Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

Find a Center
Use the following fields to locate sleep centers in your area.

Search radius:

Sleepwalkers sometimes remember their actions

Filed in
  • Pediatrics
  • hypersomnias
  • memory

By Lynn Celmer  |  Mar 15, 2013
Email   Print

Three myths about sleepwalking – sleepwalkers have no memory of their actions, sleepwalkers' behavior is without motivation, and sleepwalking has no daytime impact – are dispelled in a recent study led by Antonio Zadra of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Sacré-Coeur Hospital. The study was published in the March issue of The Lancet Neurology. Dr. Zadra answers some questions to try to clear up some of the confusion about one of the parasomnias, sleepwalking.

What are the causes and consequences of sleepwalking?

Dr. Zadra: Several indicators suggest that a genetic factor is involved. In 80% of sleepwalkers, a family history of sleepwalking exists. The concordance of sleepwalking is five times higher in monozygotic twins compared to non-identical twins. Our studies have also shown that lack of sleep and stress can lead to sleepwalking. Any situation that disrupts sleep can result in sleepwalking episodes in predisposed individuals. Most sleepwalking episodes are harmless. Apart from the fact that the deep slow-wave sleep of sleepwalkers is fragmented, wanderings are usually brief and pose no danger, or when they do, it is minimal. In rare cases, wandering episodes may be longer, and sleepwalkers may injure themselves and put themselves or others in danger: some have even gone as far as driving a car!

It is said that the sleep disorder mainly affects children. Is this true?

Dr. Zadra: Many children transitionally sleepwalk between 6 and 12 years of age. It is thought that passing from sleep to wakefulness requires a certain maturation of the brain. In some children, the brain may have difficulty making this transition. Often, the problem disappears after puberty. But sleepwalking may persist into adulthood in almost 25% of cases. It decreases with age, however, because the older you get, the fewer hours of deep slow-wave sleep you enjoy, which is the stage in which sleepwalking episodes occur.

Can sleepwalkers really remember their actions while sleeping vertically?

Dr. Zadra:
Yes. In children and adolescents, amnesia is more frequent, probably due to neurophysiological reasons. In adults, a high proportion of sleepwalkers occasionally remember what they did during their sleepwalking episodes. Some even remember what they were thinking and the emotions they felt.

Your work has also shown that the behavior of sleepwalkers is not simply automatic. Can you explain?

Dr. Zadra: This is another popular myth. There is a misconception that sleepwalkers do things without knowing why. However, there is a significant proportion of sleepwalkers who remember what they have done and can explain the reasons for their actions. They are the first to say, once awake, that their explanations are nonsensical. However, during the episode, there is an underlying rationale.

Another myth you are interested in relates to impact on the waking state. According to you, beyond the nocturnal phenomenon, sleepwalking is associated with diurnal disorders characterized by somnolence or drowsiness.
Dr. Zadra: Around 45% of sleepwalkers are clinically somnolent during the day. Younger sleepwalkers are able to hide it more easily. Compared to control subjects, however, they perform less well in vigilance tests. And if given the opportunity to take a nap, they fall asleep faster than normal subjects do. Over the last few years, we have shown that the deep slow-wave sleep of sleepwalkers is atypical. Fragmented by numerous micro-arousals of 3 to 10 seconds, their sleep is less restorative. Sleepwalking is therefore not only a problem of transitioning between deep sleep and wakefulness. There is something more fundamental in their sleep every night, whether or not they have sleepwalking episodes.


  1. 1 Panagiotis 23 Feb
    I know this article is from 2013 and probably no one is going to read jt but i want to share my experience anyways. I am 14 years old and i remember myself sleepwalking all of my life. I have sleepwalked more than 50 times. The last 10-15 times i sleepwalked, the next day i could remember everything. From why i was doing what i was doing to how i felt while doing that.I was on vacation with my family in my village and I remember that the first night I was tired from the long trip. I fell asleep at 1. At 3 I woke up and said to myself that I must quickly enter the house. So I opened the window, went out on a small balcony that had the house and jumped down into the garden. The jump I made was about two meters and it was enough to wake me up and realize that I had been sleepwalking the whole time. The next day i told my parents what i did and that could just watch myself do all those things but couldn't do anything more. I remember every single detail from that night and i still don't know why i was doing those things when i had full control of my body and actions. Since then, when i sleepwalk i can remember everything i did without anyone telling me. Its a little scary to remember yourself doing weird things in the night when you have full control of your mind and body. Lastly, I have more than 10 incidents when i was sleepwalking i started screaming terrified of something or someone and running all over the house to avoid the thing on my mind. These incidents made me search for help because its the worse thing that i have ever felt on my life. Beeing "awake" screaming for your life. When I do these things my parents get terrified too and come to the rescue by calming me down and immediately getting me back to bed. Excuse for my English and thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences.
  2. 2 Cassundra 12 Jul
    I remember sleep walking twice as a kid. Once I slept walked to a neighbors house, they asked me why I was outside at night, I told them my mom asked me to come borrow a cup of sugar. They told me to go home so I did. When I got home, my parents were waiting for me at the door. I explained I went to borrow sugar. They told me to go to bed. So I did. 
    My other experience was sleep walking at a sleep over at a friends house. I walked down the hall to her parents room and just stood there wondering why they called me(which they did not), they told me to go back to friends bedroom and go to sleep so I did. I’m 51 years old and these two events seem vivid still after over 42 yrs