It’s thought that at least 20% of children will sleepwalk at least once. Here’s all you need to know about sleepwalking – also referred to as somnambulism …
What is sleepwalking?
According to the NHS:
‘Sleepwalking is when someone walks or carries out complex activities while not fully awake. It usually occurs during a period of deep sleep. This is at its height during the early part of the night, so it tends to occur in the first few hours after falling asleep.’
What are the symptoms of sleepwalking in children?
Your child will appear to awaken suddenly from sleep, sit up in bed or start walking in their sleep. This usually occurs during the first third of the sleep period or within three hours of going to sleep.
Your child may just sit up in bed or wander around the house. Your child may appear confused and disorientated and their eyes may be open or closed. They may perform complex tasks such as eating or getting dressed, but this is all done with a lack of awareness. Your child may talk but the words are usually meaningless and hard to understand.
Your child may appear to be awake but will be unable to respond to you and will have no recollection of the incident the next morning.
Do not attempt to wake your child as this is unhelpful, it is often very hard to wake them up anyway.
Episodes typically last less than 15 minutes and only usually happen once during the night.
What causes sleepwalking? How common is it?
Sleepwalking may be increased or triggered by emotional stress, anxiety, noise, fever, having a full bladder, obstructive sleep apnoea caused by illness, enlarged tonsils or adenoids and sleep deprivation. Some medications such as chloral hydrate which is a sedative often used to treat insomnia can trigger sleep walking.
Sleepwalking is more common in children that adults; it occurs in 1% – 15% of the population.
Sleepwalking also often runs in families – it is 6 times more common in children who have a parent who is a sleepwalker, so check to see if there is a family history of it. Children tend to sleepwalk within an hour or two of falling asleep and may walk around from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Sleepwalking and night terrors may be variation of the same condition and often occur together in 10% of cases.
How can I help my sleepwalking child?
The majority of children just grow out of it. Your child is half asleep and although he may appear awake, he is only partially awake as part of his brain is still in deep sleep and a part wakes up.
The main goal of treatment is to keep the child safe if they tend to sleepwalk. Ensure your child’s bedroom and other places he may wander are safe to avoid accidental injury. You may wish to use a stair gate across their bedroom door to prevent them wandering about the house or falling down the stairs.
Don’t allow children who sleep walk to sleep on a top bunk bed. Make sure they cannot wander out of the house and keep outside doors locked – sleepwalking children have been known to go outside and into the street.
If sleepwalking happens very frequently you may like to discuss this with your doctor.
What you can do to help sleepwalking children
- Ensure your child is getting enough sleep.
- Keep to regular day and night time routines, meal times, day time sleeps as regular and consistent routines all help to set the body clock and provide security and predictability. Make sure the bedroom is safe to avoid accidental injury
- Let the episode run its course and try not to interfere or wake your child.
- Do play the incident down and try not to mention or talk about the incident and prevent older siblings from teasing them about it. It is not helpful to make your child feel different.