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'Don't Wake Them Up' - And Some Things You Didn't Know About Sleepwalkers

Scientists have been trying for centuries to understand why some people sleepwalk. Things like stress, alcohol and genetics seem to play a role. But what actually takes place in the body and brain of a sleepwalker remains an enigma.

Leo about to drop
Sleepwalkers can be defensive when woken up (Sebastian Fritzon)
Worldcrunch/Prisma

By Shari Langemak
DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

BERLIN - The first thing Kenneth Parks remembers that night was his mother-in-law's mouth, twisted by fear. That and her frozen eyes. She was lying on the floor beneath him, dead. In disbelief, he slowly realized he was holding a blood-drenched kitchen knife.

As if in a trance, he dropped the knife and went to the police station. "I think I may have killed a couple of people," he told officers. He was right. During the night of May 23, 1987, Parks drove to the home of his parents-in-law, strangled his father-in-law and, with five stabs of the knife, killed his mother-in-law.

The problem is he can't remember any of it. What may read like a thriller is bitter reality for this Canadian man, whose only explanation is that he was sleepwalking. After five long years behind bars, the courts released him after recognizing he was not responsible for his actions.

If sleepwalking is a challenge for legal authorities, it's an even greater one for scientists who have been studying the phenomenon for centuries. It is all the more fascinating since – even after all these years – so little is known about it. Sleepwalking remains a puzzle, not least because it's so difficult to prove. It doesn't cause any measurable changes to blood, nerves or the brain, which is why most test methods, from blood samples to magnetic resonance tomography, are not particularly helpful.

Neurologists try to diagnose the condition by observing patients in sleep labs, where they film video footage and measure the electrical activity of the brain with electroencephalograms (EEG). But results are only middling, says Dr. Pascal Grosse, head of neurology at Berlin's Charité hospital. "Sleepwalking where the person actually gets up out of bed almost never takes place in a sleep lab," he says. "Even if you look at all the information available worldwide, you'll only find about 10 cases where they did."

Just why sleepwalkers should be lab-shy is also unknown, although being hooked up to EEG equipment may well have something to do with it. Even if they remain bed-bound, sleepwalkers can still be quite active. Often they experience what is known as "confusional arousal." This is when a person suddenly sits up, opens his or her eyes, and looks around in a seemingly disoriented way. This usually lasts about a minute. Amazingly, an EEG records no change when it happens: the devise continues to register deep sleep.

Business trip risks

Deep sleep phases of the sleep cycle are when the body recovers from the stresses of the day. In healthy adults, movement and deep sleep are mutually exclusive. Among children, however, roughly 15% walk in their sleep before the age of puberty – possibly because their nervous systems are not yet completely developed, according to Professor Geert Mayer, the chair of the German Sleep Society (DGSM).

Researchers working with psychiatrist Maurice Ohayon at Stanford University recently discovered that sleepwalking after the age of puberty is far more common than previously assumed. His study, published in Neurology, says that over the course of the past year 3% of U.S. citizens will have sleepwalked. And in many cases they have themselves to blame, according to the study.

As a result of things like too little sleep, stress and alcohol, the body's longing for deep sleep is so great that it goes into a kind of half-sleep in which the person is apparently engaged in activity but is not entirely conscious. The activity usually involves getting up to use the toilet or making a late-night snack. It sounds harmless enough, but it can nevertheless cause problems – as in the classic example when a hotel guest confuses the window for the bathroom door.

Sleepwalking is especially prevalent when people are on business trips, when things like unfamiliarity with the environment, lack of sleep, stress, and overconsumption of alcohol can be contributing factors. But based on the findings of his study, Ohayon says that in about a third of all cases, there is also a genetic predisposition to sleepwalking – something that recent genetic analysis experiments support.

Kenneth Parks's case is likely one of genetic predisposition: the fact that sleepwalking was frequent among his relatives played a major role not only in his diagnosis but also in his ultimate release from prison.

Professor Mayer says Parks's gruesome case is a rarity: most sleepwalkers are very peaceful and if there are any injuries, it's usually to themselves. Sleepwalkers, however, may get aggressive if they are ripped suddenly from their dream world. Be wary, in other words, if you plan to wake them up.

"If you wake up a sleepwalker, they mostly react defensively," says Professor Mayer. "So don't wake them up. Instead, just guide them gently back to bed." And that's about the only advice doctors have to offer at the moment – aside from making sure that potential sources of injury, particularly in the bedroom, are minimized.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Sebastian Fritzon

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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