Prevent Sleepwalking in Children

Edited by Marian Raquel F. Roncesvalles, Anonymous, Eng, Robbi and 2 others

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Catching your child swaying out of the bedroom half-asleep, uttering incomprehensible words or trying to open the front door late at night can be very scary for parents. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, up to 17 percent of children experience sleepwalking, but they usually outgrow it once they reach their teenage years. Sleepwalking is most commonly observed in children between the ages of 4 and 12 years old of both genders, but it can affect older or younger children. It typically occurs within the first 3 hours of falling asleep, and may last for up to 15 minutes.

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Medical experts refer to sleepwalking as a sleep disorder that doesn't affect the child's physical, intellectual or psychological capacity in any harmful way, and it can occur in healthy children. There are some instances, though, in which sleepwalking happens so often that it disrupts the regular sleeping patterns of children and makes them sleepy at school or less energetic during playtime.

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Sleepwalking can cause a child to get into dangerous situations very easily. Sleepwalking children typically don't remember anything that occurred during the sleepwalking episode, and they're operating with extremely impaired judgment. This means that they might fall down stairs or go out a window, try to drive the car, urinate in the wrong place, cut themselves on sharp objects or break things. Rest assured that there are several things you can do to keep your child safe during these episodes, and even reduce their occurrence.

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What is Sleepwalking?

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Sleepwalking is also referred to as "somnambulism", "parasomnia of arousal", or "noctambulism" which categorically happens at the first two hours of sleep, specifically during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) cycle or "light sleep" at night. However, it is said to be more apparent in "deep sleep" or the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. This is the time when some areas of the brain are asleep while others are fully functional.

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Parents need to watch out for is the safety of children during these sleepwalking episodes, especially if they tend to get out of the bedroom or even the main door. Some teenagers even drive while having these sleepwalking episodes. The home should be childproofed to avoid injury. This is what parents should be most concerned about and prepared for.

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In extreme cases, medical interventions can be put in place to modify and lessen the occurrences of sleepwalking. Proven methods to prevent or minimize the occurrences of sleepwalking in children are done to help them be more productive and receptive of the world at this particular stage. It is important to be able to get enough sleep, especially in a child's growing years. Children need uninterrupted sleep of at least 10-12 hours each night which is radically shifted by sleepwalking.

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How Would I Know if My Kid is Sleepwalking?

Most sleepwalking children display certain characteristic behavior which is similar to things they do when fully awake such as brushing teeth or changing clothes, and sometimes if you do not check, you may not know the difference of whether kids are sleepwalking or not. Here are some signs to look out for:

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  1. 1
    Having a glassy eyed expression.
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    The eye will be fully open but will look blank, dazed, and seemingly unresponsive. It will seem like your child could stare right through you and not really see you (as he is seeing a different setting or scenario), and this can be scary and troubling for most parents.
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  2. 2
    Roaming around the house in the middle of night.
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    Kids who are sleepwalking may appear to be doing random or mundane things, such as opening doors and switching lights on and off in repetitive motions.
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  3. 3
    Difficult to wake or stir up.
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    Parents who attempt to rouse kids while sleepwalking might get no or inappropriate responses. As much as possible, it is advised not to attempt to shake or wake children in sleepwalking episodes as this may rattle or scare them. Instead, you can lead them gently towards their beds and get them to sleep. In cases where they could be endangering themselves by certain actions, then by all means, wake them.
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  4. 4
    Performing routine daytime activities.
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    While sleepwalking, a lot of kids may display busy behavior doing routine tasks such as preparing snacks, eating, or opening closets. Some teens could even grab the keys and go for a drive, which is very dangerous as this can cause accidents that must be prevented early on.
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  5. 5
    Shouting, crying, or thrashing things around.
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    Some kids could exhibit loud or boisterous behavior like kicking or crying and screaming fits, especially when accompanied with night terrors. A cause of concern would be if children explode with violent behavioral patterns while sleepwalking, and do things like hurt themselves or attack other people while they are completely adamant and unaware of what is happening around them.
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  6. 6
    Doing unhygienic or inappropriate things.
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    A common scenario would be urinating at the wrong areas of the house like inside cabinets or closets, among other things. Typical bed-wetting also occurs in many sleepwalking children.
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  7. 7
    Sleeptalking.
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    This is speaking about random and incoherent ideas, but hardly making sense.
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  8. 8
    Moving clumsily around the area or even down the stairs.
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    Some sleepwalking children will make quiet tiny steps while walking around the house. Some will run around which gets them closer to the danger of tripping, falling, or shoving objects left and right because of limited control and precision in movements.
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  9. 9
    Sitting or standing still for a few minutes.
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    Some kids will sit or stand for a few lingering minutes before actually moving around the area.
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What are the Main Causes of Sleepwalking in Children?

It is not surprising that healthy and normal kids do experience sleepwalking episodes at some point in their lives. There are certain children who are more susceptible to sleepwalking due to exposure to some factors such as the following:

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  1. 1
    Heredity.
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    Sleepwalking can be inherited and is said to be more common, especially among identical twins. If one or both of your parents (or any first degree relative) have been sleepwalking in their younger years then you might have been predisposed towards this sleeping condition.
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  2. 2
    Sleep deprivation.
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    Not keeping regular hours of sleep can push you towards being a good candidate for sleepwalking. Sleep is essential to human beings, especially to young children, as it facilitates the production of growth hormones and regeneration of different body organs, especially the brain. Adults and kids alike tend to extend wakefulness to compensate with the modern times. There are more games and apps to explore for children and adults do have more tasks to cover now more than ever. Children who lack sleep tend to have a very prominent sleepwalking activity as compared to kids who are able to cope up with their sleep requirement. This is because behavior is directly affected with sleep loss and can also precipitate other sleeping disorders.
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  3. 3
    Sleep apnea.
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    This condition is described as partial or full obstruction of the airway passages while sleeping. Inability to breathe while asleep arouses the brain can lead to frequent wakefulness at night, which tends to trigger sleepwalking in children and other sleep disorders such as sleep hallucinations and sleep paralysis to name a few.
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  4. 4
    High fever.
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    Having convulsions at night due to a high fever can cause sleepwalking especially in young children. It is wise to keep their fever at bay, keep them hydrated, and make sure they get enough sleep.
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  5. 5
    Taking stimulants.
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    Kids typically love sweets which may include chocolates and even carbonated drinks which are classified as stimulants that are also linked to sleepwalking. Also, drinking caffeinated beverages keeps kids alert and awake which may lead to erratic sleeping patterns, especially at night.
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  6. 6
    Other risk factors include:
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    1. Stress.
    2. Significant life changes (like separation of parents, moving to a new home, or death in the family).
    3. Anxiety.
    4. Other physical or psychological illnesses.
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Ways to Prevent or Minimize Sleepwalking in Children

Occasional sleepwalking in children should not be a cause of concern for caregivers and parents, as kids usually just snap out of the whole limbo when they reach adulthood. However, if sleepwalking persists and worsens over time and disrupts your kid's life in general, then it is definitely high time to let expert hands deal with the matter. There are some ways you can try that can minimize or prevent sleepwalking in children. Here are some tried-and-tested tips to get you started:

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  1. 1
    Condition and train your child to follow a regular sleeping schedule.
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    Set a reasonable sleeping routine and stick to it. Repetition will ensure it becomes a habit. Allow your child to sleep at least 10 hours a night and encourage naps in the afternoon to ensure optimal brain efficiency and motor functioning. You can customize rules like weekdays or schooldays should have earlier bedtime schedules, while kids can be allowed some leeway for other nighttime activities during weekends.
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  2. 2
    Ask your child to urinate before bedtime.
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    Frequent urination or bed-wetting at night can lead to constant wakefulness in children, which may lead to sleepwalking. Train your child to make it a habit to empty the bladder before sleeping to avoid restlessness at night and other urinary and sleep dysfunctions from developing.
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  3. 3
    Avoid consuming caffeinated and sweetened food and beverages before bedtime.
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    It is advisable to only partake in stimulants in the morning when you are supposed to be on the go, rather than at night when you are about to retire. Too many of these items before hitting the sack could pump glucose at intolerable levels and keep kids active at night. This could affect the sleeping habits of children and trigger sleepwalking episodes more often than usual.
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  4. 4
    Make the bedroom more conducive for sleeping.
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    Most children's rooms are designed for comfort and playtime. The shelves and toy bins are usually stacked with gadgets and toys of all sorts, which is why most kids extend waking hours and play even until the wee hours of the morning. Set bedtime rules and dim or turn off the lights when necessary. Make sure that there are no distractions, either visual and auditory such as loud noises or that the television is turned off to signal that it is time to rest in preparation for the next day.
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Safety Tips for Sleepwalking Children

Sleepwalking in children is not necessarily a cause of concern. What some parents find challenging is keeping sleepwalking kids safe when they are having these nighttime episodes. Here are some surefire tips to keep kids safe while sleepwalking:

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  1. 1
    Let your kids sleep on a standard bed.
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    It is wise to consider using regular beds for your child for safety purposes. Avoid bunk beds even if sharing the room with siblings to avoid any accidents.
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  2. 2
    Keep the bedroom area clean and clutter-free before bedtime.
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    It is advisable to keep the bedroom organized. Wipe up any spills or scattered food remains and stack toys properly to avoid slipping or tripping while sleepwalking. Also, keep the bedroom area clear of sharp objects which they could grab and accidentally use to inflict harm on other people or themselves.
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  3. 3
    Allow the kids to sleep in bedrooms located on the ground floor area rather than upstairs.
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    Kids who sleepwalk would be considerably safer without the dangers of falling or tripping down the stairs. If there are extra rooms downstairs or on the ground floor, then it would be best to let your sleepwalking kid use that space instead.
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  4. 4
    Keep the main doors and windows locked.
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    Some kids would wander off outside the home or even go to the neighbor's house while sleepwalking. This can altogether be avoided by making sure the windows and doors are locked.
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  5. 5
    Install CCTV cameras around the house or the kid's bedroom.
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    Monitoring your child's activities at night during sleepwalking episodes is convenient and fast with the use of CCTV cameras, which can be installed both indoors and outdoors. This also provides extensive security and protection for the whole family in case of any emergencies or burglary incidents.
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  6. 6
    Install a security gate outside of the child's bedroom or at the top of the stairs.
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    This can prevent your child from leaving their bedroom or falling down the stairs while sleepwalking.
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  7. 7
    Secure any sharp or dangerous objects in the home such as knives, firearms or other weapons.
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    Since sleepwalkers aren't aware of what they're doing, it's possible that they can get their hands on dangerous weapons and hurt themselves or someone else.
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Consult a Sleep Therapist

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Many parents become obsessed with ways to help their children snap out of sleepwalking episodes. Medical experts agree that sleepwalking is treatable and is not considered to be a serious medical condition. Most kids grow out of the sleepwalking episodes and come out of it as a healthy and regular individual. However, if sleepwalking is caused by other underlying medical conditions or diseases, then that would be an entirely different story.

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Sleep therapists who are trained to deal with varied sleeping disorders will work together with a medical specialist to treat the specific illness that could have precipitated sleepwalking with medications and other treatment methods. Sleepwalking can be reduced with the use of certain treatment modalities such as mental imagery, relaxation and meditation techniques, exercises, and anticipatory awakenings which come in a series of sessions that are proven to help alleviate and lessen the occurrence of sleepwalking and other sleep disorders in children. In some cases, a child will need to undergo a sleep study to determine the root of the problem.

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Questions and Answers

Can a high fever cause sleepwalking?

Yes having a fever could cause sleep walking. Sleepwalking is most often caused by stress, but having a high fever a being sick could very easily count as that. The best thing you can do is keep an eye on the child. Figure out when they sleepwalk and protect them from injuring themselves. You could always but a bell on the child's door to know when they are up. The sleepwalking episodes will most likely end on their own. If the sleepwalking continues for any length of time you should consult your local family doctor.

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How do I cope with a sleepwalker going out front door?

The best way to stop a sleepwalker from going out the front door is to install additional locks or child safety locks on the door. You can also install an alarm on the door so you'll be aware if anyone tries to go through the door.

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How do I stop a sleepwalking child from getting out of their room?

Try installing extra locks or safety locks on the door. If your child is small, install safety gates outside of his or her bedroom. You can also install an alarm on the bedroom door so you'll be aware if your child leaves the room.

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How do I prevent a sleepwalker from falling down the stairs?

To prevent a sleepwalker from falling down the stairs, install a secure gate at the top of the stairs.

How do I stop a sleepwalker from turning on the stove?

If you have an electric stove, remove the burners or unplug the stove before bedtime. If it's a gas stove, remove the burner knobs.

How do I stop a sleepwalker from hurting themselves in the kitchen?

Put away any sharp knives, utensils, breakable objects in a secure place that's out of reach. Remove the burner knobs on gas stoves or unplug electric ones. If the sleepwalker tends to eat during episodes, install a lock on the fridge.

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How do I stop a sleepwalking child from falling in the pool?

Try installing extra locks or safety locks on the door. If your child is small, install safety gates outside of his or her bedroom. You can also install an alarm on the bedroom door so you'll be aware if your child leaves the room. If you have an above-ground pool, remove all access ladders and make sure the cover is in place and fully secure. Make sure all access gates are locked and any objects that a child can use to climb over the gate, such as chairs or tables, are out of reach. You can even install a pool alarm that will alert you to the child's presence at the pool.

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Recent edits by: Lynn, Robbi, Eng

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