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Hereditary Factors in Sleepwalking and Night Terrors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2018

Anthony Kales
Department of Psychiatry, and Director, Sleep Research and Treatment Center, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA
Constantin R. Soldatos
Department of Psychiatry and Sleep Research and Treatment Center, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine
Edward O. Bixler
Department of Psychiatry and Sleep Research and Treatment Center, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine
Roger L. Ladda
Department of Pediatrics, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine
Dennis S. Charney
Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Gary Weber
Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine
Paula K. Schweitzer
Department of Psychiatry, Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine


The families of 25 probands with sleepwalking and 27 probands with night terrors were studied. Eighty per cent of the sleepwalking pedigrees and 96 per cent of the night terror pedigrees included one or more individuals, other than the proband, who were affected by sleepwalking, night terrors, or both. Our data appear to fit a ‘two threshold’ multifactorial mode of inheritance. This finding supports the hypothesis that sleepwalking and night terrors share a common genetic predisposition, with sleepwalking being a more prevalent and less severe manifestation of the same substrate that underlies night terrors. Heritable factors predispose an individual to develop sleepwalking and/or night terrors, but expression of the trait may be influenced by environmental factors.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1980 

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