POMPTON PLAINS When a 55-year-old New Jerseyan sleepwalked into a lake on Dec. 17, 2011, news of her tragic death spread globally via the Internet.
However, cases such as this are not new according to John Penek, MD, FCCP, board certified in Sleep Medicine and medical director of the Sleep Health Institute at Chilton Hospital.
There are more than 80 distinct sleep disorders occurring in children and adults in all age groups, said Penek. Somnabulism, commonly known as sleepwalking, is a certain type of sleep disorder, called a parasomnia. This involves abnormal and unnatural movements and behaviors and can cause harm to the individual as well as others.
Although parasomnias can be fatal, they are treatable. The disorder is diagnosed with an overnight sleep study. Chilton Hospitals Sleep Health Institute offers sleep studies and even provides free consultation prior to the study. There are four free screenings scheduled for March and April:
March 5 and 19 April 2 and 16
According to Penek, sleepwalking is one of many parasomnias that can cause tragedy when left untreated.
Sexsomnia, or abnormal sexual behavior during sleep, has resulted in charges of rape and child molestation, he explained. Other disorders such as narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia may result in sleep at inappropriate times, which may cause accidents and even death.
Development of knowledge in the area of parasomnias has increased so rapidly in the last decade that there is now a growing field called Forensic Sleep Medicine.
Many parasomnias are associated with injury of bed partners or others and are perceived as potentially criminal behavior, he said. It is not uncommon for patients suffering with these disorders to result in being charged with civil and criminal charges. Resulting from the frequent striking nature of these behaviors, the sleep specialist physician is frequently needed to provide testimony for both plaintiff and defense attorneys in these cases.
The Free Sleep Health Screenings feature one-on-one visits with a Chilton sleep professional for individualized assessment. The personalized nature of the screenings identifies if attendees are at a risk for sleep disorder and determines if further evaluations are needed with sleep specialists. The screenings are held on Mondays from 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Chilton Health Network, 242 West Parkway, Pompton Plains (about 1.5 miles from the hospital). For more information, call 973-831-5351.