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Sleepwalking Brains

April 1, 2010

A listener asks what’s going on in the brain when someone is sleepwalking.


"The sleepwalking brain…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Courtney Sladic wrote to ask what happens in the brain when someone is sleepwalking. We turned to University of Montreal sleep disorders expert Antonio Zadra. He says researchers used to think that sleepwalkers were acting out their dreams. But newer research suggests that parts of a sleepwalker’s brain are actually asleep while other areas are still awake.

ANTONIO ZADRA (University of Montreal):
What happens in sleepwalkers is that they get stuck in between. Because part of their brains are still sleeping, they sometimes will lack judgment and do behaviors which make little sense. On the other hand, their perceptual systems can still function reasonably well.

Zadra says sleepwalking is usually harmless, but that anyone who is concerned about their sleepwalking should consult with their physician. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.