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Thread: Murder While Sleepwalking

  1. #1 Murder While Sleepwalking 
    Forum Junior DrmDoc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Philadelphia, USA
    Hello All,

    A while ago, I was inspired to consider the implication of brain evolution relative to parasomnia after watching a National Geographic Channel program, “Extreme Sleepwalking.” This program profiled several cases of severe sleepwalking involving complex behaviors ranging from eating to rape and murder. While profiling two particular cases of murder, one resulting in a conviction and the other in an acquittal, the program speculated on whether sleepwalking is a valid legal defense.

    The circumstances of the case that produced a murder conviction involved a sleepwalker who killed his wife when she disturbed him while he was fixing a swimming pool apparatus in his backyard. While allegedly asleep, the man bludgeoned his wife into unconsciousness, went into his home to bandage a self-inflicted wound, and returned to finish his wife by drowning her. He then removed and hid his blood soaked clothing in the trunk of his car and returned to bed leaving his deceased wife by the pool. The sleepwalker was a minister and his wife was his childhood sweetheart. A next-door neighbor witnessed the entire act.

    In the case resulting in acquittal, the sleepwalker dressed himself, drove several miles through city traffic to his stepparents house where he murdered them, and then drove home where he returned to bed. He was a lifelong sleepwalker and he was also a heavy gambler who was recently laid-off from work.

    In both cases, the defendants had an established history of sleepwalking and received pre-trial sleep studies confirming their parasomnia propensity. According the National Geographic, sleep studies of severe parasomnia show this condition initiating during the deepest stages (3rd or 4th) of non-REM sleep. These studies appear to suggest that such extreme cases of parasomnia do not result from dream sleep. Before such studies, the idea that extreme sleep behaviors were likely responses to dream sleep seemed a valid notion. Although the interpretation of the study evidence National Geographic provided suggests that parasomnia is not a response to dreaming, I am of the opposite opinion given the inadequate nature of this evidence and the perspective of brain evolution and function I hold.

    In my opinion, the interpretation National Geographic provided is inadequate because it suggests that the neural nature of parasomnia is defined by its onset. However, the complex behaviors of the parasomniac during the act of sleepwalking suggest a level of brain activity beyond that which its sleep stage onset (non-REM) generates. The sleep studies National Geo quoted did not extend to the activity in the brain after onset or during the act of sleepwalking. As the program showed, study participants tend to remove the electrodes monitoring their condition after parasomnia onset. More than likely, the brain activity of the sleeper amid sleepwalking is equivalent to the highly active level that occurs during REM sleep. This is highly probable and reasonable because of the complex sensory and behavioral responses severe parasomnia requires. Interestingly, both parasomnia and REM initiate during the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. To define parasomnia by its onset in non-REM is to define dreaming by its onset and suggest that dreams are merely another form of parasomnia. As to the range of extreme and aberrant behaviors that typify parasomnia, a valid basis for such behavior is suggested by the evolution of the dreaming brain.

    In prior discussions eslewhere, I described how dreaming and the ready state of muscle tone may have evolved from the wakeful neural activity and behaviors early animals engaged to remain alert to survival affecting influences between cycles of feeding and rest. Between feeding and rest cycles early animals may have remained in a state of preparedness that allowed them to feed in the presence of nutrients and engage defensive behaviors in the presence of predators. This is not unlike the sleep eating and violent behaviors some parasomniacs engage while sleepwalking. Given the significant contribution of hypothalamic function to the regulation of sleep and appetite and its association with aggressive postures in study animals, the probability of eating and violent behavior amid sleepwalking is not beyond the boundaries of reason. Nevertheless, I do not believe that dream inspired sleep behaviors or the evolutional background of sleep and dreaming excuses the aberrant and violent behaviors some sleepwalkers have engaged.

    Sleepwalking, in my opinion, is an altered state of consciousness that is not unlike hypnosis. Although extreme behaviors while under hypnosis have been elicited, those behaviors were limited by the uninhibited conscious propensity of the hypnotized; i.e., a person under hypnosis would not do what he consciously would not do without societal constraints. If a person commits murder while sleepwalking, given circumstances similar to the above cases, I believe that person does so because that was his or her uninhibited desire. In my view, thoughts are deeds and murderous thoughts may lead to murderous deeds. At no time is this more evident than when a murder is committed while sleepwalking. I welcome your thoughts.

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  3. #2  
    Time Lord
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    My only experience with sleepwalking is a few times having sex while asleep. It began - naturally enough in bed with a partner - in full dream state, and I only had enough consciousness to think I'm asleep and isn't this weird. I could have woken then but I was so tired that remaining asleep felt easier.

    I wouldn't say "that's not me". Rather I feel my subconscious more faithful to the "real me" than anything I'd say in a courtroom.

    I think these defendants essentially plea intoxication or split personality, which to my mind is no excuse. Personally, I find the whole insanity argument ...insane.

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  4. #3  
    The Doctor Quantime's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    United Kingdom
    Two throw in my two pence. I not long ago had my first sleepwalk experience. I did not realise I had until the following morning, where I noticed objects out of place and that what I was doing was very familiar. I was going to have a shave as usual but noticed that my shaver was in the sink. I had, in my sleep got up during the middle of the night and attempted to shave, for some reason. :?
    "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe". - Carl Sagan
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