by Lisa Henley
Somnambulism–more commonly known as sleepwalking–is said to affect around 14% of children who are between the ages of five and twelve. Therefore, having a sleepwalking child is a fairly likely, and almost one quarter of these children have multiple sleepwalking episodes.
The good news? It’s common for a sleepwalking child to outgrow and overcome this disorder, as his or her nervous system becomes stronger. It’s something that naturally happens with time, so many a sleepwalking child is cured just by growing up. But if having a sleepwalking child is new to you, you’re still likely to have many questions to prepare yourself and your child.
So here are a few answers….
What happens to a sleepwalking child?
When a child is sleepwalking, his body is moving, but his brain is still half asleep. It is common for a sleepwalking child to get out of a bed and move all throughout the house. There are even some cases in which sleepwalking children have gotten dressed and actually left their homes, though this is rarer.
When sleepwalking, a child’s eyes stay open and he can see what is in front of him. With that said, his brain is still not fully awake, which explains why he’d still be unable to respond to names or carry on a conversation. Most sleepwalkers are clumsy and accident-prone, as they are known to bump into and knock over things. Unfortunately, this does increase the risk of injury.
On average, a sleepwalking child will get up and move about for about 25 minutes, but it can go on for an hour or longer. It really depends on the person. Most children prone to sleepwalking start walking about an hour or two after going to bed.
What results in a sleepwalking child?
As previously stated, a sleepwalking child appears to be awake, but his brain is not fully consciously alert. For that reason, a common cause is a poorly developed sleeping and waking schedule.
Normally, the entire brain wakes at the same time. However, a sleepwalker’s brain is different because only a portion of it wakes up. It’s the part of the brain that manages awareness that is still asleep, while the part of the brain that manages mobility is awake. Technically, a sleepwalking child is still asleep.
It all sounds a bit scary, especially when it’s your child that’s doing it. But remember that most children do grow out of sleepwalking by adolescence. For that reason, parents usually have nothing to worry about, so no drug-based treatment is needed. The best thing to do is get your sleepwalking child safely back into bed. You can even lead him there without waking him up!
Is a sleepwalking adult different from a sleepwalking child?
While sleepwalking is more likely to occur in children, there is a small percentage of adults who suffer from somnambulism: about 1%. In many cases, adults were not sleepwalking children, since children tend to shed it before then.
There are other causes at play. Sleepwalking in adults is caused by a combination of problems, including fragmented sleep, sleep disorders, anxiety, stress, and medical disorders like epilepsy. Although a sleepwalking child does not require treatment, a sleepwalking adult does. Adults, due to their larger size and strength, are more likely to to open and unlock house doors, so they could potentially find themselves in dangerous situations–even in the middle of a busy highway!
Common treatment for adults includes behavioral therapy, prescription medication and hypnosis. Once again, this treatment is for adults only and not necessary with children.
How can you protect a sleepwalking child?
There are certain precautions that parents should take to protect a sleepwalking child. For example, it’s important to ensure that he’s in a safe place during an episode. Although it may sound silly if your child is, say, 10 years old, you essentially still need to childproof or baby-proof your home. This should be done to ensure he’s not injured when roaming around the house at night.
To that end, parents should also remove all sharp and breakable objects from their child’s room. A sleepwalking child should have a lock on his door to prevent him from leaving the room. If you are concerned about late night emergencies, opt for a door with an alarm that signals whenever the door is opened.
This alarm will enable him to leave the room without complications during emergencies, but alerts you to a possible sleepwalking child. Large glass doors and windows should be removed or covered with heavy curtains, so that they will not break and cause injury.
It is vital for parents to protect their sleepwalking child until they outgrown the disorder. But take heart. If you are the parent of a sleepwalking child, you are now armed with the information required both to learn more and to take action today.