Sleepwalking can sound terrifying and may appear rather startling when you first see it in your young child. However, this condition, also known as somnambulism, is actually quite common and is typically nothing to worry about. Technically speaking, sleepwalking involves any range of complex activities while your son or daughter is actually in a deep sleep. It could be a matter of simply sitting up and looking around or it could involve talking or getting up and leaving the room.
Children, particularly younger kids, are much more prone to sleepwalking than adults. It is also something that is much more likely to happen if the child is overtired or sleep deprived.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids between the ages of three and seven years old have a much higher probability of sleepwalking. It is most common among kids with sleep apnea as well as other sleep struggles (such as insomnia, sleep terrors and others), or even those who wet the bed.
Sleepwalking kids are actually sound asleep while they move around and will usually stay that way throughout the entire episode. As this is a time of deep sleep, waking your child may be surprisingly difficult to do and the odds are that your little one won’t remember anything that happened.
There is a myth that says that waking a sleepwalker could be dangerous. It’s just a misconception. If you want to wake your child during one of these incidents, it won’t cause him or her any harm. In fact, depending on the circumstance, it might make for a safer and calmer experience if you can simply wake your child and bring him or her back to bed.
There isn’t any specific treatment for sleepwalking in children. It is usually something that will correct itself on its own. That said, if you are concerned about the condition, then it’s a good idea to speak with your child’s pediatrician. Be prepared to talk about certain potential sleepwalking triggers such as sleeping habits, fatigue, stress or even medications your child may be taking.
Most children will outgrow sleepwalking, so the goal is to help to reduce the triggers as much as possible and to keep the child safe during the incidents. To start, make sure that exterior doors are locked in a way that your child will be unable to open them. This will stop your child from sleepwalking outside the home. Keep closets and cupboards locked if they contain potentially dangerous items. Baby gates can be helpful in stopping your sleepwalking child from using the stairs.
You may also find that you can minimize the number of episodes by encouraging consistent and restful sleep habits. These can help to improve the quality of sleep, reducing the chance of being overtired and sleep deprived. Consider the following:
- Keep a set bedtime and waking time every day. Children sleep most restfully when on a schedule. The same can be said for nap times for children who are still napping.
- Wind down ahead of bedtime. For at least an hour ahead of bedtime, all screens (including tablets and cell phones) should be turned off, lights should be kept dim and activities should be calm and soothing. Keeping a routine of bedtime activities (for example, washing hands and faces, brushing teeth and reading a story) can help to train the mind to prepare for sleeping every night.
- Use the right bedding – a Little Sleepy Head toddler pillow is just the right size and fill for kids and has the perfect level of “snuggle” to be soothing when it’s time to sleep. Make sure bedding is soft, but not too hot. Being warm but slightly cool is better than being overheated.