Sleepwalking and Kids

It can be both entertaining and alarming to observe a child sleepwalking. Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a parasomnia (sleep disorder) that covers a variety of behaviors in both children and adults which occur during sleep. Though it is most common in children ages 4-8 years, occasional sleepwalking can continue throughout life.

Common behaviors of kids who sleepwalk

A child who is sleepwalking will often sit up or get out of bed and perform goal-oriented tasks. She might walk aimlessly around the room, search for something in the closet, try to run or escape, or fiddle with the window coverings. Though a child who is sleepwalking will have open eyes, she is still sleeping and unaware of her behavior. Sleep talking sometimes accompanies a sleepwalking episode, and the words your child utters may not make any sense, or she may be able to carry on a very basic conversation.

Sleepwalking takes place during stage 3 or 4 of the sleep cycle when children are sleeping deeply, which is why sleepwalkers don’t recall their nighttime adventures once they wake up in the morning. That’s also the reason it is so difficult to wake a child who is sleepwalking, and if they do wake, they are very disoriented and confused.

Why does my child sleepwalk?

There are several possible reasons your child is sleepwalking. This sleep disorder can be inherited from a mother or father who sleepwalks. It also occurs more often when kids are sleep deprived, staying up too late, not following a routine, enduring too much stress, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, or needing to urinate. Sleepwalking is linked with night terrors, which happen during the same stage of the sleep cycle, and bedwetting. Boys have a higher likelihood to sleepwalk.

Since most kids outgrow sleepwalking, there is usually not any reason to treat this sleep disorder. Rarely, for kids who sleepwalk often or whose sleepwalking causes other problems, a doctor may recommend scheduled awakening. Just before the time your child typically begins sleepwalking, wake her up for 5 minutes. This disrupts the sleep cycle just enough to stop sleepwalking. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns about her sleepwalking.

Keep your sleepwalker safe

Sleepwalking doesn’t cause any emotional or developmental harm for kids. However, sleepwalking can be hazardous because kids aren’t aware of what they are doing – if they try to leave the house, stumble on something, or fall down the stairs, for example. If your little one sleepwalks frequently, you should take some simple steps to keep her safe during her nighttime wanderings:

  • Keep weapons or dangerous items locked away.
  • Remove sharp or fragile objects surrounding the bed.
  • Close and/or lock windows and interior doors.
  • Install safety gates above or below stairs.
  • Don’t wake a sleepwalking child. Instead, guide her back to her bed.
  • At bedtime, work with your child in picking toys and clothes off the floor so there is less risk of tripping.
  • Don’t allow your child to sleep in a bunk bed if she tends to sleepwalk.

Sleepwalking doesn’t have to be alarming. As long as you keep your child’s sleep environment safe, sleepwalking is harmless. Before you know it, your child’s days of sleepwalking will be behind you.

Have you cared for a child who sleepwalks? Tell us about it in the comments!



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