Sleepwalking through history: Medicine, arts, and courts of law

Sharda Umanath, Daniel Sarezky, Stanley Finger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Somnambulism, or sleepwalking, has always been of interest to theologians, writers, philosophers, physicians, and others fascinated by unusual behaviors. This parasomnia, which was defined less precisely in the past than it is today, has long been featured in medical dissertations and books of medicine. Further, Shakespeare, Bellini, and Brown, among others, incorporated it into their plays, operas, and novels. Because some somnambulists turned violent and committed other acts detrimental to society, sleepwalking also demanded attention from legal systems, and guidelines were set for whether somnambulists could be held responsible for their actions. This historical review focuses on these developments pertaining to somnambulism through the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-276
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the History of the Neurosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial somnambulism
  • Bellini
  • Brown (Charles Brockden)
  • Byron
  • Darwin (Erasmus)
  • Dreaming
  • Hammond
  • Macbeth
  • Mesmer
  • Mesmerism
  • Müller (Johannes)
  • Polidori
  • Prichard
  • Shakespeare
  • Sleepwalking
  • Somnambulism
  • Wienholt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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