Many times, and on forums about the web, I’m asked about the possibility that Asha may have been sleepwalking, approached by an ill-intended motorist, and whisked into the night.
I’d like to comment why the theory just plain ol’ doesn’t work. My belief is based upon the source data I’ve included on the Sources page. I don’t take anything I’ve included in my blog lightly; I/we/you are here because of a terrible tragedy, so theorizing based upon what I ‘think’ is a waste of time for us all and disrespectful to the Degree family.
First, sleeping is a cycle we all can recognize: sometimes we are ‘dead asleep’ and sometimes the softest noise or stimulus can bring us fully alert.
There are several indications that drift far-left from Asha walking in her sleep, well, so many that I’m listing them:
- No noted history of sleepwalking
- Level of difficulty: packed her backpack/bookbag with matching clothes, shoes, family photos. Did so without turning any lights on
- Collected clothing from different areas
- Moved about in (small) common areas without waking her brother, nor either parent. Sleepwalkers are not quiet unless said task is a habit, like tiptoeing around a baby’s crib so as not to wake her
- Left her home unlocked and/or locked at point of exit
- Official temperatures were near freezing (to 34f); sudden change of temps from indoor to outdoor weather would bring an under-dressed person awake within minutes, certainly within an hour’s time
- Torrential downpour of near-freezing rain hitting/dripping in face and eyes; a rude awakening for anyone
Somewhere in all that time, a person would have naturally cycled from that deeper sleep into a lighter level of sleep, so if one stimulus didn’t wake a person, another would. But for those who might argue that an imbalance in the brain may have brought a person up and outside, we’ll say the cold rainwater to the face didn’t awaken a child, and we’ll go on.
Sometimes when we read a complex action, we see words and don’t necessarily ‘feel’ them. Using the following info, place yourself in the activities and surroundings below to arrive at a better opinion of why (or why not) the sleepwalking theory is a viable one.
As I mentioned, Asha would have had to move about without turning on bedroom and living room lights. Turn off your lights and use your memory to gather and pack the aforementioned items.
Of course, there are variables, like your clothes may be in one area and Asha’s in her room and maybe the laundry area (or vice-versa), or your photos might not be framed and Asha’s framed, etc. but for illustration, just move about, gathering and packing without turning on lights and without pre-planning what will be packed. The lack of pre-planning is critical to this exercise.
Notice how much noise you might make with the opening and closing, back and forth, up and down stairs. Do not try to be sneaky. The sleepwalking theory dictates that Asha did not plan to run out/away. Remember, Asha shared a bedroom (but not a bed) with her brother.
Another point: Asha’s backpack, like most kids her age, was really her bookbag and used mostly for school. Her packing strategy must have been very keen; she had a lot inside: a book binder, another pair of sneakers, the family photos, and several matching outfits (including a vest, shirts, heavier jeans and overalls) as well as other school and personal things, packaged tightly–not just thrown in the bag. Many sleepwalkers who have never packed a bag at all will toss or set things in a bag any ol’ way while asleep, as they’ve no experience.
Some extreme sleepwalkers can drive a good ways, but a person who has never driven could not have safely made a similar trip. When we sleepwalk, we are capable of doing what is habit or very familiar to us.
Everyone’s sleepwalking episode will be different based upon experience, but at some point, the sleepwalker will awaken or lie down and fall into restful sleep.
Now, say Asha did make it out of her house successfully. Remember, she wore no outerwear: no coat, hat, mittens, etc. Imagine for a minute you are dressed in a nightgown and sneakers.
The official weather report for that day, and the night before, stated that over an inch of rain fell within a 24-hour period and temps were hovering just over freezing. Also, one witness stated the ‘torrential downpour’ was in full swing when he spotted Asha (or someone fitting her description).
I had to back pedal a bit, but I wanted to give you a visual of how hard it was raining.
Now, imagine being asleep and you are in a cold shower/rain shower. You are soaking wet. You have no flashlight and there are no highway lights. You are walking 1.3 miles, a familiar route but never on foot . . . and in the pitch dark.
You really need to visualize yourself outside as you read this:
- Very little clothing
- Very dark
- Very cold
- Sudden blast of cold air and pouring rain
- Asleep (please visualize yourself in these situations before going on)
- No lighting (I’m reiterating the ‘no lights’ because it is the most important factor)
- Navigating unstable terrain you can’t see: drain pipes, ruts and gutters splashing full of rainwater (please see the Google images for a glimpse of some stretches of the highway’s terrain)
- Unfamiliar spots like gravel, mailboxes, street signs, intersections (images, again)
- No lighting–at all (could you even walk this 1.3 mile stretch fully awake?)
Obviously, being awake as you are now, you can’t fully visualize those actions done while sleeping. If anything, your sleeping actions won’t be neatly, thoughtfully-planned and safely performed. Walking over a mile without the aid of any light source, in less than one hour, when you can’t see one foot in front of the other seems near impossible.
But let’s move along:
Asha carried a backpack that wasn’t waterproof, so let’s expand your sleepwalking visual to include the bag and walking beyond Asha’s home street. Remember to visualize yourself with each step of the way (each new number below). After five minutes of walking briskly (due to a one-hour timeline), you should experience:
- Soaking-wet hair and a soaked head (where body heat is rapidly lost and no hat)
- Near-freezing water dripping from hair into eyelashes and eyes
- All exposed limbs are wet; you are wiping and wiping water from your eyes and face in order to ‘see’
- Your clothes are soaked and clinging to you, and you are having to walk and accommodate your stride and maintain a brisk pace and good distance
What I’m trying to impress here is, just how much stimuli is present during this sleepwalking outing. Here are other considerations you’ll need to see yourself do while walking over a mile along the highway:
- You will have fallen a few times into puddles and water from sewer pipes sending a flood through them, roadside (see the gutters, ruts and size of pipelines in Google images at the end of the blog). Remember to envision you are not able to see anywhere you step.
- Your have fallen with a backpack full of wet clothes. Wet laundry is heavy, and this load is half your body weight.
- You have no light; you cannot see, but you pick up the heavy backpack and continue anyway.
- You are asleep but you go through your backpack or purse, retrieve candy, unwrap it and discard the wrappers along the highway (strictly by touch), while walking without the aid of light.
- You’ve run into street signs, mailboxes and any other posts or signage
It’s most effective to envision a dark road you are familiar with–one with no street lights.
I’m certain at least one mishap would have awakened almost of us, but let’s look at the science of sleep. I’ll keep to the very basics:
While sleeping, we go through several levels of sleep: N1, N2 and N3. When we have gone through those three levels, it’s called a ‘sleep cycle.’
A complete cycle can take up to 1 and 1/2 hours, maybe a bit more. We go from lighter sleep to heavy sleep and then back again. Sleeping starts at a very light state where just about anything can wake you. This is called ‘N1’ sleep and lasts a few minutes.
The next level of sleep is N2 and we are just getting off to a real sleep. N2 lasts 10 -25 minutes.
The N3 stage lasts 20 to 40 minutes and a person is deep in sleep. Nearly all sleepwalking episodes occur during this deep sleep stage.
Since the packing and the walk down the highway took more than 40 minutes, you would have to come back around to a lighter state of sleep, N2 then back to N1. Just think stages: 1,2,3, then 3,2,1. The longer you sleep the shorter the sleep stages are.
After just 20 to 40 minutes from the time you began sleepwalking, you would have entered from your deep sleep state to a lighter state and I’d say you would have awakened from a fall, the rain, or something.
I don’t have any way of knowing how quickly you moved about while packing clothes, but I’d venture to say you didn’t make it 1.3 miles down a pitch-black highway during a torrential rain storm while sleepwalking.
I’m no sleep expert, but here’s an easy-to-follow article and video from those who are:
Sleep Medicine at Harvard.