Sleepwalking And Children

Sleepwalking And Children

Alternate Names

  • somnambulism
  • noctambulation

Definition

Sleepwalking is a sleep disorder in which sleeping and waking states are combined. The child partially wakes from deep sleep and carries out some type of activity. Often this is walking, but other detailed activities may be performed. A child has no memory of the event afterward. Usually, sleepwalking in children is not associated with any serious neurological problem.

What is going on in the body?

Sleepwalking is one type of relatively common, related sleep disorders in children. This group includes:
  • night terrors
  • primary nocturnal enuresis, which means bedwetting that is not related to a physical problem
  • sleeptalking
Sleepwalking is often combined with sleeptalking. Episodes occur at a certain point in the sleep cycle. This is usually 70 to 120 minutes after sleep begins.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Fifteen percent of healthy children between the ages of 5 and 15 years sleepwalk. Sleepwalking is more common in boys than in girls. It is more likely to occur if a child has had night terrors as a preschooler. A child is also at higher risk if others in the family have had sleep disorders. Being overly tired or stressed may also affect the child's sleep pattern.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

No one knows how to prevent sleepwalking completely. However, the following measures may help sleepwalking to occur less often.
  • avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol
  • avoiding sleeping pills, tranquilizers, pain medicines, and cold remedies
  • having regular bedtimes and waking up times
  • using stress management techniques

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis of sleepwalking begins with a medical history and physical exam. A polysomnogram (PSG), which is a sleep study test, is usually not needed. The healthcare professional may sometimes order other tests to rule out underlying disorders.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Sleepwalking in childhood is a common variation on the sleep pattern. Most children who are affected by it do not have episodes often. It is not linked to mental disorders in children and usually disappears by the time children reach their teen years. Parents should be aware, however, that children can unintentionally injure themselves while sleepwalking.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Sleepwalking poses no risk to others.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Another person can help the sleepwalker by taking the following steps.
  • Gently lead the child back to bed.
  • Protect the child from falls or other injuries.
  • Install protective gates at stairs and other hazards.
  • Install door locks so that they are out of the child's reach.
  • Help the child to avoid becoming overtired or stressed.
The following method has been shown to reduce or stop sleepwalking. It is thought to interrupt the abnormal sleep pattern.
  • For a few nights, log the number of minutes that pass from the time the child falls asleep to the time sleepwalking starts.
  • On the next few nights, wake the child up 15 minutes before the time that the sleepwalking episode would start. This timing is based on the log from the first few nights.
  • Keep the child awake for 5 minutes.
  • Follow this plan for 7 nights in a row.
  • If sleepwalking begins again, repeat this plan for the next 7 days.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

The measures described to change sleep patterns have no known side effects.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

After treatment, the child and parents should continue to follow preventive measures to the sleepwalking from coming back.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

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