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Sleepwalking in Children

Sleepwalking in children, also known as somnambulism, is a sleeping disorder which will cause your child to walk or engage in activities usually performed when fully awake. This disorder is classified under the parasomnia family, as a type of confused arousal. The problem is usually harmless, but in certain cases it can be very dangerous and your child may sustain serious injuries. Sleepwalking occurs in approximately 15% of the population, thus it is important to take precautions to protect your child!

Sleepwalking In Children – What Is It?

It will cause your child to perform activities such as simply standing, walking around the room, using the bathroom or more dangerous activities such as cooking, driving etc. Sleepwalking in children occurs during the slow wave sleep stage, thus sleepwalking will occur between 11p.m and 1a.m.

A mother retrieving a child who has sleepwalked from his room

While sleepwalking, your child is technically asleep, so even if you try to wake him or her they will not respond and the next day your child will have no memory of the episode or the activities performed.

Ever Wondered What Causes Sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking in children is caused due to the arousal, of the part of the brain that controls movement or motor functions. What causes sleepwalking is a hard question to answer because of the myriad of causes, triggers. Every child is different and the cause behind the sleep walking may differ. The most common causes are:

  • Genetic Factors: In many cases if one of the parents suffered from sleep walking, the probability of the child inheriting the problem is 40%, if both parents suffered from the condition, the probability increases to 60%.
  • Environmental Factors: Many environmental factors exist that can cause or induce sleepwalking, a few such factors are :
  1. Sleep Deprivation or presence of prolonged chaotic sleep.
  2. Fever or mental stress due to any event.
  3. Magnesium Deficiency
  4. Medication: Sometime medication used to treat other conditions may cause sleepwalking. Hypnotics, neuroleptics, stimulants and tranquilizers may cause the condition.
  • Physiological Factors: Sleepwalking in children occurs during the slow wave sleep stage. Children spend more time in this stage than adults, this may be the reason sleepwalking reduces with age.
  • Underlying Problems: Sometimes, sleepwalking in children is a symptom in itself! Another underlying condition such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome may cause the sleepwalking.

Now that you have an idea of what causes sleep walking, let us take a look at the precautions you should take to ensure the safety of your child.

Necessary Precautions

Children usually hurt themselves unintentionally when they stumble, fall down or trip on something. It is thus advisable to take the following precautions for the safety of your child.

  • Make sure that the distance between the bed and the floor is small; in short do not purchase a bunk bed!
  • If your child’s bedroom is on the first floor, lock the door from the outside.
  • Make sure that ALL windows are closed.
  • Ensure that the main door, back door are closed and that they are unreachable to your child.
  • Every night, check the house for any physical object such as toys over which your child may trip.
  • Remove any object which can hurt your child such as glass, sharp objects and any breakables.

Treatments for sleepwalking

Sleepwalking in children will usually go away or disappear by itself when adolescence is reached; this is often the best cure.

However if the sleepwalking is very frequent and chances of injury is high, then a visit to the doctor is a must. The commonly prescribed treatments are:

  1. Medication: Drugs such as benzodiazepine, trazodone, clonazepam may be prescribed. Usually these medications have to be used only for a few weeks, after which the symptoms will stop.
  2. Sleep Hygiene: Good sleep hygiene will lower stress and result in increased peaceful sleep. Additionally ensure that sleep deprivation is not present.
  3. Lower mental stress and maintain a peaceful environment.
  4. If required a behavioural therapist may be consulted.

Night terrors in children – connection to sleepwalking:

Night terrors in children, is another type of arousal disorder. In this condition, children will experience extreme fear or panic in their sleep. Similar to sleepwalking, they will not remember the episode the next day.

Since both night terrors and sleepwalking are arousal disorders, if one is present it increases the chances of your child having the other. Night terrors in children is thus an important symptom, if your child has night terrors then they may also suffer from sleepwalking and vice versa!

So check for both conditions. But you need not worry unless the problem is chronic. Usually both the conditions will disappear when your child reaches adolescence so let nature take its course.  Take the necessary precautions and sleepwalking in children will not cause you any stress or tension.

One Comment

  1. Finding the cause of sleepwalking is really a pain. Good interesting post.