By Mary Kay Kleist

(CBS) — We’ve all heard of sleepwalking, but few of us realize how common it can be. Researchers believe it affects up to 30 percent of children. Among adults, a survey found that close to four percent reported they walked in their sleep at least once in the last year.

In Health Watch, Mary Kay Kleist looks at what causes people to get out of bed and walk around while in a deep sleep.

Noel Schenck knows it all too well – she started sleepwalking when she was about four years old.

“I would go into the refrigerator and open the door, I would come out and wander around,” said Schenk, a former sleepwalker.

Sleepwalking is most common in kids from four to 15-years-old, but like Noel, they usually outgrow it.

“Sleepwalking can be thought of as the state halfway between fully awake and being fully asleep. the brain is doing things that it would do in wakefulness but it would never recall them in the future,” said Dr. David Schulman.

For adults who sleepwalk, stress and anxiety can be leading causes Dr. Gerald Suh says their brains just don’t get the message to sleep.

“In normal situations when you’re asleep your brain is in the sleep condition. But if you’re brain is stressed then sometimes it’s not going to be able to do that efficiently,” said Dr. Gerald Suh.

But sleepwalking can be an indication of other medical conditions. It can be caused by acid reflux, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. So, what’s the right way to handle a sleepwalker?

“It’s probably best to try to redirect a sleepwalker back to bed, than to try to shake them awake and ask them what they were doing,” said Dr. Schulman.

Alcohol, sleep deprivation and certain medications, can also be factors
and experts say it runs in families.

“There are some genetic contributors. We know that if your parents were sleepwalkers, you’re more likely to be a sleepwalker,” said Schulman.

A study in the journal neurology found that more than 30 percent of people who have sleepwalked say they have family members who have done the same.

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