Dream walkers

By Catherine Wang


At 3 a.m. on a school day, Brian Harwitt ’11 climbs out of bed, walks into his bathroom and turns on his shower.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Harwitt’s father raps on his bathroom door.

The sound rouses Harwitt from his slumber and stops him from entering the shower. As he comes to his senses, Harwitt realizes he sleepwalked into his bathroom and turned his shower on while still asleep.

“That was definitely the weirdest sleepwalking incident I’ve had,” Harwitt said.

“It doesn’t happen that often,” he said. “Then again, I don’t really know.”

Harwitt, who has sleepwalked since he was about six, has woken up in his bathroom or closet. On other occasions, his parents found him walking around his room making noise, running into things, and knocking things over.

Sleepwalking, formally known as somnambulism, occurs in 17 percent of children and four percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It most commonly occurs during childhood and young adolescence.

Typical symptoms of sleepwalking range from sitting up in bed and looking around to walking around to driving a car. In severe cases, symptoms include screaming and violent behavior, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine said.

Georgina* ’11, who sleepwalks about once a month, found out she sleepwalks when she was about 12 years old.

“I think I had a dream – it was something about a unicorn,” she said. “I got up and one of my parents was up and asked me what I was doing. I said something really weird. I thought I was still in my dream.”

The most bizarre sleepwalking episode Georgina has experienced is waking up dressed in jeans and a regular shirt.

“When I woke up, I had no idea why I was dressed” she said. “I asked my mom, and she told me I had walked into her hall during the night and talked to her.”

Sometimes she wakes up and finds a glass of water next to her bed, so she knows she woke up and sleepwalked to the kitchen.

Harwitt’s sleepwalking incidents typically occur on school nights, and he believes that his sleepwalking may be correlated with stress.

“Junior year was the most I ever sleepwalked,” he said.

Georgina, a self-described insomniac, credits her sleep deprivation as the most likely cause of her sleepwalking.

In addition to stress and sleep deprivation, causes of sleepwalking include head injuries, migraine headaches, unfamiliar surroundings, alcoholism, sedative medication and other sleep disorders, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Like many who sleepwalk, Harwitt frequently talks in his sleep.

“My friends always tell me I sleeptalk,” he said. “I know I sleeptalk some really bad things.”

“While sleepwalking, people often sleeptalk and have trouble being woken up,” UCLA sleep specialist Dr. Jon Caroll said. “After waking up, they have little or no memory of sleepwalking.”

Sleepwalking is also hereditary, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

“My brother sleepwalks too,” Harwitt said. “Once, when he was 6 years old, he walked outside into the snow. If my mom hadn’t heard the door open, he could have died.”

There are few trusted treatments for sleepwalking, although some doctors recommend patients try hypnosis and or prescribe them antidepressants. Neither Harwitt nor Georgina have consulted doctors regarding their sleepwalking.

“I don’t think my sleepwalking is very severe,” he said. “I think it’s funny when people tell me I sleepwalked or sleeptalked in my sleep.”

Whenever Harwitt wakes up after sleepwalking, he feels some shock, but it does not affect him much, he said.

“I guess the one thing is, I never sleep on the top bunk,” Harwitt said.

Like Harwitt, Georgina is not embarrassed by her sleepwalking, but she does have some concerns about it.

“I’m afraid I’ll trip over my shoes something or crash into a wall while in the dark, but I’m not afraid I’m going to drown in my pool or accidentally go outside,” she said.


*names have been changed