Sleepwalking, a disorder of NREM sleep instability

Sleep Med. 2006 Mar;7(2):163-70. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2005.12.006. Epub 2006 Feb 3.


Background and purpose: Thirty-two chronic sleepwalkers who were part of a larger, previously reported sleepwalking group all achieved control of sleepwalking after undergoing treatment for an associated sleep disorder. In the current study, all records were blindly scored to perform a cyclic alternating pattern (CAP) analysis.

Patients and methods: Thirty-two young adult chronic sleepwalkers had polysomnography (PSG) on initial nights without sleepwalking events, as did age-matched normal controls and patients with mild sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). More than 90% of these patients with mild SDB had upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS). Ten randomly selected PSGs for sleepwalkers and matched controls also had quantitative electroencephalographic (EEG) analysis using Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT) with determination of delta power for each non-rapid eye movement (NREM)-REM sleep cycle.

Results: Compared to normal controls, an investigation of CAP in sleepwalkers demonstrated the presence of an abnormal CAP rate with a decrease in phase A1 and an increase in phases A2 and A3 on non-sleepwalking nights. The results of CAP analysis in sleepwalkers were similar to those obtained in age-matched UARS patients. Furthermore, the analysis of the first four NREM-REM sleep cycles reconfirmed the presence of an important decrease in delta power in sleep cycles 1 and 2 during a non-sleepwalking night in sleepwalkers compared to normal controls.

Conclusions: The presence of both 'hypersynchronous slow delta' and 'burst of delta waves' have been reported in sleepwalkers, but their significance is controversial. These EEG patterns are similar to phase A1 (and possibly A2) of the CAP. Proper analysis of the sleep EEG of sleepwalkers should integrate CAP analysis. Sleepwalkers on a non-sleepwalking night present instability of NREM sleep, as demonstrated by this analysis. This instability is similar to the one noted in UARS patients. Subtle sleep disorders associated with chronic sleepwalking constitute the unstable NREM sleep background on which sleepwalking events occur. A subtle associated sleep disorder should be systematically searched for and treated in the presence of sleepwalking with abnormal CAP.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polysomnography
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Somnambulism / physiopathology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires