Just about to go to bed when your child comes wandering through, still asleep? Stay calm and read on to find out what to know about childhood sleepwalking.
Watching your child walk through the house while asleep can be pretty scary.
What you might not know, though, is that sleepwalking is harmless and pretty common.
If you’re wondering how to navigate these unpredictable nighttime walkabouts, here’s what you need to know about childhood sleepwalking.
In this article: 📝
- What to know about childhood sleepwalking
- What happens during childhood sleepwalking?
- What causes sleepwalking in a child?
- Is sleepwalking a mental illness?
- How does sleepwalking affect the brain?
- How do you deal with a sleepwalking child?
- How to keep a sleepwalking child safe?
- Is there a way to stop sleepwalking?
- Should I be concerned about my child sleepwalking?
What to know about childhood sleepwalking
Sleepwalking is when a child gets up and walks around as though awake, but is still asleep.
Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking is common in children.
Up to fifteen percent of children sleepwalk.
It’s most common between the ages of four and eight years old.
It usually happens within the first few hours of having fallen asleep.
This is when your child is in deep sleep.
Childhood sleepwalking is usually harmless and most children grow out of it.
But you do need to make sure your child doesn’t hurt themselves while sleepwalking.
What happens during childhood sleepwalking?
Walking around while asleep is the most obvious symptom of sleepwalking.
But your sleepwalker might also:
- Sit up or move around in their bed.
- Get out of bed and walk around their room or the house.
- Mumble or talk, but not likely making much sense.
- Not respond if spoken to.
- Do routine tasks like opening and closing doors, setting the table, getting dressed.
- Let themselves out of the house and walk around outside.
- Urinate in inappropriate places.
Your sleepwalking child will likely have their eyes open, with a glassy stare, but they’ll probably think they’re in a different room or place.
They may get upset and will probably not remember in the morning.
What causes sleepwalking in a child?
Childhood sleepwalking is more common if the child’s parents also sleepwalk or sleepwalked as a child.
There are some other factors that can weigh in and increase the likelihood of your child’s sleepwalking:
- Fatigue and lack of sleep
- Stress or anxiety
- New sleep environment
- A full bladder or bowel
- Illness or fever
- Certain medications, such as antihistamines, stimulants, or sedatives
- Certain medical conditions that are linked to poor-quality sleep
Is sleepwalking a mental illness?
Sleepwalking is not a mental illness.
It could — although uncommon — be indicative of an underlying condition, such as:
- Sleep apnea (when you stop breathing for short periods during the night).
- Night terrors (severe nightmares which take place when in deep sleep).
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS).
- Head injuries
How does sleepwalking affect the brain?
Our sleep is divided into two categories — REM sleep and non-REM (NREM) sleep.
We do most of our dreaming during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when our brain activity is most similar to when we’re awake.
Interestingly, sleepwalking takes place during NREM sleep.
The brain is partially awake, enabling the body to do complex things.
But the sleepwalker doesn’t remember any of it.
How do you deal with a sleepwalking child?
If you realize that your child is sleepwalking, the most important thing is to stay calm.
We hear you, mama.
It can be an unnerving experience, especially if your child looks frightened.
It’s also best to avoid trying to wake them up while they’re sleepwalking.
This is because they can get upset and it might take them a while to get back to sleep.
To get your child back to bed, use a calm and reassuring voice to gently guide your child.
You can also gently lead them, while reassuring them.
It might be a good idea to steer them past the bathroom first. (Sometimes a full bladder can trigger sleepwalking.)
Then you can guide them to their bedroom and back into bed.
Often the sleepwalking ‘episode’ will end when they’re back in bed.
They’ll carry on sleeping, as though no sleepwalking had happened.
How to keep a sleepwalking child safe?
It’s important to try and sleepwalker-proof your house if your child is prone to sleepwalking.
- Close and lock all doors and windows at night (and hide the keys).
- Remove anything that might be a tripping hazard.
- Don’t let your child sleep in a bunk bed.
- Move any breakables and sharp objects from your child’s room.
- Install safety gates in front of the stairs.
- Set up an alarm system to wake you when your child sleepwalks. This could be something like a baby monitor or a motion-activated light or alarm.
- If your child is going to have a sleep-over at someone else’s house, tell the adults responsible so that they’re ready for any sleepwalking.
Is there a way to stop sleepwalking?
The best way to prevent sleepwalking is to help your child establish good sleeping habits. You could try some of these ideas:
- Set up a good sleep routine, going to bed at the same time every night.
- Create a calm and relaxing bedtime environment, which is dark, quiet, and comfortable.
- Wind down as you get closer to bedtime, and include some relaxing practices such as a warm bath, calm music, and even gentle meditation.
- Try and keep the temperature in your child’s room lower than 75°F (24°C).
- Try and encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids earlier in the day, so bedtime drinking is limited.
Make sure there is a toilet stop just before going to bed.
- Try to avoid sugar and caffeine before bedtime.
For frequent sleepwalkers, your pediatrician might suggest scheduled awakening.
This is a treatment where you track your child’s sleepwalking patterns, and then rouse them or wake them up fifteen minutes before they usually start to sleepwalk.
By interrupting the sleep cycle, it might stop the sleepwalking.
Should I be concerned about my child sleepwalking?
If it’s happening regularly and it seems to be affecting them during the day, then it’s worth chatting with your doctor.
But generally, childhood sleepwalking isn’t anything to be concerned about.
And it’s likely your child will outgrow it.
Remember that your Peanut community is here for you if you need support along the way.