Is Sleepwalking Hereditary? Maybe, Suggests Study — And So Are These Other Sleep Disorders

Are you what goes bump in the night? You may be able to thank your mom (or dad) for that. A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that somnambulism, more commonly known as sleepwalking, may be an inherited trait. Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad — but hey, at least everyone can nocturnally wander together.

The study, whose larger goals included determining the prevalence of sleepwalking throughout childhood and investigating the link between night terrors and sleepwalking, followed 1,940 children from the time they were 18 months to 13 years of age. Researchers relied heavily on yearly questionnaires which focused not only on the children's sleep habits, but the parents' as well. Children were found to be three times more likely to develop sleepwalking if a parent also experienced the condition. Over 60 percent of children from dual-somnambulist households were sleepwalkers themselves, with peak prevalence hitting around 10 years old.

Genetic sleep disorders are fairly rare; most snooze problems tend to be related to diet, stress levels, and environment. There are, however, a handful of conditions which we might be able to blame on our parents and not, say, a burrito-only diet:

1. Night Terrors

I used to not remember my dreams, and then when I turned 14, I started waking up screaming. When I told my mother about this highly embarrassing new habit, she simply shrugged and said, "It's in our blood." Turns out, she may have been right. The JAMA Pediatrics study also focused on the genetic prevalence of night terrors, in which a person wakes up screaming or talking from a nightmare. Up to one third of patients who suffered from night terrors also developed sleepwalking habits.

2. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is brain disorder characterized by poor control of sleep cycles. Narcoleptics can experience extreme fatigue during the day and irresistible bouts of sleepiness, which can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle control, is also common for those with narcolepsy. Up to 10 percent of people with the disorder have at least one other narcoleptic family member.

3. Insomnia

There are actually two variations of insomnia that are genetic: Fatal familial insomnia and chronic primary insomnia. Fatal familial insomnia is an incredibly rare disorder in which a person suffers from an inability to sleep that is so severe they ultimately die. And by rare, I mean about 40 families worldwide are believed to carry the gene. Chronic primary insomnia is much more common. Genetics can determine a person's ability to handle stress, and chronically high stress levels can be directly related to insomnia.

4. Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder causes a person to experience an offset circadian rhythm. Patients will become uncontrollably sleepy early in the evening, usually between 6 and 8 PM, and are fully awake by 3 AM. Their body core temperature and melatonin levels cycle hours earlier than the average person, but this condition rarely interferes with a person's day to day life. Up to 50 percent of people with ASPD are elated to another ASPD patient.