As far as science and medicine has come along with treating, preventing, and managing various diseases and ailments, it's surprising that so little is known about sleep, including dreams, sleep patterns, and habits.

One of the most fascinating (and sometimes comical) occurrences associated with sleep is sleepwalking. You've seen it in movies, heard laughable stories from family and friends, or even read about it in literature (see Shakespeare's Macbeth). Sleepwalking references can be found anywhere; but what's the real deal behind this nighttime phenomenon?

Sleepwalking is characterized by performing a complex action while asleep. Walking is most prevalent; however, people have been known to cook meals, drive cars, or even perform a crime all while technically being asleep.

What Causes It?

Although there is no specific cause of sleepwalking, there are many factors that could potentially play a role. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common conditions associated include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Migraines
  • Stroke
  • Head injuries
  • Seizure disorders
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Night terrors

What's more, if you're a twin or if an immediate family member has a history of sleepwalking, you are at an increased risk-up to 10 times more likely-to be a sleepwalker.

At-Home Care

Traditionally, doctors are cautious about prescribing medication to treat sleepwalking unless there is the possibility of the sleepwalker injuring himself or someone else, or as a method of last resort. There are, however, steps you can take to prevent injury and sleepwalking in general.

Avoid stimulation. Performing calming activities, such as meditation or reading, before bed may relax your central nervous system sufficiently enough to prevent sleepwalking.

Get more sleep. Fatigue increases your risk. Make sure you're getting to bed at a regular time and that the quality of your sleep is the best it can be.

Beat the stress. If you're stressed before bed, your mind is more active,which puts you at an increased risk. Figure out what stresses you and try to overcome it. Talk it out with a loved one if need be.

Wake up. It's a misconception that it's dangerous to wake a sleepwalker. If a loved one is up and about when they're asleep, it's best to wake them to prevent injury.

Be careful. To prevent injury, you may need to move objects such as furniture or cords or slippery rugs to prevent falling.