Sleepwalkers Feel No Pain When Injured In Sleepwalking Episodes

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A new study of people that sleepwalk found an intriguing contradiction of the fact that although sleepwalkers have an increased risk for headaches and migraines while awake, when they sleepwalk, they are unlikely to feel any pain even while suffering an injury.

According to the results of the study, sleepwalkers were nearly four times more likely than people that do not sleep walk to report a history of headaches and more likely to report migraines after getting used to potential confounders such as insomnia and depression. Among the sleepwalkers that had at least one time gotten injured while sleepwalking, seventy-nine percent felt no pain during the episode which allowed them to remain asleep despite being hurt.

“Our most surprising result was the lack of pain perception during the sleepwalking episodes”, reported principal investigator Dr. Regis Lopez, psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at Hospital Gui-de-Chauliac in Montpellier, France. “We report here, for the first time, an analgesia phenomenon associated with sleepwalking.”

The study results are published in the November issue of the journal Sleep.

Lopez and his colleagues Isabelle Jaussent, PhD, and Prof. Yves Dauvilliers conducted the cross-sectional study of a hundred control people and another hundred patients that were diagnosed with sleepwalking, which included fifty-five males and forty-five females. The median age of sleepwalkers was thirty years. The daytime complaints about pain were evaluated by a clinician and self-report questionnaires which looked at lifetime headache frequency and headache characteristics.

Out of the forty-seven sleepwalkers that reported to experience at least one injurious sleepwalking episode, only ten reported to have woken up immediately and the other thirty-seven felt no pain during the episode but felt pain later in the night or in the morning.

An example was one patient who was said to sustain severe fractures after jumping out of a third-floor window while sleepwalking but didn’t feel any pain until after waking up later in the night. Another example was that of another patient who broke his leg when he climbed the roof of his house and fell down all while sleepwalking and didn’t wake up till morning.

“Our results may help to understand the mechanisms of the sleepwalking episodes,” said Lopez. “We hypothesize that a dissociated state of arousal may modify the components of sleep-wake behavior, consciousness, and also pain perception.”

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