Sleep medicine professionals have done a good job of dispelling the notion that snoring is something to laugh about. The population at large is more aware of sleep disorders and the clinical significance of snoring. But what about sleepwalking? Is that still a laughing matter? If the disorders that the sleep medicine community treats are a laughing matter, what does that say about sleep medicine as a profession? Fortunately, sleep medicine professionals can engage in molding the public view of sleepwalking. Using technology to keep the sleepwalking conversation on the right track can promote understanding of disorders such as sleepwalking and add credibility to sleep medicine as a profession.

Sleepwalking has been getting some significant publicity recently—some of it not that good. When I tuned into The Simpsons a few weeks ago, I saw an episode where Homer takes a sleep aid called Napien and then goes on a Napien-induced rampage across town. On YouTube, I’ve also seen more sleepwalking clips with people commenting that the sleepwalker’s behavior is hilarious.

People are fascinated with sleepwalking. The mainstream media jump on sleepwalking studies and strange cases involving this behavior. One such case, detailed in an article prepared by Dr Fouzia Siddiqui, dealt with sleep e-mailing. When I saw that The New York Times covered the study in an article titled “You’ve Been Talking (or Pressing ‘Send’) in Your Sleep,” I expected a light-hearted story focusing on weird behavior documented in an “off-the-wall study.” Instead, the article posed an important clinical question about whether this study shows that the mind is more active than previously thought while a patient is sleepwalking. The clinical documentation of the study covered in The New York Times helps people understand the disorder, and Dr Siddiqui’s sincere account of treating the worried patient led to a thought-provoking article that helps replace humor with understanding.

With more people taking prescription sleep aids, sleepwalking behavior is likely to increase and garner more attention. Besides research, what can the sleep community do to help establish the clinical relevance of this disorder? For one, you can take advantage of technology. Steering conversations online is easy—participate in online forums, add a comment to a YouTube video about sleepwalking, send an e-mail to your local health reporter, and offer to comment on sleep-related stories. Controlling conversations today requires online participation. If the public perceives the disorders you treat as a joke, this doesn’t bode well for the profession. Changing public perception requires not only research, but also infiltration of the online conversation. I look forward to seeing your comments about sleepwalking in online forums.

—Franklin A. Holman
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Sleep Review Reader’s Poll

An article prepared by Dr Fouzia Siddiqui details the case of a patient who has sent e-mails in her sleep after taking Ambien. How does this study impact sleep medicine?

  1. It brings attention to an important issue (43%)
  2. It decreases the credibility of sleep medicine by drawing too much attention to strange sleep behavior (14%)
  3. It has no impact (29%)
  4. Unsure (14%)