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Patient education: Sleepwalking in children (The Basics)

Patient education: Sleepwalking in children (The Basics)

What is sleepwalking? — Sleepwalking is a condition in which a person walks or talks while they are asleep. It happens more often in children than adults.

As a parent, it can be scary to see your child sleepwalk. But it's important to know that sleepwalking does not mean that your child is sick or has a medical problem.

Most children outgrow their sleepwalking as they get older.

What are the symptoms of sleepwalking? — Sleepwalking usually happens in the first part of the night. Sleepwalking children can crawl, walk, run, or talk while asleep. They might try to do something, like start to get dressed or walk out of the house. When children sleepwalk, they can have their eyes open and a blank look on their face. They will not respond to you when you talk to them.

An episode of sleepwalking can last a few seconds to minutes, but usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes. After the episode is over, the child will fall back asleep. This might be in their own bed or in another place in the house.

Will my child need tests? — Probably not. The doctor or nurse should be able to tell if your child is sleepwalking by learning about your child's behavior and doing an exam.

Some children might need tests to make sure another condition isn't causing their night-time behavior. Doctors might order tests if children sleepwalk very often or have any of the following symptoms:

Loud snoring or gasping for breath during sleep

Wetting the bed (if the child used to stay dry at night)

Sleepwalking 2 or more times each night

Seizures, which are waves of abnormal activity in the brain that can make people pass out or move or behave strangely

How can I help my child when they sleepwalk? — You can help your child by making sure they don't get hurt when sleepwalking. To help keep your child safe, you can:

Keep the windows and doors locked at night so your child can't get outside.

Make sure your child does not sleep in a top bunk bed (if they sleep in a bunk bed).

Keep sharp, breakable, or dangerous items away from your child's bed or out of the bedroom.

Put a safety gate in the doorway of your child's bedroom or at the top of the stairs.

Keep the floor clear of clutter or other objects that could make your child trip and fall.

When your child sleepwalks, there are things you should and should not do. You should not try to hold your child down or wake them up. Instead, you should gently guide your child back to their bed.

Will my child need other treatment for sleepwalking? — Probably not. If your child doesn't sleepwalk too often and it doesn't cause problems, your child will not need any other treatment. Most children outgrow their sleepwalking as they get older.

If the sleepwalking causes problems or your child doesn't outgrow it, talk with the doctor or nurse about treatment. Possible treatments can include:

Medicines

A behavior plan called "scheduled awakening" – This involves waking your child every night (for a few moments) at a certain time.

Can sleepwalking be prevented? — Maybe. Children are more likely to sleepwalk in certain situations, such as when they do not get enough sleep or have a fever.

You might be able to prevent sleepwalking by making sure your child gets enough sleep. To do this, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. In general, children 3 to 5 years old should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep (including naps). Older children should get 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night, and teens should get 8 to 10 hours.

If your child has trouble falling asleep or getting a good night's sleep, here are some things you can try:

Have a set bedtime and bedtime routine for your child.

Keep your child's bedtime and wake-up time about the same every day (on school and non-school days).

Make the hour before bed a quiet time, and avoid high-energy activities.

Keep your child's room quiet and dark. If your child is scared of the dark, use a night light that is not too bright.

Don't have a TV in your child's bedroom.

More on this topic

Patient education: Night terrors, confusional arousals, and nightmares in children (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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