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Seen At 11: Sleepwalking Can Be A Sign Of Underlying Problems

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- Things that go bump in the night are sometimes people.

As CBS 2's Maurice DuBois reported Tuesday night, a recent study found that as many as 1 in 3 adults have sleepwalked at some point in their lives. But experts said sleepwalking can be an important sign of psychological or physical problems.

Noel Schenk knows about sleepwalking all too well. She said she started doing it when she was about 4 years old.

"I would go into the refrigerator and open the door. I would come out and wander around," she said.

Sleepwalking is most common in children ages 4 to 8, and, like Schenk, they usually outgrow the sometimes frightening condition.

"Sleepwalking can be thought of as the state halfway between fully awake and being fully asleep," said Dr. David Schulman, director of the Emory University sleep laboratory in Atlanta. "The brain is doing things that it would do in wakefulness, but it would never recall them in the future."

In adults who sleepwalk, stress and anxiety can be leading issues. Dr. Gerald Suh of New York Queens Hospital said the message to rest gets scrambled.

"In normal situations when you're asleep, your brain is in the sleep condition. But if your brain is stressed, then sometimes, it's not going to be able to do that efficiently," Dr. Suh said.

But sleepwalking can be indications of other underling medical conditions. It can be caused by acid reflux, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

So what is the right way to handle a sleepwalker?

"It's probably best to try to redirect a sleepwalker back to bed than to try to shake them awake and ask them what they were doing," Schulman said.

Alcohol, sleep deprivation, and certain medication also can be factors. Experts say sleepwalking also runs in families.

"There are some genetic contributors," Schulman said. "We know that if your parents were sleepwalkers, you're more likely to be a sleepwalker."

That is why Schenk, who has two children, said she is making her house safe now -- in case her children follow in her footsteps.

"We reinstalled the gate at the top of the stairs," she said.

Experts said relaxation therapy can be very helpful in preventing sleepwalking. They also said keeping a sleep journal can help pinpoint the cause.

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