By Raising Children Network
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Boy in pyjamas with eyes closed credit iStockphoto.com/Franck Boston

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  • Most children grow out of sleepwalking as teenagers.
  • Less than 1% of adults sleepwalk.
 
Sleepwalking is when your child gets out of bed and walks around as if he’s awake, but he’s actually asleep. Sleepwalking doesn’t hurt your child, and most kids grow out of it.

About sleepwalking

Sleepwalking happens during deep sleep. Your child might get out of bed and walk around as if she’s awake, but she won’t respond normally to you, or anything around her. This can be upsetting for you to watch, but try not to worry – your child is OK.

In fact, sleepwalking is quite common. Around 7-15% of children sleepwalk, and it doesn’t usually mean that there’s anything wrong emotionally or psychologically.

Children aged 4-12 years are more likely to sleepwalk, and they often grow out of it as teenagers. Both boys and girls sleepwalk.

Sleepwalking often happens in the first few hours of the night. When it happens, your child’s mind is asleep but his body is awake at the same time.

Your sleepwalking child might:

  • move about in her bed
  • get out of bed and walk around the house
  • perform simple tasks – for example, setting the table or getting dressed
  • try to talk, but the conversation probably won’t make sense
  • have her eyes open, with a glassy stare
  • get upset, but she won’t remember it in the morning
  • let herself out of the house and wander around outside.

Sleepwalking might happen once or twice each month or up to a couple of times each night.

Sleepwalking runs in some families and can happen with sleeptalking and night terrors.

Causes of sleepwalking

Sleepwalking is usually related to age and development, but some things can increase your child’s sleepwalking:

  • lack of sleep because of poor sleep habits
  • fever or other illness
  • a family history of sleepwalking
  • medical conditions that cause poor sleep – for example, epilepsy or obstructive sleep apnoea
  • stress or anxiety.

If you’re worried that your child’s sleepwalking might be caused by an illness or medical condition, talk with your health professional.

Managing sleepwalking

Sleepwalking usually doesn’t need treatment, and most children grow out of it as teenagers.

Here are some tips on what to do when your child sleepwalks:

  • Stay calm and guide your child back to bed in a soothing manner. Avoid waking your child in case he gets upset. Waking him might also make the sleepwalking episode last longer.
  • Make the environment safe. Check that all doors and windows are securely locked. Remove any tripping hazards from your child’s room and hallway. If you feel your child’s safety is at risk, you should talk to a health professional. 
  • Check that your child is getting enough sleep. An earlier bedtime, or a regular bedtime, might reduce sleepwalking.
  • Try to keep to a regular bedtime at times when your child might get overtired – for example, special school events.
If your child is going away overnight, tell the caregivers about the sleepwalking so they’ll know what to expect and can keep your child safe.

Getting professional help

If your child is sleepwalking at least once every night, it’s best to see your doctor. Also see a doctor if your child’s sleepwalking is affecting the night sleep of other family members, or if you’re worried your child might hurt herself while sleepwalking.

Your child might need some professional treatment, which could include medication or behaviour strategies.

 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 13-05-2013
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Dr Margot Davey and Dr Kate Simpson, Melbourne Children’s Sleep Centre.