Sleep walking – paranormal or simply a sleeping disorder?

Ugandan musician ‘Chameleon’ was recently involved in an accident in which he broke both of his legs after falling off the third floor of a hotel in Arusha. 
Chameleon recuperates after breaking both legs in a sleep walking accident.
Chameleon recuperates after breaking both legs in a sleep walking accident.

Ugandan musician ‘Chameleon’ was recently involved in an accident in which he broke both of his legs after falling off the third floor of a hotel in Arusha. 

“I don’t really know what happened”, he confesses, “all I remember is entering my hotel room after my show, changing my clothes and getting into bed. I was later shocked to find myself in the flower garden below, surrounded by people calling me a thief,” said the singer, also known as Joseph Mayanja, in an interview with The New Times from his hospital bed. 

What had happened to Chameleon is not very strange, though it is widely misunderstood and often treated with a lot of mystery and suspicion.

Chameleon had actually sleepwalked off his balcony and fell into the flower garden three storeys below. 

Every night Faith Kwizera goes to bed, she has to be slightly conscious as her young brother James in the room next to hers awakens easily, and quietly walks around his room and even sometimes attempts to escape.

According to Kwizera, his eyes are open in the process with a glassy staring appearance as he quietly roams the house. When spoken to, his responses are slow and if he is returned to bed without being woken up, he usually does not remember the event.

This problem commonly known as sleepwalking involves an individual walking or performing otherwise normal actions while they are completely asleep and unaware.

Some studies suggest that children who sleepwalk may have been more restless sleepers when aged four to five years but the problem is not associated with previous sleep problems or sleeping alone in a room.

Children between the ages of six and 12 have the most likelihood to sleep-walk at least once in their lifetime. Most children will outgrow this disorder although sleepwalking may occur even among adults and the elderly.

“Generally, when individuals are in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage, the body produces a paralyzing chemical. The absence of this chemical in the dream phase of sleep causes hyper activity in the affected individuals,” explains Doctor Kalimba Edgar of King Faisal hospital.

People who sleepwalk therefore lack this paralyzing chemical and as a result walk around or perform other actions in their sleep.

Some sources however classify sleepwalking as parasomnia (a sleep disorder), other examples of this abnormality being sleep talking, sleep terrors and REM movement disorder.

“It is believed that at least half of the world’s population suffers from one of these types of sleeping disorders at some point during their lives. However, many individuals simply grow out of it or find relief through stress reduction, drugs, or even hypnosis,” reads a statement from the World Health Organisation.

Apart from walking during sleep, sleepwalking behavior can range from simply getting out of bed and walking around the room to complicated actions like driving a car.

According to Chameleon’s doctor, sleepwalking usually occurs during the stages of sleep in which eye movement does not take place also referred to as the slow-wave stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep.

Since most slow wave sleep occurs earlier in the night, sleepwalking is usually seen in the first and third stage of the sleep cycle and rarely during naps.

The person is unable to respond during the event and does not remember the event. In some cases, it is associated with incoherent talking. But as Doctor Kalimba says, this sleep disorder can have a genetic tendency to run in families.

Environmental factors such as sleep deprivation, chaotic sleep schedules, fever, stress, magnesium deficiency, and alcohol intoxication can trigger sleepwalking.

Drugs, for example, sedative/hypnotics (drugs that promote sleep), neuroleptics (drugs used to treat psychosis), minor tranquilizers (drugs that produce a calming effect), stimulants (drugs that increase activity), and antihistamines (drugs used to treat symptoms of allergy) can cause sleepwalking.

And conditions such as pregnancy and menstruation are known to increase the frequency of sleepwalking. If not properly understood, sleeping disorders can cause stigma and trauma for the victims and those they live with.

Can you imagine the ridicule a student in boarding school would undergo after such an event? Or the shock of a newly wed bride on the night of her wedding, when she discovers her husband has the disorder? 

Life is a journey that poses many trials and tribulations, challenges and joys. This is but one of the many challenges and should be treated with the sympathy it deserves. After all, is it not this variety in life that spices up our world.


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