Sleepwalking is weird. Seeing your child up and about, performing complex behaviors, talking, and generally acting very awake — when they are in fact very, very asleep — is both strange and unsettling. But like most sleeping disorders, sleepwalking really isn’t as mysterious and baffling as it may seem while you’re watching your kid throw all of the books off the shelves at 3 a.m.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sleep
And while those affected by sleepwalking is somewhere between one and 15 percent of the population, children are more apt to be affected. According to The Sleep Foundation, the prevalence of sleepwalking among children is as much as 40 percent; and two to three percent of children sleepwalk more than once a month. Of those kids affected, most are between the ages of three and seven — and aside from sleep-talking and sleepwalking, these kids are more likely to also suffer from bedwetting and night terrors.
It’s not surprising that this particular sleep disorder shares territories with others, since the root of the problem is the same for all parasomnia, or abnormal sleep behavior. The most common trigger of sleepwalking and parasomnia is sleep deprivation. When sleep patterns are interrupted, negative symptoms and disorders are more likely to occur. And once a child starts suffering from these symptoms, it’s hard for them to get a good night’s sleep. That’s why it’s important to stop sleepwalking when it starts.
“Sleepwalking is a type of abnormal behavior that occurs during sleep,” Kristy Sileo, certified sleep consultant and TUCK Top Sleep Consultant in the USA, says. “Behavior is the key word, as it is not a disorder that needs medication, but something that can be modified with proper intervention. Being overtired, or a lack of adequate sleep causes almost all forms of parasomnia, including sleepwalking. As such, the easiest and most effective treatment is to get your child more sleep, and preferably, more restorative sleep.”
Sileo suggests tweaking your child’s waking schedule, offering regular naptimes, or moving their bedtime back to a more biologically appropriate time. Sleep hygiene should also be looked over. “Does the child have a TV in their bedroom?” Sileo says. “What time are electronic devices turned off for the night? All of these things can be a factor in how restorative a child’s sleep is.”
These are preventative steps to keep sleepwalking at bay, but if you experience your sleepwalker in the act, do wake them. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s a common misconception that a sleepwalker should not be awakened when in fact, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker. Be gentle when you wake them up, but make sure that they are roused out of the deep sleep that they are in.
Other advice: Don’t put sleepwalkers in bunk beds, keep electronics out of the bedroom, and keep your child’s bedroom cool and dark to promote restful and regular sleep. And to make sure you know when parasomnia strikes (if it does), try this life-hack recommended by Susie Menkes, Ph.D., and certified infant and toddler sleep specialist at Healthy Little Sleepers: “Put a bell on their door, so you know when they are coming out of their room,” Menkes says. “That way you can make sure that they are safe, and you can slowly guide them back to their room.”
And rest assured that sleepwalking is common in children and is usually outgrown over time, especially as the amount of deep sleep decreases. So do what you can now to help your child sleep well, and know that the best thing you can do for them is to create a loving and secure bedtime.