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The Painful Consequences of Sleepwalking

By Sean Zucker


When Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true if we dare to pursue them,” This is not what he had in mind. BBC News Pidgin reports that a man unknowingly cut off his genitals when asleep. While that may sound like a scene from a slasher film, this was one man’s reality. It may also serve as a wake-up call to the tens of millions of people who suffer from sleepwalking.

This cautionary and cutting tale begins when a Ghanaian farmer named Kofi Atta is asleep in his favorite chair at home and dreaming about preparing meat for his family. Shortly afterward, a real-life nightmare began when Atta awoke to discover he had entirely severed his genitalia with a kitchen knife. “I defy sit inside chair wey I doze off, so as I dey sleep I dream of say I dey cut meat wey dey in front of me,” he told BBC News in Ghanaian Pidgin English.

Exactly when and how he grabbed a knife and performed the painful deed, “I no remember how I carry de knife, even me I dey confused,” he explained.

After yelling for help, neighbors were able to get Atta in touch with his family and medical professionals. His wife was not present at the time of the accident, though she did arrive shortly after receiving the call. She attempted to stop the bleeding by using a diaper before driving her husband to St. Francis Xavier Hospital in Assin Fosu. The 47-year-old is currently stable. He told BBC News Pidgin that he doesn’t have the funds for the surgery he needs to heal and has begun raising money for it.

While Atta said he isn’t aware of any preexisting conditions that would have led to this disaster, his actions are consistent with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s definition of sleepwalking. The AASM reports this disorder involves complex behaviors that occur during arousals from non-rapid eye movement sleep.

The academy warns it is reaching epidemic levels in adults. At least 4 percent of the world’s adult population suffers from sleepwalking, which can create all sorts of troubling conditions that stop short of self-mutilation. A recent AASM study, for example, discovered that sleepwalkers are at a significantly higher risk than others of daytime sleepiness, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety and overall diminished quality of life.

The researchers also found that over 22 percent of sleepwalkers suffer nightly episodes, while 43 percent experience them weekly. More troubling still is that 60 percent of people with this condition have violent sleep-related behaviors.

Admittedly, there is no evidence that any sleepwalker has ever severed their genitalia. But other incidents of related injuries include bruises, nose bleeds, fractures and head trauma. One study participant even admitted to once jumping out of a third-floor window.

“Sleepwalking is an under-diagnosed condition that may be associated with daytime consequences and mood disturbances leading to a major impact on quality of life,” said Dr. Yves Dauvilliers, the study’s lead author. “The burden of sleepwalking in adults should be highlighted and emphasized.”

The academy and Dauvilliers obviously will get no argument from Atta on that recommendation.

 

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