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According to the National Sleep Foundation, 1% of pre-school aged children and 2% of school-aged children walk in their sleep at least a few nights per week. As it is something that is more common amongst children it is important that parents have some knowledge around sleepwalking and the reasons behind it. There is often no way to tell when putting your child to bed at night whether they are going to have a restful night’s sleep or not; there are a number of things you can do to improve the possibility of one, but sleepwalking and nightmares can be unpredictable. Whilst sleepwalking itself is not damaging to a child’s health it can have potentially dangerous impacts. Although it is relatively common, not much is known about sleepwalking; so, we have compiled some helpful information to ensure you are well educated on the matter and well prepared should your child experience sleepwalking.

Boy walking along a tightrope with a balloon, in front of the moon.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking, once called somnambulism, is generally regarded as harmless. It generally occurs after 2 hours of sleep, meaning it originates in deep sleep. Despite the name, it isn’t always just walking; it includes sitting up, looking around and some people even leave the house. Adults have been known to drive their cars in their sleep. An episode may last anywhere between five and fifteen minutes, sometimes longer. It is not common for an episode to be remembered, although some do.

Why does it happen?

There is a lot of speculation as to why sleepwalking occurs; some people think it is a genetic condition which is supported by some studies. Others think it is generally related to a dream that the child may be having; this is also understandable as it happens in the same stage of the sleep cycle. Generally, as with dreams, it can be a result of sleep deprivation, irregular sleep schedules, illness or stress. Having a relaxing bedtime routine can help prevent it from happening.

Keeping your child safe

Whilst sleepwalking itself is not harmful, it can be concerning for parents as it can lead to potentially dangerous situations such as the child leaving the house or falling. Lock the windows and doors, invest in child locks to stop them leaving the house or install a safety gate on their bedroom to prevent them leaving the house or attempting to go down the stairs. If your child is prone to sleepwalking, as some are, don’t let them sleep in a bunk bed and keep their room free of clutter to prevent a fall. Make sure to remove any sharp or breakable objects from their room and keep all dangerous objects out of their reach. It is a common misconception that you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker; it could actually be more dangerous not to, as they could put themselves in danger. If you are worried about waking them, gently guide them back to bed.

Children should grow out of sleepwalking, and as previously mentioned sleep walking itself is harmless. However, if they don’t, or it is very regular and having a direct impact on their day to day life you may want to consult your doctor for advice.

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