How to Safely Wake a Sleepwalker

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Should You Wake a Sleepwalker?

As many as 15% of people occasionally walk in their sleep. This typically occurs in the first part of sleep, called non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, since the person’s muscles aren’t paralyzed as they are during REM sleep. While seeing someone sleepwalking can be unsettling, the activity itself is generally harmless. However, sleepwalkers are at risk of injuring themselves, so it’s important for friends and loved ones to take action.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of false information suggesting that if you wake a sleepwalker, they’ll have a heart attack or suffer other negative consequences. This folklore often leads to questions like, “Why is it dangerous to wake a sleepwalker?” and “What happens if you wake up a sleepwalker?”. So, should you wake a sleepwalker? If you can’t guide them gently back to their bed while they’re still asleep, then yes, you should wake them, and there’s a right way to do that.

How to Wake Someone Who is Sleepwalking

If a sleepwalking person won’t return to their bed, it’s important for you to know how to wake a sleepwalker safely. While waking them is unlikely to cause them any harm, they may feel like they’re being attacked. If they do, they may exhibit a stress response such as lashing out in self-defense.

Consequently, if you want to know how to wake up someone who’s sleepwalking, the first thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t do so by touching or shaking them. This puts you close enough for them to strike you. Instead, make loud, sharp noises from a safe distance. You should then expect them to be confused and possibly scared, so explaining what’s happened and providing reassurance as you encourage them to return to their bed can be helpful.

Learn More About Sleepwalking from Baptist Health 

If you or a loved one sleepwalks regularly, come visit the professionals at Baptist Health for strategies to stop for good. You can also learn about sleepwalking causes, treatment and more from Baptist Health’s Sleep Center pages.