A Parent's Guide to Managing Sleepwalking In Children

A Parent's Guide to Managing Sleepwalking In Children

Sleepwalking, medically known as somnambulism, is a common sleep disorder that affects children, often causing concern and confusion among parents. Understanding the complexities of sleepwalking and how to manage it is essential for ensuring the safety and well-being of children who experience this phenomenon. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore everything parents need to know about managing sleepwalking in children, including its definition, causes, symptoms, what happens during sleepwalking, prevention strategies, diagnosis, and available treatments.



Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder characterized by complex behaviors performed while in a state of partial arousal from deep sleep. Children who sleepwalk may engage in activities such as walking around the house, talking, or even leaving the home, all while appearing to be asleep. Sleepwalking typically occurs during the deeper stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, often within the first few hours of falling asleep.



The exact cause of sleepwalking in children is not fully understood, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Some common triggers for sleepwalking episodes in children may include sleep deprivation, childhood trauma, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), irregular sleep schedules, childhood stress, fever, certain medications, and underlying sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.



 kid girl sleep close eye and smiling


The symptoms of sleepwalking in children can vary widely, but common signs may include:

  • Walking or moving around the house while asleep
  • Talking or mumbling incoherently
  • Difficulty waking up during sleepwalking episodes
  • Confusion or disorientation upon awakening
  • Clumsiness or uncoordinated movements during sleepwalking
  • Inappropriate behaviors or actions while asleep


What Occurs During Episodes of Sleepwalking?

During a sleepwalking episode, children may appear to be awake but are actually in a state of partial arousal from deep sleep. Their eyes may be open, but they are not fully conscious or aware of their surroundings. Children may engage in a variety of activities while sleepwalking, ranging from simple actions like sitting up in bed to more complex behaviors such as rubbing their eyes, not responding to calls, being clumsy, walking around the house, or even leaving the home. At times, sleepwalking may coincide with other conditions such as sleep apnea (short interruptions in breathing during sleep), bedwetting (enuresis), or night terrors.



Diagnosing sleepwalking in children typically involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician or sleep specialist. The diagnosis may be based on a review of the child's medical history, a physical examination, and reports of sleepwalking episodes from parents or caregivers. In some cases, additional tests, such as overnight sleep studies, may be recommended to rule out other sleep disorders or underlying medical conditions.



Cognitive-behavioral therapy


Treatment for sleepwalking in children may vary depending on the severity of symptoms and underlying factors contributing to the disorder. Some common treatment options may include:

  • Addressing any underlying sleep disorders or medical conditions that may be contributing to sleepwalking
  • Implementing behavioral interventions such as relaxation techniques or cognitive-behavioral therapy to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Medications may be prescribed in certain cases to help manage symptoms or prevent sleepwalking episodes, although they are typically used as a last resort and may have side effects.



While it may not be possible to prevent sleepwalking entirely, there are steps parents can take to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. Some preventive measures include:

  • Establishing a consistent bedtime routine in childhood is essential to promote healthy sleep habits.
  • Creating a safe sleep environment by removing obstacles or hazards from the child's bedroom.
  • Encouraging relaxation techniques before bedtime to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Limiting screen time and stimulating activities close to bedtime.
  • Ensure children limit their fluid intake in the evening and ensure they use the bathroom before bedtime, as a full bladder can exacerbate sleepwalking.
  • Steer clear of caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Create a cozy sleep environment for the child; consider darkening the room and maintaining the temperature below 24 degrees Celsius.


Safety Tips To Consider

Sleepwalking poses minimal danger on its own. However, it's crucial to implement precautions to mitigate potential risks, such as falls, collisions, wandering outdoors, or even driving if your adolescent experiences sleepwalking episodes.


To safeguard your sleepwalking child:

  • Avoid startling a sleepwalker by gently guiding them back to bed instead of abruptly waking them.
  • Refrain from using bunk beds for sleepwalkers to minimize the risk of falls.
  • Secure windows and doors throughout the home to prevent sleepwalkers from wandering outside, considering additional locks or childproof mechanisms.
  • Remove sharp or fragile objects from the vicinity of the child's bed and ensure hazardous items are out of reach.
  • Clear obstacles from the child's room and home to prevent tripping hazards, particularly in bedrooms or play areas.
  • Install safety gates outside the child's room and at stairway entrances to prevent access to hazardous areas.


Is Sleepwalking Dangerous?

Although sleepwalking is not inherently harmful, it can pose risks as sleepwalking individuals are not fully awake and may engage in potentially hazardous activities unknowingly, like descending stairs or opening windows.

Sleepwalking typically does not indicate underlying emotional or psychological issues in children, nor does it cause emotional harm. Sleepwalkers often have no recollection of their nocturnal activities.


When To Seek Medical Attention?

If sleepwalking happens frequently, leads to daytime drowsiness, or involves hazardous actions, it's essential to seek medical attention. These signs may indicate a need for intervention or management strategies to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help determine the appropriate course of action and address any underlying concerns related to sleepwalking.


Advice For Parents

  • Familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms that may indicate underlying conditions contributing to sleepwalking, such as sleep apnea characterized by brief pauses in breathing during sleep.
  • Monitor for additional sleep-related issues like bedwetting (enuresis) or night terrors, as they may coincide with or exacerbate sleepwalking episodes.
  • Maintain open communication with the child's healthcare provider to address any concerns or changes in symptoms, ensuring comprehensive management of sleep-related issues.
  • Help your child overcome trauma. By addressing the underlying issue, you can help them navigate this sleep disorder with resilience and confidence.



Managing sleepwalking in children can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and strategies in place, parents can help their children navigate this sleep disorder safely and effectively. By understanding the causes, symptoms, what happens during sleepwalking, prevention strategies, diagnosis, and available treatments, parents can take proactive steps to promote healthy sleep habits and minimize the impact of sleepwalking on their child's well-being. With patience, support, and professional guidance, parents can empower their child to sleep more soundly and peacefully, ensuring a restful night's sleep for the entire family.

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