Is Your Child A Sleepwalker? Understanding Somnambulism

Having children is one of life's biggest joys. How many parents have you met who have said that having children changed their life, or that they never knew how much they could love another human being until they had a child? You probably feel the same way about your kids. You would do anything for your children, and you are always trying to protect them. You want what's best for them and you will do anything to give it to them. But that often comes with real challenges and the answers to many problems are not readily apparent. 

One issue that few parents expect but a surprisingly large number find themselves confronting is sleepwalking. Thousands of children sleepwalk in the United States every night. According to the National Academy for Childhood Sleep Disorders, as many as 18% of American children deal with sleepwalking. It is generally more common in boys, though, than in girls. Have you recently discovered that your son or daughter has a tendency to sleepwalk? You might be worried about their safety and health. Take a deep breath, relax, and read on for some guidance on dealing with a sleepwalking child.

Somnambulism, as sleepwalking is known according to the proper medical terminology, involves unconsciously performing acts that would normally be done in a waking state. Sleepwalking with outstretched arms and eyes closed is a popular image but not truly reflective of what sleepwalking always looks like.  Dr. Stephen Sheldon, the director of Children's Memorial Hospital's sleep medicine center has described sleepwalking as follows: “Sleepwalking will occur during a deep, deep sleep. Youngsters will get up out of bed, wander around the house, occasionally urinate in unusual places around the house and then either fall asleep in an unusual place around the house and then either fall asleep in an unusual place in the house or walk right back to bed and go to sleep and not remember the episode at all.”

There are no definitive explanations for sleepwalking, and causes vary from child to child. Usually though, the cause is related to maturation issues – the body's different anatomical systems may be maturing at different rates causing imbalances. Other additional “stressors” can make the situation worse. Anxiety, fever, environmental noise, and extra sleepiness are all potential stressors. Removing these can help children cope.

Most parents who discover their children sleepwalking are looking for answers about what to do. “How can I stop it?,” many concerned parents ask. First, try to look for patterns by keeping a sleep journal that records different pre-bedtime behaviors and conditions. Dr. Sheldon says these diaries can be taken to pediatricians for review and assistance in recognizing what influences are causing the problem. 

Most importantly, parents need to protect their children. Remove any risks that a sleeping child could encounter – keep doors locked, block staircases, and put away sharp objects. Dr. Sheldon recommends using an alerting mechanism, like a bell on the door knob, that will wake the parents up when the child leaves his/her bedroom. 

Most sleepwalking ends on its own, but children who don't “grow out of it” should get a medical consultation. While sleepwalking is not truly a normal childhood behavior, it is also not truly abnormal. It happens. Parents shouldn't worry too much, especially if it only occurs once or twice.
About the Author: 

Brandon Travis likes to spend his free time swimming and training for his next triathlon. When he's not working out he likes to review sites like


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