“We just completely freaked out. We checked the whole house. When you weren’t there, we opened the front door to look for you and saw you walking back down the street towards our house like it was no big deal…”
It started when I was 8 years old. The first time I left the house was also the last time I left the house, because my parents consequently bought a home alarm system the very next day. I remember walking out the front door and strolling down the street—no jacket and no shoes in the middle of a Portland fall, but on a mission nonetheless. I paid my neighbors down the block a short visit and then soundly returned back home, apparently satisfied with my night’s adventure. The moment I walked back through the front door was the moment I’m greeted by good ole mom and dad, who were (understandably) in a sheer panic over my sudden disappearance.
(It seems fitting that I'd be dressed as Dorothy in the only photo I have of myself from around this time. There's no place like other people's home, as it turns out.)
From there, it really only got worse—there were other moms, too.
While I could never leave my own house again (My parents refused to give me the access code.), I’d sleep walk into the beds of friends’ parents during sleepovers. “Mortifying” is the only word I could use to describe the first time it happened, but by the second and third time—they couldn’t be all that surprised: “There’s Kendall again!”. Sleepwalking became a semi-normal part of my nightly activity. For years, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself pacing the hallway, standing in the kitchen, or wake to find my stuffed animals wearing the clothes I had gone to bed in, while I was somehow now without pajamas. It was the source of embarrassment and conversation in my family (And others, you know who you are.) for most of my childhood and adolescent years.
After I moved from Oregon to Arizona for college, I never sleepwalked again. One day it just stopped, and it hasn’t happened since. Why? How? I was curious about why I was suddenly freed of something I’d experienced as long as I could remember, and began doing a little digging on why it happened in the first place.
Apparently, I am part of the 2%.
Sleepwalking, formally known as somnambulism, is not a common for many sleepers. It usually happens when a person is going from the deep stage of sleep to a lighter stage or into the awake state, and often the sleepwalker doesn’t remember the episode upon waking.
Upon further research I learned that 22.8% of sleepwalkers presented with nightly episodes and 43.5% presented with weekly episodes. Additionally, 17% of those who experienced at least one episode involved injuries to the sleepwalker or bed partner that required medical care. Thankfully, that was never the case for me. Any injury I may have sustained was done through conscious clumsiness. (Is that better or worse? A question for another day.)
Age also plays a large role in sleepwalking. Sleepwalking occurs more often in children than adults, and onset in adulthood is more likely related to other underlying conditions, such as stress. Most sleepwalkers outgrow their habits in their adolescent years, just as I did. Parents of young sleepwalkers are encouraged not to wake their night-wandering children, discourage sleeping in bunkbeds, and to lock doors and windows (sorry for having to learn that the hard way, mom).
It’s a common myth that you’re not supposed to wake a sleepwalker because you don’t know how the sleepwalker will react, or may cause heart attack, shock, or brain damage. Ever seen Stepbrothers?That’s why. Just kidding—however, you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker because you may scare them and inflict bodily harm or injury. Who knew a little night stroll could be so serious?
Having been born and raised in the cold and gloomy (Albeit beautiful.) streets of Portland, it was also interesting to learn that exposure to sunlight could affect how often a person sleepwalks. Maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle can be disrupted by lack of natural light during the day, which is not something us Pacific Northwesters experience for more than a few months of the year. While I’m sure my age was the underlying factor of outgrowing this condition, I wonder if my dramatic change in climate made a difference, too.
While I no longer sleepwalk, there's still a looming fear that one day I'll pick the habit back up again–or worse, I'll be the panicked mother waiting for her wandering children to stumble back home. I should probably get the number of that alarm company from my mom now.
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