Monday, April 29, 2013

The Sleepwalker is Not Insane

This article specifically discusses the liability issues with violence associated with sleepwalking. In addition, sleepwalkers do not suffer from mania, which makes it a unique mental disorder. The article covers history of this phenomenon in relation with violence. The biggest example was the R v. Burgess trial was a very interesting case: a man murdered his friend in a sleepwalking episode. They debated if it was really an act of crime. It was labeled as insanity and a disease of mind, because they didn’t know how else to categorize it. However, scientists debated that no act is punishable if it is involuntary, like a car accident.

The involuntary act of sleepwalking (somnambulism) impairs the human mind and it’s functioning, much like how you can’t usually control your dreams. This is perfectly normal, but violence is not. It is believed that an internal cause, like a concussion, can spark this act of violence. However, scientists conclude that these people are sane.

Sleepwalking, like Autism, is complex and hard to understand in many rights: especially in regards to violence. For Burgess, he acted violent in his sleep on numerous occasions. This is an extreme case study, as most sleepwalkers don’t even touch others. I find it interesting that it can happen, and it has. However, I feel like there can be some amount of prevention.

The comedian Mike Burbiglia suffers from Somnambulism  (Sleepwalking), and in his hilarious movie, Sleepwalk with me based off of real events, covers his misadventures with sleepwalking. One particularly serious instance, he leapt out of a second-story hotel window, where he got shards of glass stuck in his legs. Even though this isn’t an act of violence, he does He’s perfectly sane!

So, if there is prevention, then can sleepwalking be tracked back to where something may have sparked the violence? Is it possible for a sleepwalker with violent tendencies to be triggered by something in their waken life, not just by a concussion?

So, what if violent outbursts in sleep can now be controlled by preventatives? This could be avoiding aggressive video games and movies, avoiding situations involving high stress, and eating differently (sometimes food is the cause of sleepwalking) and if necessary, being secured in a separate room. By taking these precautions, the person can avoid injuring someone else.

But not all sleepwalkers are violent. What about situations where the sleepwalker doesn’t harm others but harms themselves? Mike Burbiglia leapt out of a second story hotel window and nearly died of blood loss. What he’s done to prevent further injuries is strap himself in a sleeping bag with mittens.

Irene Mackay, a lecturer in Law at the University of Manchester, wrote this article. 

--Betsy Peterschmidt

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