Help me with my husband, the Sleepwalking Zombie
June 26, 2008 5:53 AM   Subscribe

What do I do about a sleepwalking partner?

My new husband has started sleepwalking again. He's done it before (at his parents' and at his friends' places). I have to admit that when he told me about the other incidents I found them somewhat amusing (urinating on the wall of the hallway at a friend's house, walking stark naked into his parents' bedroom and explaining HTTP protocols to his rather shocked mother), but now that it's happened to me, I find it really frightening. We've been married four months, and it's happened twice in two weeks.

The first incident was a couple of weeks ago, when he got up and tried opening the sliding glass doors that lead to our patio. At first I thought he was warm and just wanted to open the doors to let the air in, but when I noticed that he didn't seem to know that the doors were locked, I realized that he was sleepwalking. I managed to cajole him back into bed, which took some doing.

The second incident happened on Monday, when he got up and rather roughly threw open the doors to our closet (in this case, these are mirrored sliding glass). He made a lot of noise, and I was worried that he'd break the glass. I asked him what he was doing, he mumbled something, then he wandered into the bathroom, didn't relieve himself but crashed into something else. Then I heard him say "Ow! Ow! Ow!" but he came out of the bathroom, none the worse for wear (although he managed to break the toilet seat).

Of course, in the morning, he remembers nothing, but apologizes when I tell him of his nocturnal adventures.

He just turned 35, and my Googling seems to indicate that he's kinda old to be sleepwalking. What can I do to make sure he doesn't hurt himself? I noticed that I have to call him by his full first name to get his attention (pet names or nicknames don't work).

I can't get rid of the mirrored stuff -- we're renting. I don't want him to dose up on sleeping bills or any of that.

Any suggestions on how to cope with my new Semi-Lucid Zombie Guy? What works for the sleepwalkers -- and their partners -- out in MefiLand?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Examine closely whatever medications he may be taking, even OTC. One of these may be a trigger for him.
posted by Morrigan at 6:17 AM on June 26, 2008

IANAD, but I have heard you have to wake sleepwalkers up gradually, by saying their names, physical contact, etc.

But I do think it'd be worth talking to a doctor to find out what his trigger is, as he could really hurt himself or damage property. And your sleep deprivation is important, too!
posted by GardenGal at 6:24 AM on June 26, 2008

I remember hearing a comedian, Mike Birbiglia, talk about his sleep walking problem on The Bob and Tom Show one morning. His solution, quoted here from wiki, may work for your husband.

Mike has a sleep disorder known as rapid eye movement behavior disorder, and to protect himself, sleeps in a sleeping bag zipped all the way up, with special mittens so that he cannot escape when he sleeps.

I know it sounds strange, but apparently it works.
posted by trueluk at 7:29 AM on June 26, 2008

This is probably not the case, but does he consume alcohol (especially more than a drink or two) in the evening? It's anecdotal, but I have observed booze-related sleepwalking in former housemtes. (IANASleepSpecialist though)

In my experience, gentle persistent cajoling helps but it is scary sometimes.

Doe she have other sleeping issues such as snoring or sleep apnea? If it is getting more common, a doctor could likely help - perhaps his GP can make a recommendation for a specialist?
posted by pointystick at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2008

As an ex sleepwalker, I can honestly relate to this. I used to do most of my sleepwalking in new environs, such as a friend's house for the night, hotel room, or when I first moved into a new apt. As such, the frequency of your husband's sleepwalking may decline if you've just moved. I too, have known the wonderful experience that is peeing in a shocked homeowner's closet, and it isn't fun (for me anyway). For some reason, it usually had to do with the need to pee half waking me up at night. I solved this by not drinking too many fluids before sleep, and cutting way back on my alchohol intake (75% of my sleepwalking episodes were after drinking some booze).
posted by Debaser626 at 7:44 AM on June 26, 2008

Find a sleep clinic nearby and talk to them. I bet they'll know more than us internet randoms. They might even be doing a study on it and he can participate and they'll help him and he'll get some compensation too.
posted by glip at 7:46 AM on June 26, 2008

Out of curiosity, what makes waking up a sleepwalker a bad idea?
posted by spamguy at 7:47 AM on June 26, 2008

In Mike Birbiglia's case, though, he jumped out of a second-story (I believe) hotel window while sleeping, and that's what finally sent him to the doctor for a solution. His case is quite extreme.

Might I suggest speaking with your husband's doctor? The two of you together? Since he doesn't remember what's happened the next morning, you should be there to tell the doctor what's going on. He/she can then suggest a course of treatment, including or not including the things that have been suggested so far.
posted by cooker girl at 7:50 AM on June 26, 2008

[Some "slap him silly!" back-and-forth removed. Restrained and informative wake-or-not contributions are fine, but lay off the jokes and the bickering.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:03 AM on June 26, 2008

This article might be of interest.
posted by Grither at 8:10 AM on June 26, 2008

Waking up a sleepwalker is extremely disorienting for that person. Their behavior can be unpredictable, especially while their inhibitions are low and fear is high. What would you do if you were jarred awake from a deep sleep to find that you were not where you expected yourself to be and couldn't figure out what was going on?

The best thing is to coax them back to bed, or wake them very gently. If they are engaged in a task, help them or convince them that the task is complete (ex. cleaning), and encourage them back to bed.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2008

I can attest that being woken from a sleepwalk is very disorienting but, for someone who has done it throughout his life, I've just gotten used to it.

The best solution others have found to solve my "problem" has always been to just tell me to go back to bed, which I usually do (sometimes waking up in the process, sometimes not remembering a thing). The use of my first name in addressing me probably helps.

I've never hurt myself, broken anything, or urinated anywhere so I can't help you with the safety side of things. I've also never been violent or dangerous to anyone else. The worst I've ever done is confuse people (by quacking, rambling on about why I am climbing the wall, or explaining why I have to go feed the giraffe).
posted by mbatch at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2008

Your husband could approach his GP and ask to be referred to a clinic for a sleep study.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:15 PM on June 26, 2008

Until he gets this sorted out, I would highly recommend locking / blocking any doors that lead to outside, basement stairs, or any other area that could be dangerous if opened while asleep and unaware of his surroundings. Freak accidents do happen, a good friend of mine died after falling down a set of basement stairs while sleepwalking.
posted by platinum at 2:38 PM on June 26, 2008

Nthing the alcohol thing. My boyfriend's one instance of sleepwalking (he tried to program my make- up case and and wandered round the house looking for a table of information to record his results in!) occurred after he'd been out a party and had a lot to drink. I remember researching it at the time and found that a commonly suggested solution is to try to convince him that the task he started sleepwalking to do has been accomplished. If it continues to be a problem then getting a referral to a sleep clinic might be a good idea.
posted by Laura_J at 3:54 PM on June 26, 2008

Sleepwalking Semi-Lucid Zombie Girl here. Great name for my sockpuppet!

First of all, don't worry, lots of people are frightened by sleepwalkers. I would be too, to be honest. Most people think of us as the stereotypical drowsy people, walking around the house with our eyes closed and our armes stretched in front of us. It's quite a shock then to see your partner walking about, doing things, looking for things, with his eyes open and muttering mostly incomprehensible words. It's not immediately clear whether he is awake or sleepwalking, so the first few times it's understandably very confusing for you.

The probability of an accident happening is quite small, but of course, it can happen (see platinum's comment). That's why I prefer to be woken up. Not only is it safer, it also reassures me before falling asleep that if/when I start sleepwalking I will be safe, so I don't have to worry about sleepwalking before falling asleep.

Just wake him up gently, reassure him that everything's alright, that he was sleepwalking, but you've woken him up. It can take a while until he's lucid, so just keep reassuring him. I'm always very disoriented and it takes me a few minutes to realize what's happened. Usually I keep muttering for a bit about whatever insane thing I thought was happening.

Great trick for when he's looking for something:
Call him by his first name and go along in his ramblings. "Mr. Anonymous, everything is alright. Of course you have to find the magical donut of Nargelach before the Queen of Wooguwoogu turns into an ashtray. Look what I found, here, this is the magical donut." (Said while you give him something.) "Mr. Anonymous, the Queen is delighted and she isn't an ashtray, so let's get back to bed".
He will then probably be willing to come back to bed with you.


*Semi-Lucid Zombie Girl Advice Might Not Be Applicable On Semi-Lucid Zombie Guy
**Sleepwalkers For The Win
***I Like Salt And Vinegar Crisps

posted by lioness at 3:16 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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