Sleep walking in children is a fairly common condition, but is it cause for concern? It can be scary to think that your child may walk around during the night without being fully conscious. If you have a child who sleep walks, you should definitely educate yourself about sleep walking and what you can do to help your child.
What Exactly is Sleep Walking?
Sleep walking is defined as moving and walking around while sleeping. This condition is much more prevalent in children than adults, and most children grow out of it by the time they reach adulthood. Some studies show that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of children have at least one sleep walking episode.
A sleep walking episode usually happens in stage three or four of the five-stage sleep cycle. During these phases we experience deeper sleep, are more difficult to awaken, and can experience grogginess and confusion if we are woken up during this time. Sleep walking also usually happens during the first third of the night, within an hour or so of falling asleep.
Symptoms of Sleep Walking
The most obvious symptom sleep walking kids exhibit is the classic walking around while still asleep. However, this isn’t always easy to tell, as the sleepwalker’s eyes are open. Other signs that may indicate sleep walking include the following:
- The child is difficult to awaken
- The child doesn’t remember the episode
- The child does not respond when you speak to him or her
- The child falls or gets injured during the night
- The child seems confused and dazed
- The child sits in bed repeating certain actions such as rubbing eyes repeatedly
- Sleep talking
- Night terrors
- Wetting the bed
- Sleep apnea
There are a few conditions that actually look like sleep walking, which is why you should discuss the situation with your doctor if you suspect that your child is sleep walking. Some psychiatric disorders can have similar symptoms. Also, nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy, which causes seizures, can also look like sleep walking. These conditions will have different treatments, so consulting a doctor is the best option.
What Causes Sleep Walking in Children?
No one can say for sure exactly why sleep walking occurs in children. Most children who experience sleep walking eventually grow out of it, but it can still be scary while it is happening. Although no one thing has been found to cause sleep walking in children, here are a few of the conditions that can possibly trigger an episode:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Certain medications
- Fever or illness
- A full bladder
- Poor sleeping habits or an irregular schedule
How Serious is It?
The actual sleep walking itself is not generally considered serious or harmful. It is a benign condition that the child usually grows out of. However, sleep walking in kids can be very dangerous, so it’s important not to think of it as harmless. A child can get seriously injured by falling down stairs, running into heavy or sharp objects, or by opening the door and going outside. Once you’ve ruled out any other serious conditions that should be medically treated (such as epilepsy or restless leg syndrome), then the real concern is keeping your child safe during a sleep walking episode.
Tips for Treating Sleep Walking
In most cases, sleep walking children do not need medical intervention. If the episodes happen infrequently and are benign in nature, it’s best to make the environment safe for your child and wait for him or her to grow out of it. But if needed, there are therapies and medications that can improve toddler sleep walking behavior. You and your doctor can discuss the best options for you.
- Since sleep walking toddlers and older children can easily harm themselves if you don’t take a few precautions, here are some tips for keeping them safe.
- Don’t let your child sleep in a bunk bed or loft bed to prevent falls out of bed.
- If possible, make sure the child’s bedroom is on the ground floor. If the bedroom is upstairs, use a baby gate to prevent a fall down the stairs.
- Make sure the child’s room is clean and free of items they could trip over or bang into, especially furniture with sharp edges.
- Make sure the rest of the house is free of clutter to prevent stumbles or falls.
- Keep any dangerous items such as knives out of the child’s reach.
- Make sure all doors and windows are locked throughout the house. You may want to consider extra locks, child safety locks, or an alarm that lets you know when an outer door has opened.
- Keep car keys away from older children who know how to drive.
- Don’t attempt to wake the child – they can become scared or violent (they may think you are attacking them and fight back) and hurt you or themselves. It’s best to quietly and gently lead them back to bed.
- Keep a regular bedtime routine and make sure your child empties his or her bladder right before bed. This may help reduce the frequency of the sleep walking.
While child sleep walking can be scary to the adult who witnesses it, in most cases it is harmless to the child. If you have ruled out other serious conditions and made sure your home is safe for kids sleep walking, you shouldn’t worry too much. When it happens, you can simply lead your child back to bed and know that he or she will likely grow out of it.