a variety of alarming effects and side effects, and as such, they should only be called upon as a last-resort solution.

What vitamins are good for restless leg syndrome?

When it comes to supplements meant to address RLS, iron is the number one contender. Doctors suspect that there is a link between iron deficiency and RLS, and therefore iron is the most commonly recommended and used supplement for the condition.

In addition to iron, folate, magnesium and diosmin are used as well.

Experimental therapies are done with vitamin C and E, near-infrared light and C-ribose.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea – unlike some of the sleep disorders I’ve covered here – is a very serious condition, one that may indeed result in the death of the sufferer.

What exactly causes sleep apnea though, how can it be treated, and ultimately: how can you get rid of it?

What qualifies as sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is very clearly defined, and as such, it can be quite definitively identified by specialists. In theory, any in-sleep incident which sees the “victim” stop breathing for 10 seconds or more is a sleep apnea event.

During such an event, the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and organs of the sufferer is obviously reduced.

With sleep apnea, incidents of the above described nature occur several times per hour. Depending on the frequency and length of these apnea events, several levels of gravity have been defined.

Mild Sleep Apnea

Those who experience 5-14 episodes of breathing stoppage per hour, suffer from a mild version of the condition.

Those limits are indeed very broad, and the symptoms associated with the condition are quite generic and inconspicuous as well. They include drowsiness during activities which require a reduced amount of attention, such as watching television and reading.

Moderate Sleep Apnea

With moderate apnea, sufferers will run out of breath 15-29 times per hour, and if that seems like a lot, it’s because it certainly is. Such a frequency means having a sleep apnea event once every two minutes, on average.

The symptoms of a condition this severe include drowsiness during activities requiring a heightened state of alertness, such as concerts and meetings.

Severe Sleep Apnea

Severe sleep apnea is associated with breathing problems of a rather appalling frequency: those suffering from this kind of sleep apnea will experience breathing issues more than 30 times every hour.

Also, such victims will fall asleep during activities that require a massive amount of attention, such as eating, walking, and perhaps worst of all: driving.

In children, slightly different guidelines are used for the definition of sleep apnea.

What are the warning signs of sleep apnea?

While I’ve already covered some of the symptoms of sleep apnea above, that was just me scratching the surface ever so gently in this regard.

The symptoms of sleep apnea are numerous and they cover a wide range of issues, from snoring, to daytime exhaustion.

Indeed, while snoring can be a major sign of sleep apnea, not all snoring is indicative of the problem: snoring followed by choking and gasping noises, or lengthy pauses in breathing, most definitely is though.

Those suffering from sleep apnea will also find that their sleep is not refreshing and that they have headaches in the morning. These headaches are caused by the oxygen-deprivation of the brain.

Other sleep apnea symptoms are memory loss, irritability, decreased libido, having to hit the bathroom several times a night and insomnia – quite a foul collection of sleep-related pathologies.

If by warning signs, you mean risk factors, I can fill you in on these as well.

Being overweight always exposes you to sleep apnea. So does simply being a man, especially middle-aged at that…While women too get sleep apnea, the problem is much more prevalent in the male population.

Large neck-size is yet another risk factor, as is hypertension and a family history of sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea

Can you have sleep apnea at a young age?

Diagnosing sleep apnea in atypical sufferers such as teenagers and women is often more difficult than doctors will admit, and indeed those who fall outside the “middle aged, overweight man” category are often misdiagnosed with this condition.

Though most prevalent in the above mentioned category, sleep apnea can be present in just about any age group and that includes children.

While snoring is relatively widespread among the youth too, only a minute percentage of children actually have sleep apnea (some 2-3%). In most such cases, enlarged glands, such as adenoids and tonsils are the guilty party.

Making proper diagnosis even more challenging for doctors is the fact that while in adults, the correlation between obesity and sleep apnea is quite obvious, in children, no such correlation was found.

Apparently, the above said correlation begins showing at the age of 12, above which it becomes more and more pronounced as the years are added.

Childhood sleep apnea often does not even have to be treated. Some children will simply outgrow the condition, as the muscular structure of their throats changes and develops.

In the cases where infected tonsils or adenoids are to blame, tonsillectomy is considered an effective treatment, which has been found to solve some 80-90% of the cases.

Can you die if you have sleep apnea?

The death risks associated with sleep apnea are indeed rather numerous and unsettling.

While dying from an actual episode of in-sleep breath obstruction is not highly likely, the “reach” of this illness extends far above and beyond direct risks. It has been linked to diabetes, pregnancy complications and heart disease, not to mention driving events, which are indeed all potentially deadly.

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Although one would think that proving the link between deadly car crashes and sleep apnea wouldn’t need an actual study, such studies were indeed conducted, and their findings are indisputable.

Not only are sleep apnea sufferers more likely to cause car crashes, their crashes are much more likely to be of the most deadly variety.

Exactly how much more prone is a sleep apnea sufferer to cause an accident?

Apparently, that number is threefold the risk of a non-suffering driver. Still more unsettling is the fact that the actual gravity of the condition plays no role in this regard. Even drivers with mild sleep apnea are three times more likely to cause car crashes than their healthy peers.

I can also tell you that sleep apnea is linked to diabetes, in a sort of directly proportional manner: the more severe one’s sleep apnea, the more likely he/she is to develop diabetes.

The pregnancy complications angle is quite self-explanatory, but it too extends beyond the direct problems caused by oxygen deprivation.

Can you get rid of sleep apnea?

Fortunately, the answer to that is yes.

As said above, in the case of the childhood version of the condition, sometimes not much has to be done about it: the sufferer will simply outgrow it.

With adults though, the problem calls for a different approach.

Putting forth a path to recovery is little more than common sense in this case too though.

Weight loss and lifestyle change is the obvious first step. The two go hand-in-hand, though obviously, this approach is only valid for those who are overweight/obese. The link between sleep apnea and being overweight has been clearly established, there are no questions at all in this regard. I can personally attest to the fact that weight loss will indeed “cure” sleep apnea, while delivering a host of other benefits to the overall health of the sufferer.

Despite being very effective indeed, weight loss can be difficult for most people to achieve. Therefore, CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure) should also be considered a front line treatment.

CPAP devices have to be worn over the face, and they can be quite clunky and uncomfortable. They blow air into the airways of the sleep apnea sufferer, to make sure that the oxygen supply is never cut short.

Because around half of those treated fail to stick to using the apparatus, alternative treatments, such as the use of an oral device, have been developed.

How serious is sleep apnea?

As I already stated several times above, sleep apnea is indeed a very serious condition.

It can trigger a number of other problems and health issues, some of which can in fact be fatal.

People suffering from OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.

While this alone seems serious enough, there are other “blessings” included in the sleep apnea package too. Type 2 diabetes is another such issue, together with acid reflux and adult asthma.

Can removing tonsils cure sleep apnea?

In some cases: yes.

Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy are considered as treatment options, especially with sufferers whose OSA is thought to be triggered by the inflammation of these glands. As such, removing the tonsils is mainly a treatment path for childhood sleep apnea, though in some cases, it may help in adults too.

What is important to know is that this treatment path involves surgery. As far as efficiency goes, OSA symptoms nearly always improve within 6 months following surgery.

What is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea?

Weight loss and a proper lifestyle change is the best way to treat OSA without intrusive intervention. Due to the nature of this approach though, this solution is obviously not feasible for all sufferers.

The currently accepted best course of OSA treatment leads through CPAP – there is no way around that. In addition to effectively treating sleep apnea, CPAP machines also eliminate snoring and the problems associated with it.

In addition to CPAP, oral appliances deserve a second look as well. They present a series of advantages over CPAP machines, which make them much easier to incorporate into the lifestyle of the sufferer.

In this respect, I have to caution against various over-the-counter appliances, which are not FDA-approved, and the effectiveness of which can therefore not be properly assessed.

UAS (Upper Airway Stimulation) therapy is yet another option to consider. It is a clinically proven therapy, which is aimed at people unable to resort to CPAP. The UAS system is a rather intricate one. It electronically monitors one’s breathing pattern during sleep, sending stimulating impulses to the right muscle groups when/if called for.

Nasal decongestives and positional therapy are also treatment options that can bring relief to some.

Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking (also known as somnambulism, noctambulism and night wandering) is a sleep disorder which prompts the sufferer sit up or to walk around and to perform various complex actions while asleep.

Is sleepwalking dangerous? What sort of potential dangers does it entail and how can you “cure” it? Let us try to address these questions and more.

Sleepwalking

Why do people walk in their sleep?

Sleepwalking – a disorder mostly affecting children between the ages of 4 and 8 – is an issue that can be triggered by a number of factors.

Some of these factors are hereditary/genetic. Indeed, a person whose sibling or parent is affected by sleepwalking, is 10 times more likely to develop the problem than a person whose family is sleepwalking-free.

Sleep deprivation is another problem that may trigger a whole menagerie of sleep disorders, among them sleepwalking too.

An irregular sleep schedule is also a potential trigger for sleepwalking, as is stress, fever and various psychiatric disorders.

Other sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome, are involved in sleepwalking as well. Stress and various drugs (such as sedatives) can be involved with sleepwalking on some level too.

A number of medical conditions can trigger the problem as well, and the list of such issues is indeed truly formidable.

Heart rhythm problems and fever are obvious candidates, but we have less likely actors involved too, such as heartburn and obstructive sleep apnea.

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Seizures and nighttime asthma round out the sinister picture, with panic problems, PTSD and multiple personality disorder slapped onto the side.

It is indeed safe to conclude that anything and everything that negatively impacts sleep quality can be involved with sleepwalking, one way or another.

How do you get rid of sleepwalking?

Prevention is always better than the treatment of any condition after onset, so here’s what you can do to avoid situations that can lead up to sleepwalking:

  • Avoiding and limiting stress is a great starting point. Always try to lead as stress-free a life as possible, within the limits of reason of course. In this day and age, completely eliminating stress is impossible, so learning to manage it is a much more realistic approach.
  • Set a proper sleep schedule and try to stick to it, as much as possible of course.
  • While you may not always have control over stress and sleep quality, there is one thing you can always control 100%: visual and auditory stimulation before bedtime. Eliminate smart phones, tablet and even television from your pre-sleep ritual, and you’ll have dealt the odds of sleepwalking a very significant blow.

If you already are a sleepwalker, there are a number of measures you can take to eliminate the potential dangers associated with the disorder. Move your bedroom to the ground floor, lock your doors and windows, eliminate sharp and pointy objects from your sleeping environment, and place drapes over your windows.

Last, but certainly not least, if you’re dealing with a medical condition that is a potential sleepwalking trigger, have it treated and eliminated.

Obviously, if sleepwalking is frequent, one should seek medical help. Psychological/medical examination is in order, to exclude possible underlying causes such as partial complex seizures.

Is it bad to wake up a sleepwalker?

The answer to that is both yes and no.

Yes, because upon awakening, a sleepwalker can cause physical damage to him/herself or the person who wakes him/her up.

Vigorously rousing someone from a sleepwalking episode will cause physical discomfort to the sufferer, not to mention confusion and psychological distress. A person awakened in this manner may strike out at anyone close by, out of fear and momentary confusion, so no, in this regard, rousing a sleepwalker is really not a good idea.

What do you do though when you see the sleepwalker is headed for trouble? In such cases, simply guiding the person back to his/her bed while still asleep, is the best course of action.

The myth about sleepwalkers being prone to having a cardiac event, getting a shock or developing brain damage upon awakening, is just that: a myth. The only danger and potential for injury comes from the confused actions of the sleepwalker and not from the shock of awakening.

What stage is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is known to mostly occur during stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle. These stages are the deep sleep, or Delta sleep stages, where little to no dreaming occurs, and where the replenishment of muscle nutrients and hormones happens.

During this stage of sleep, the muscles are relaxed, though the body maintains its ability to control and activate them if needed.

During a night, about 4-6 full cycles of sleep are rotated through. Sleepwalking is most likely to occur in one of the early cycles.

It is also known to occur (less frequently) during REM sleep, in which case it strikes toward the end of sleep, in the morning.

In children, sleepwalking seems to be surprisingly common between the ages of 6 and 12.

In adults, it is much rarer. It is estimated that only one in 250 adults suffers from this sleeping disorder.

Is sleepwalking dangerous?

As already stated above, in its mild/most usual form, sleepwalking does not carry any physiological hazards for the sufferer, not even when the sleepwalker is abruptly awakened.

The fact though that due to the condition, one ends up walking around, performing complex actions and even driving vehicles in some cases, while in an unconscious state, does imply certain dangers.

Sleepwalking episodes can last from a few seconds to 30-40 minutes, so they should not be underestimated when it comes to the type of physical risk to which they expose their victims.

As stated above, measures aimed at the management of the condition should be focused on physically limiting access for the sufferer to the bedroom, and to making the bedroom itself as safe as possible from the perspective of physical contact.

Can sleepwalkers see you?

Sleepwalkers may have their eyes open and they may actually see some of their surroundings, but they do not “see” in the conventional sense of the word.

Despite seeing enough to be able to perform complex actions, a sleepwalker does not see the surrounding world the way he usually does. For instance, he may think that he is in a different room, or in an entirely different location altogether.

This is why it is important to make sure he does not get into any trouble in the “real world” while sleepwalking, which explains why it is a good idea to lock the windows and doors of the bedroom, to make sure he cannot leave the premises.

A sleepwalker will usually go back to bed on his own, and he will not remember anything about the incident in the morning.

Not all sleepwalking episodes involve actual walking. Sometimes the sleepwalker will simply sit up in bed, utter a few senseless words and go right back to proper sleep.

Can you drive a car while sleepwalking?

Unfortunately (and quite surprisingly indeed), the answer to that is yes.

It is possible for a sleepwalker to drive a vehicle (at which point, he would obviously become a sleep-driver, wouldn’t he?), and such cases have been recorded.

We’re not even talking about moving a vehicle out of the garage, or minor distances. There were cases when sleep-drivers drove significant distances from one location to another, never woke up and never remembered anything regarding the feat once they did awaken.

There are no records about the accidents and fatalities caused by sleep-drivers, but the dangers associated with this sort of behavior are obvious. The driver is highly likely to injure himself and/or others.

If it really does reach this stage, sleepwalking has to be treated and the problem needs to be referred to a specialist.

Once again though: potential sleep driving episodes can be averted by taking a few basic precautions, such as the locking of the door of one’s bedroom.

Can a sleepwalker kill you?

Sleepwalkers can indeed perform actions of an amazing level of complexity while they are essentially asleep and thus unconscious, and since they can indeed drive a car – as said above – they can obviously commit murder too. While sleepwalking homicide is technically possible, it enters a litigious realm, where the boundaries of science are not easy to define at all.

Those guilty of murder obviously have a vested interest in “playing the sleepwalking card,” so some of the cases recorded may indeed not be scientifically relevant.

Other times, sleepwalking does indeed appear very plausible.

In one such case, a farmer – well known for his sleepwalking and sleep working – murdered his daughter, thinking he was fighting off a robber.

With loaded firearms in the house, sleepwalking takes on an entirely new threat-dimension, and indeed, at least in one case, a sleepwalker ended up shooting his own father.

Is sleepwalking a mental illness?

While I would personally not consider that sleepwalking can be called a mental illness – given that all it really takes to induce in some children is to rouse them at night – I have to mention that a group of French researchers have conducted a study, at the end of which they concluded that sleepwalkers’ health-related quality of life was indeed seriously affected by the condition, compared to a control group. I also have to note though that the said study was conducted on adult sleepwalking.

In children, sleepwalking issues can be chalked up to the continuous development of the brain, while in adults – whose brains are already fully developed – the disorder may indeed be indicative of certain underlying mental problems. Sleepwalking only affects around 4% of the adult population, which is indeed well within the percentage-prevalence of certain mental illnesses.

In most cases though, sleepwalking should probably be considered a symptom of an underlying mental condition, rather than its cause.