Idaho Woman's Mysterious Sleepwalking Twice Lands Her in River

Alyson Bair recently woke up to find herself drowning in a river near her home.

August 23, 2012, 2:46 PM

Aug. 27, 2012 — -- Alyson Bair was having a nightmare that she was drowning. When she woke up, she was actually drowning.

"I thought I was dreaming, but then I realized I wasn't and I was scared," Bair told, recalling the night she woke up in the river outside her home in early August. "It was deep and I couldn't touch anywhere and I was getting tired. I had to keep turning around and floating on my back."

She was eventually able to crawl onto a river bank and take cover until someone found her in the morning.

Bair, 31, is a wife and mother of two who lives in Burley, Idaho. She loves photographing her family, camping, reading and bowling. But she is also battling a mysterious nightmare and sleep walking problem that has terrified her and her family.

"It's definitely scary and it worries me," she said. "I haven't tried to drive or anything yet, but it just scares me what I could do. We've locked up all my medicines and made sure that our guns are locked up. Everything I could harm myself with is put away because I don't know what I'm going to do when I'm sleeping."

Two weeks after the near-drowning, Bair suffered a similar episode.

On Aug. 20, her husband Cody Bair, 34, woke up around 1 a.m. to use the bathroom and everything was normal. At 2 a.m., one of the couple's two children woke him up and needed attention. At that point, he noticed that his wife was not in bed and that the sliding glass door that leads outside was open, according to a police report.

The door is usually barricaded so that Alyson Bair cannot get out, but the couple had left the door and windows open that night because of the heat.

After searching the house, Cody Bair woke up his wife's parents and they all began searching the area around the home. The family called the Cassia County Sheriff's Office for help. A neighbor got on a jet ski to search for Alyson Bair and her husband took his canoe up the river to search for her.

Around 7:30 a.m., Bair was found on the riverbank about a quarter of a mile from home, according to police. She was wet and suffering from hypothermia. She was taken to the hospital and subsequently released.

Alyson Bair does not recall leaving her house or getting in the water, but she has cuts and bruises on her feet from the episode.

"I felt like I had nightmares, but I don't remember what it is and then I ended up sleepwalking and going back down to the river," she said. "I haven't been injured seriously besides the hypothermia, thank goodness…I'm just worried about what could happen."

In the past few months, Bair has woken up in various places in her home and in the street near her home.

"I just get up and go barefoot in my pajamas and I don't bring my glasses or I don't get anything," she said.

Her husband has installed a bar on the sliding glass door that prevents it from opening and put alarms on two other doors in the house for which Alyson Bair does not know the password so that if she breaches the alarm, it will ring until someone else in the house gets up.

"It's been really scary for me and my family," she said. "I don't want to sleep walk and I don't want to worry people. It's got to be scary waking up and not finding your spouse in bed with you and wondering where they are and are they okay. It's scary for me when I think about it."

The couple has two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. It was the couple's son that discovered his mother was missing the first time she sleepwalked out of the house.

"I think it's scary for both of them," Alyson Bair said. "I don't think my 4-year-old understands as much, but she knows I got lost."

Bair had sleepwalking episodes and suffered from night terrors as a child. She said the sleepwalking and talking have recently been worse, which she believes is due to stress.

She was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, a chronic auto-immune disease in which a person's white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands, according to the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation.

Bair said that before the diagnosis she was "really healthy" and was depressed when she was diagnosed. She found herself limited in some of the things she could do and said the syndrome has caused her a lot of joint pain, fatigue and some mild kidney problems.

She takes two medications for the Sjogren's, but does not take any sleep medication. She recently started taking medication for her nightmares.

Her doctors do not believe that the medications are related to her sleepwalking, pointing to stress as the culprit.

But Dr. James Wyatt, director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, does not think that stress alone could be the cause of the sleepwalking.

"There's a long list of factors that can increase the severity of sleepwalking episodes and the likelihood of having one including alcohol, sleep deprivation, jet lag, sleeping in a strange environment, high daytime stress levels. But I think it could be extremely unlikely that stress alone was at play here," Wyatt told

Wyatt would recommend that Bair undergo a sleep study "immediately." During a sleep study, a trained sleep technician watches the patient overnight. A variety of sensors record factors including brain wave activity, heart rate rhythms and respiration as the person goes through the stages of sleep.

He said the sleep study would determine if there are indications that Bair has another sleep disorder or if sleepwalking is the only problem.

"If somebody is sleepwalking in a manner that presents danger…that raises the stakes dramatically for how quickly and thoroughly it must be treated," Wyatt said.

Wyatt said that doctors would also closely examine Bair's family history and medical history, including any medications she takes, to determine any other potential sources for the problem.

Most people experience sleepwalking episodes as children, but quickly grow out of them, Wyatt said.

"The majority of kids will have a sleepwalking episode at some point," Wyatt said. "For most children, by the time they're reaching approximately junior high age, the sleepwalking is gone. It's very rare that it persists into adulthood and even rarer that it progresses to the point of being dangerous."

Bair hopes that by sharing her story she might be able to help others who struggle with sleepwalking and potentially find more help for herself.

"I'm just worried about what could happen," she said. "I've got my family to take care of and be with and I love them very much. So if there's any way I could help others by my story, just to bring awareness to how serious this could be, and talk about what steps we've taken and find out if there's anything else we can do, I'd like to do that."