Andrea Nair: Connect-Four Parenting

Jan
26
2017

Sleepwalking Tips: How to Help Your Sleepwalking Child

Plus reasons your child may be walking in his or her sleep

We’ve encountered a new situation in our house that has caused me distress and concern: a sleepwalking child.

One night my husband and I were sitting downstairs watching a movie when quietly and suddenly (my children usually walk like elephants) one of my children appeared in the kitchen walking towards us. As he came closer, I could see his eyes were open but were glazed over and distant. We talked to him but he didn’t respond so finally we realized he was sleepwalking.

My husband guided him back up the stairs and to his room, which he managed fine without faltering. When he returned (my husband is a family doctor), we chatted about sleepwalking, what might be causing it, and what to do about it.

I actually sleepwalked as a child, too. Once I walked down the hallway from my room, took off my pyjamas in front of my parents and their dinner guests, neatly folded those, put them on the kitchen table, then walked back to my room! I was more embarrassed than scared for my safety when I heard about it the next day.

After more digging, we discovered that sleepwalking, called “somnambulism,” is cause for concern mostly for the young person’s safety, but often times will subside as the child gets older. Sleepwalking, sleep-talking sitting up, or even opening a closet door and peeing inside, is common and more prevalent in childhood. On another night of sleepwalking, our child played with some LEGO, then laid down to bed in a different room of the cabin we were staying in while out of town.

Most sleepwalking happens during the deeper sleep stages, so it’s difficult to wake the person up (and it’s best not to try doing that if safety isn’t an issue). Kids tend to sleepwalk within an hour or two of falling asleep and can walk around for just a few seconds or up to half an hour.

 

Causes of Sleepwalking

The factors that might trigger a sleepwalking episode are these:

  • Genetics. It does run in families so maybe my child is following in my sleepwalking footsteps
  • Lack of sleep, fatigue, or an irregular sleep schedule
  • Having an illness or a fever or a side-effect of certain medications
  • Experiencing stress
  • Too much caffeine or a full bladder that triggers a trip to the washroom

 

Keeping a Sleepwalker Safe

The sleepwalking itself is not harmful, but what happens during the sleepwalking time might be dangerous if the person gets hurt. The sleepwalker isn’t aware of what he or she is doing, so the most important part of sleepwalking safety is creating an environment to reduce escapes, stumbles, or falls.

  • Don’t wake your sleepwalker because that might scare or disorient the person. Simply guide that person back to bed.
  • Lock the windows and doors (deadbolt) throughout the home. There have been rare instances of teens getting their hands on car keys and driving so put those out of reach. We have a home monitoring system that we set to “night mode” so the alarm will blare if any of the doors are opened. When we stayed in the cabin, I put a chair in front of the outside door and kept my door open so I could hear better.
  • If your sleepwalker is in a bunk bed, perhaps change that sleeping arrangement to one closer to the floor.
  • Remove things from the floors, obstacles from the room and hallways to prevent stumbling, and keep dangerous objects out of reach.
  • Install safety gates outside the child’s room and at the top of the stairs.

 

Do I need to see a doctor or get treatment for sleepwalking?

If your child is having periodic sleepwalking that doesn’t really have an effect on him or her, there usually isn’t a need to provide any kind of treatment for sleepwalking. However, if the sleepwalking becomes very regular, frequent, causes the child to be sleepy during the day, or your child continues to sleepwalk well into the teen years, talk to your doctor. There are other conditions like reflux or trouble breathing that might need to be addressed.

As one of the reasons children sleepwalk is because they are stressed out, one thing we can do is go through a regular relaxation routine before bedtime. I’ve been singing to my children and doing a couple of yoga poses with them to help get their bodies relaxed before lying down to bed. Certainly keep screens out of the bedrooms, have a cozy bedroom environment, and have the hour before bed a chilled out one.

 

I am not a medical doctor: this information is based on our experiences and information I learned through reading about this topic and chatting with a doctor. Certainly do contact your doctor if you are concerned about your child’s sleeping walking and perhaps consult this website (WebMD) if you’d like more information.

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