Most sleepwalkers feel no pain as they sleepwalk—they just keep sleeping, sometimes despite severely injuring themselves, a study suggests. Curiously, and seemingly in contradiction, the results also indicated that sleepwalkers suffer more headaches and migraines while awake. The study surveyed people including 47 sleepwalkers who had injured themselves while sleepwalking. Of these, 37 reported feeling no pain at the time and staying asleep; the other 10 woke up right away in pain.
One patient even jumped out of a third-floor window, suffering severe fractures, but stayed asleep and felt no pain until the morning, the researchers said. Another broke his leg when he climbed onto the roof and fell down, but didn’t wake up until morning. “We report here, for the first time, an analgesia phenomenon associated with sleepwalking,” said principal investigator Regis Lopez, psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at Hospital Gui-de-Chauliac in Montpellier, France. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Sleep.
In total, Lopez and colleagues studied 100 non-sleepwalkers and 100 patients diagnosed as sleepwalkers, including 55 males and 45 females. Sleepwalkers had a median age of 30 years. Despite the pain-free nights, results showed that sleepwalkers were nearly four times more likely to report a history of headaches and 10 times more likely to report experienci migraines, after taking into account other factors such as insomnia and depression. “Our results may help to understand the mechanisms of the sleepwalking episodes,” said Lopez. “We hypothesize that a dissociate state of arousal may modify the components of sleep-wake behavior, consciousness, and also pain perception.”