What Is Sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking, technically known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder and is very common in children in the age range 4 to 10 years old, though most outgrow doing it when they are into their teens.
It usually results in a child being in a low conscious state, taking actions like they would in a highly conscious state, such as talking, sitting up, moving around and walking. It happens in the earlier part of the night when sleep is much deeper.
I remember being told I was sleepwalking when I was younger, probably around 7 or 8 years old. I’d go and turn the TV off on my family (my siblings were older) and keep repeating it.
Whilst my story of sleepwalking is fairly harmless, it can lead to more potentially dangerous or unwanted behaviour such as wandering outside or taking a wee inside a wardrobe. And most children won’t remember the episode the next day.
Let’s talk about what causes sleepwalking and what you can do to minimise the impact on your child.
What Are The Causes Of Sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is a disorder of arousal in the process of sleep, just like Night Terrors which happens when there is an incomplete transition from deep sleep (Non-REM Sleep) back to light sleep (REM Sleep).
Many factors or underlying conditions can contribute to sleepwalking, including:
• Sleep deprivation
• Stress or anxiety
• Illness or a fever
• Overtiredness from a lack of sleep
• Sleep schedule disruptions such as travelling
• Sleep apnea
What Happens During Sleepwalking?
Whilst sleepwalking usually involves a child getting out of bed and walking around, there are some other actions a sleepwalking child may taking, including:
• sitting up in their bed and talking
• eyes will open but will appear dazed
• not respond when spoken to
• minimal speech or be less coherent
• taking a wee in inappropriate places
Even when their eyes are open and they appear to be awake, they will act differently as they will be in that very low-conscious state, rather than the buzz of energy from a child in a highly conscious state.
How To Keep Your Child Safe During A Sleepwalking Episode
Whilst sleepwalking itself isn’t a dangerous sleep disorder usually, the actions a child can take when sleepwalking may be dangerous. Therefore, if your child is sleepwalking, it’s important to make sure the environment around them is safe.
Here are some tips to help you achieve this:
• Firstly, just like with night terrors, never try to wake your child when sleepwalking. It could cause them significant distress. Instead, just gently guide them back to bed every time they get out.
• Keep sharp objects out of reach and away from your child’s bed
• Remove potential tripping hazards
• It would be advisable to not use bunk beds if your child is showing signs of sleepwalking to ensure they don’t fall from a big height
• Lock all of your windows and external doors in your home incase your child tries to wander
• It might also be worth installing a stair gate across your child’s door or at the top of the stairs, unless they use it to climb which could make it more dangerous
How To Stop My Child’s Sleepwalking Episodes
To help prevent sleepwalking episodes:
• Try to create a soothing bedtime routine, whether that be through extra stories or a Tonies box (or something similar)
• Do an earlier bedtime to reduce the overtiredness and fatigue in your child
• Always remember to have your child do a wee before bed as a full bladder can contribute to sleep disorders like sleepwalking and night terrors
We know sleepwalking can be quite scary as a parent but if you focus on the above steps, it will go a long way to resolving them or at least minimising their impact on your child and your family.
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