DENVER, CO – Adult sleepwalking differs from childhood sleepwalking, and it may have a genetic component, according to research presented during the American Academy of Neurology’s 54th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colo., April 13-20, 2002. The study found that adult sleepwalking has a genetic component related to the genetically determined element of the immune system called the HLA system.
The study was based on the 74 patients who were diagnosed with adult sleepwalking over 30 years at the University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland.
Genetic testing for HLA was performed on 16 patients. Of those, 50 percent had the HLA DQB1*05 genetic susceptibility, compared to 24 percent of healthy people who were tested.
More than childhood sleepwalking, adult sleepwalking is associated with potentially dangerous activities. In this study, 32 percent of patients reported violent incidents occurring while sleepwalking and 19 percent reported injuries occurring while sleepwalking. The researchers believe that adult sleepwalking may overlap with another sleep disorder, called REM sleep behavior disorder.
“Normally, REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep is accompanied physiologically by paralysis, which protects us from acting out our dreams,” said study author and neurologist Claudio Bassetti, MD, of the University of Switzerland in Zurich. “In people with REM sleep behavior disorder, this paralysis doesn’t occur normally.”
In the study, 25 percent of the patients had increased muscle activity during REM sleep.
Researchers reviewed the records of all 74 patients. For 43 patients, they conducted interviews, questionnaires and tests of brain waves while awake. They also conducted sleep tests in 53 patients.
Sleepingwalking had been occurring since childhood in 58 percent of the patients. For 24 percent of the patients, other family members were also sleepwalkers.
Many of the patients also had other health issues. Twenty-three percent had mental health issues and seven percent abused alcohol. Of the 53 patients tested, 11 had sleep apnea.
"Treating these other issues may also help improve or resolve the sleepwalking," Bassetti said. A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system.
Materials provided by American Academy Of Neurology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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