If your child sleepwalks, they might get out of bed and walk around as if they’re awake, but your child won’t respond normally to you or anything around them.
Sleepwalking often happens in the first few hours of the night. This is when your child is in deep sleep. When sleepwalking happens, your child’s mind is asleep, but their body is awake.
Your sleepwalking child might:
- move about in their bed
- walk around the house
- do simple tasks like setting the table or getting dressed
- try to talk, but the conversation probably won’t make sense
- have their eyes open, with a glassy stare
- get upset, but they won’t remember it in the morning
- let themselves out of the house and wander around outside.
Sleepwalking might happen once or twice a month. Or it might happen as often as a couple of times a night. It can happen at the same time as sleeptalking and night terrors.
Sleepwalking is quite common. Around 7-15% of children sleepwalk. Children aged 4-12 years are more likely to sleepwalk. Sleepwalking is more common in children whose parents also sleepwalk or used to sleepwalk when they were children.
What to do when children sleepwalk
If you wake up and realise your child is sleepwalking, try to stay calm even if your child looks frightened.
Guide your child back to bed in a soothing way. Avoid waking your child in case they get upset. It might also take your child a while to settle back to sleep if they wake.
Sleepwalking usually doesn’t need treatment, and most children grow out of it when they reach puberty.
Here are some tips for managing sleepwalking until your child grows out of it:
- Make the environment safe. Check that all doors and windows are securely locked. Remove any tripping hazards from your child’s room and your hallway.
- Set up an alert to wake you when your child sleepwalks – for example, a bell on your child’s door, baby monitor or motion-activated light or buzzer.
- 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.
Sleepwalking can be upsetting for you to watch, but try not to worry. Sleepwalking isn’t usually a sign that there’s something emotionally or psychologically wrong with your child.
Getting professional help for sleepwalking
If your child is sleepwalking at least once every night, it’s best to see your GP. Also see the GP if your child’s sleepwalking is affecting the night sleep of other family members or you’re worried your child might hurt themselves while sleepwalking.
Your child might need some professional treatment, which could include medicine or behaviour strategies.
Causes of sleepwalking
Sleepwalking runs in some families, and it’s usually also related to age and development. Some other things can increase your child’s sleepwalking. These include:
- lack of sleep because of poor sleep habits
- fever or other illness
- medical conditions that cause poor sleep – for example, epilepsy or obstructive sleep apnoea
- stress or anxiety
- a full bladder or bowel.
If you’re worried that your child’s sleepwalking might be caused by an illness or medical condition, talk with your GP or another health professional.