A reader recently wrote in to me, wondering how she should handle her son’s sleepwalking episodes. She says they occur several times a month. Mostly though, she just wants to know “how to handle the moments when he is standing in our room completely out of it.”
I can completely understand how unnerving that must be. To see your child standing, staring, and dazed at your bedside in the middle of the night. So let’s get to it. Let’s talk about sleepwalking.
Why do some children sleepwalk?
- It’s genetic. A child with a mom or dad with a history of sleepwalking, is more likely to sleepwalk himself.
- Up to 15% of children will sleepwalk. Most common in ages 4-12.
- Children who sleepwalk usually outgrow this by their teen years.
- Occasional sleepwalking is not a sign of any emotional or psychological problem.
- Sleepwalking does not cause emotional harm to a child. In fact, they don’t even remember doing it!
- Sleepwalking occurs during the deep, non REM, phase of sleep. It usually occurs within the first two hours after going to sleep.
- Children are not actually “awake”, though their eyes are open. I know, this can be an eerie sight.
What triggers sleepwalking?
- Lack of sleep and fatigue seems to be a major trigger. A child prone to sleepwalking, may do so after a particularly busy day.
- Irregular sleep and nap schedules may trigger sleepwalking.
- An illness or fever.
- A full bladder may also trigger sleepwalking.
Can anything be done to help prevent my child from sleepwalking?
Yes, there are some proactive measures you can take to possibly reduce these sleepwalking episodes:
- Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Make sure your child is getting the amount of sleep he needs.
- Try putting him to bed a half an hour earlier. It has been shown that a small increase in the total amount of sleep a child gets, may reduce these episodes.
- Keep the noise and lights to a minimum when it comes to bedtime.
- Make sure your child empties his bladder prior to going to bed.
*If sleepwalking occurs on a daily basis, it’s always wise to see your child’s doctor.*
Okay, now that we’ve taken some preemptive measures, sleepwalking may still occur. What should you do when you find your “sleeping” child roaming the halls?
- Gently guide your child back to bed. There is really no need to try and wake him. Simply get him back to bed so everyone can get back to sleep.
- Keep him safe. This is the most important thing to keep in mind.
- Remove obstacles from your child’s floor and hallways.
- Make sure any sharp objects are kept out of reach.
- If you have stairs, put up safety gates to prevent falls.
- Make sure doors and windows are locked. Yes, some children may try to go outside.
Hopefully, this information has put your mind at ease. Most children will outgrow this sleepwalking “phase” by the time they reach the teen years. Maintain a relaxing bedtime routine, keep his surroundings safe, and in time, he will no longer be going ‘bump in the night’.
Have you or your child dealt with sleepwalking?
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