Most Sleepwalkers Don't Feel Pain — As Long As They're Still Asleep

Photographed by Janelle Jones.
New research published in the journal Sleep has revealed a hidden superpower belonging only to sleepwalkers: a resistance to pain, even in extreme cases. The catch? It only works as long as the sleepwalker stays asleep. This has to be the longest delayed reaction we've ever heard of — at least since the last time we told this joke.

In a sample of 100 sleepwalkers, 47 claimed to have experienced some kind of violent accident while sleepwalking — the researchers didn't specify, but we're picturing falling down the stairs? Walking into things? Maybe wandering into the scissors-and-blowtorch room? Anyway, of those 47 people, almost 80% of them reportedly stayed asleep during and after suffering what would normally be a painful episode — and they only registered that something painful had happened to them after waking up much later. One participant even described a night when he fell off his roof but didn't know it until the next day.

Researchers suspect this delay takes place because of a disconnect between certain areas of the brain during sleep. If a sleepwalker gets hurt while he or she is asleep, the part of that person's brain that recognizes and regulates pain isn't able to process that information correctly, and thus allows the sleepwalker to carry on unperturbed. One could liken this to the unbothered state of zombies when they're attacked with anything less than a kill shot...but there's no need for such an extreme comparison. Given how little is still known about the phenomenon, sleepwalking is creepy enough on its own.

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