Is Pediatric Sleepwalking?
Pediatric sleepwalking is when a
child gets up during sleep but is unaware of their actions. It’s also known as
somnambulism. Sleepwalking is most commonly seen in children between the ages
of 4 and 8.
Most children who sleepwalk do so
an hour or two after falling asleep. Sleepwalking episodes usually last from
five to 15 minutes. This behavior is typically harmless and most children grow
out of it. But it can be dangerous if left unaddressed. It’s important to
protect your child from injury as a result of sleepwalking.
There are a number of factors
that can contribute to sleepwalking. Common causes include:
- fatigue or
lack of sleep
- stress or
- being in a
different sleep environment
- illness or
medications, including sedatives, stimulants, and antihistamines
factors (a family history of sleepwalking)
Though uncommon, sleepwalking can
be a symptom of an underlying condition. These conditions may include:
- sleep apnea
(when a person stops breathing for short periods during the night)
terrors (dramatic nightmares that occur in deep sleep)
- restless leg
Are the Symptoms of Sleepwalking?
Walking during sleep may be the
most common symptom of sleepwalking, but there are other actions associated
with this condition.
Sleepwalking symptoms may
- sitting up
in bed and repeating motions
- getting up
and walking around the house
- talking or
mumbling during sleep
responding when spoken to
- urinating in
routine or repetitive behaviors, such as opening and closing doors
Usually, a doctor can diagnose
sleepwalking based on other family member’s accounts of the child’s behavior.
Generally, no treatment is needed. Your doctor may wish to conduct a physical
and psychological exam to rule out other conditions that can cause
sleepwalking. If another medical issue is causing your child’s sleepwalking,
treatment is needed for the underlying issue.
If the doctor suspects another
sleep problem, such as sleep apnea or night terrors, a sleep study may be
ordered. A sleep study involves spending the night in a sleep lab. Electrodes
are attached to certain parts of the child’s body to measure heart rate, brain
waves, breathing rate, muscle tension, eye and leg movement, and oxygen level
in the blood. A camera may also record the child as they sleep.
If sleepwalking is troublesome,
your doctor may recommend using a technique called scheduled awakening. This
involves monitoring your child for a few nights to determine when the
sleepwalking usually occurs and then rousing your child from sleep 15 minutes
before the expected sleepwalking. This can help reset the child’s sleep cycle
and control sleepwalking behavior.
If sleepwalking is causing
dangerous behaviors or excessive fatigue, a doctor may prescribe medication,
such as benzodiazepines (psychoactive drugs typically prescribed to treat
anxiety) or antidepressants.
If you notice your child
sleepwalking, try to gently guide him or her back to bed. Do not try to wake
the sleepwalker, as this could aggravate them. Instead, simply reassure your
child with words and help steer them back to bed.
There are also safety measures
that can be applied around the house to help keep your child safe. These
- closing and
locking all doors and windows at night
alarms on doors and windows or installing locks out of your child’s reach
items that could be a tripping hazard
sharp and breakable objects from around your child’s bed
- not letting
your child sleep in a bunk bed
safety gates in front of stairs or doorways
- turning down
the temperature on the hot water heater to prevent burns
- keeping keys
out of reach
Helping your child develop good
sleep habits and relaxation techniques can help prevent sleepwalking.
Try the following to help prevent
- going to bed
at the same time every night
a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath or listening to soothing
- creating a
dark, quiet, and comfortable sleep environment for your child
- lowering the
temperature in your child’s bedroom (to less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit)
liquids before bedtime and ensuring your child empties his or her bladder
before going to bed
caffeine and sugar before bedtime
Talk to your doctor if you have
other concerns. Let them know if your child’s sleepwalking continues for an
extended period of time.