The fact that you’re sleeping, yet performing tasks as if fully awake, is a pretty amazing phenomenon. It’s a medical condition known as somnambulism or noctambulism, but more commonly referred to as sleepwalking, a sleep disorder that causes people to get up, walk, talk and even drive while sleeping.
At one time, it was believed that sleepwalkers were acting out their dreams, fears and subconscious desires. It was also believed that sleepwalking had to do with epilepsy, hysteria, dissociative disorders or even the sleepwalker’s own secret wishes. It’s a mysterious condition that has only in the last century been thoroughly investigated and diagnosed.
Sleepwalking typically occurs when a person is in the deep stages of sleep. The sleepwalker is unable to respond during the event and does not remember events that might have occurred during sleepwalking, especially if the individual is returned to bed.
Our fascination with sleepwalking is evident in the fact that it shows up in the arts. Shakespeare used a sleepwalking scene in “Macbeth” to expose a key element in Lady Macbeth’s character. We witness Lady Macbeth walking the castle in her sleep, as she confesses her daytime sins.
In Bellini’s opera “La Sonnambula,” a sleepwalking woman is accused of being unfaithful to her husband when she wakes up in another man’s room. Her innocence is only proven when she is witnessed walking along a high bridge.
Sleepwalking has resulted in some strange and unusual behavior. At times, it has turned violent. Here’s a look at ten bizarre situations that involve sleepwalking.
10. Create a Work of Art
Lee Hadwin is a nurse by day and artist extraordinaire by night. In an interview with UK’s Daily Mail in March 2008, Hadwin says he is utterly mystified by his nocturnal talent, especially since during the daytime, he shows no interest or ability in art whatsoever. “It is the most extraordinary feeling to wake up and find myself surrounded by artworks, and have no recollection of having drawn them,” he says.
“Often I’m genuinely amazed by what I’ve produced. What is strangest of all is that if I lift a pencil and try to draw when I’m awake, I’m unable to do even a simple sketch.” He goes on to say, “I seem to be a medical phenomenon. I simply cannot explain where my art comes from. It’s as if another part of my brain kicks in when I am asleep.”
Hadwin, who is from North Wales, is being investigated by the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, which studies sleep disorders. They have pronounced his story as ‘unique’.
9. Climb a 130 ft. Crane
In July 2005, a passerby noticed a body curled up on the counterweight of a crane on a building site in South-East London. Emergency workers were called; a fireman climbed up the crane and discovered a teenage girl fast asleep. The fireman sat with the girl as she slept, fearful of waking her and causing her to panic. Eventually she was carried back down to safety. Her parents were called and promptly came to pick her up. No one could explain how she got up there. The girl apparently walked unnoticed out of her home and walked to the building site nearby. The crane was switched off. A security guard was on duty but did not see the girl. After reaching the top, she somehow crawled 40 feet horizontally to the end of the counterweight section of the crane.
Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, of the London Sleep Centre, said he was not surprised because anything you can do while awake, you can do while sleepwalking. And, of course, without the fear factor.
8. Binge Eat
It’s a condition known as Sleepeating or Sleep Related Eating Disorder, in which the individual gets up during the night, often multiple times, and eats and drinks excessively. Sleepeaters almost never remember their eating and usually eat things they normally would not, such as consuming syrup, peanut butter or mayonnaise on its own. They also tend to eat much quicker than they do during their awake state. The eating itself poses health issues, but it goes far beyond that. Injuries can result in the food preparation, with cuts and burns being a constant threat.
7. Get Divorced
Sleepwalkers rarely make any sense when speaking. However, if something is said, which is then interpreted in a specific way, problems can arise. In 2006, a couple from the Jalpaiguri district in India, was ordered to separate after the husband allegedly uttered ‘talaq’ three times in his sleep. In Arabic, “talaq” means divorce, and repeating it three times in a row, is cause for dissolution of marriage in some Islamic traditions. After having a disagreement with his wife while fully awake, ‘talaq’ is supposedly what the husband said during his sleep. If only it were that simple…
6. Leap Out of a Window
In 2007 a German teenager stepped out of a 4th-floor window and fell ten meters to the ground. Police found him with a broken arm and leg, but otherwise unharmed and fast asleep. The teenager, 17 at the time, had recently moved into a new apartment with his sister, who reported that her brother often sleepwalked. No drugs or alcohol were suspected in the incident, just a cardboard box that he stepped onto to assist in his climb out the window.
5. Conduct an Orchestra
Harry F. Rosenthal, a classical music enthusiast, a part-time maestro, and a lifelong sleepwalker was at times, a source of entertainment for his wife. According to the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine: one night she heard strange noises coming from the bedroom where he was sleeping. “There was Harry sitting up in bed conducting an orchestra — and he was also vocalizing all the instruments. I brought our kids in to see (him) too and I even made a tape recording of it.” Mr. Rosenthal of course, has no memory of this.
4. Record an Album
That’s exactly what Dion McGregor did. McGregor was a New York City songwriter known for talking in his sleep. He essentially narrated his dreams at conversational volume. An LP of his dream diatribes – The Dream World Of Dion McGregor (He Talks In His Sleep), was released in 1964. As a songwriter, McGregor’s claim to fame came when his song, “Where is the Wonder” (co-written with roommate Michael Barr) was recorded by Barbra Streisand on her hit album, My Name Is Barbra (1965). McGregor was never able to achieve success in songwriting after that and had given it up all together by the end of the 1980s. He died in 1994, and by then enough recordings of his dream-speeches, considered too risqué in the 1960s, had been gathered by researcher Phil Milstein. They were put together in an album called Dion McGregor Dreams Again and released in 1999. A previously unreleased recording, “Naughty P**sy”, was released in April 2011. Be warned: the language is not for everyone.
3. Send Invitations via Email
In 2008, a woman got up, turned on her computer and fired off three email invitations. She did not realize what she had done until the next day, when someone called her to accept the invite. Each email was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well formatted and written in strange language. One read: “Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm. Bring wine and caviar only.” Researchers from the University of Toledo reported it as the first-ever case of someone using the internet while asleep.
2. Have Sex with a Stranger
Known as sleepsex or sexsomnia, sometimes the sexual activity is limited to self-gratification. Often however, it does involve other people and can lead to sex with strangers. Sleepsex, along with murder (coming up), is one of the most damaging forms of sleepwalking, not only because of the impact it has on the sleepwalker, but also on the people they interact with during an episode of sleepsex. There is also great potential for abuse such as sexual assault and rape.
1. Kill Your Mother-in-Law
In 1987, then 23-year-old Ken Parks, was acquitted in the murder of his mother-in-law. Sleepwalking was his defense. On the night of the murder, Parks left his bed, drove 14 miles to his in-laws home, strangled his father-in-law unconscious, then killed his mother-in-law by bludgeoning her with a tire iron. He then drove himself to the police station, where he turned himself in. Police reported that he seemed oblivious to the fact that he had severed tendons in both his hands. It was that fact, in combination with a history of sleepwalkers in his family, which led experts to testify that Parks had been sleepwalking during the attack.