You are just about to fall asleep and you hear loud crashes and strange noises coming from your child’s room. Or worse, you wake up to find your six-year old standing like a bizarre-looking statue in the middle of your lounge – or your child is trying to climb into the toilet! Sleepwalking is not fun – especially for parents! Here’s more about this strange occurrence.
Why do kids walk around in their sleep?
Sleepwalking is a fairly common sleep disorder where a child partially wakes up. With the child being in a state of semi sleep they will have no memory of their night-walking escapades or night-time activities. In the medical world, sleepwalking is labelled as -disorder of arousal . In layman’s terms it means that something has triggered the brain into arousal during the stages of deep sleep. The sleepwalking child is in a transitional state between sleep and awareness. Most sleepwalkers are children and most children will grow out of the disorder.
There are several theories as to why most of the sleepwalkers are under the age of 12. If we think about how much information a child has to process during their first years of life, this theory holds water. They have to learn to sit, crawl, walk, talk, read, ride a bicycle, etc.; they are constantly learning and mastering new skills. The brain is always developing during early childhood and because the brain is developing at such a rapid rate and mastering new skills so fast, some experts believe that sleepwalking is the brain’s method of dealing with the overload. Others put sleepwalking down to the fact that that the child’s brain is too immature to comprehend the cycles of sleep.
It’s been discovered that sleepwalking runs in families and this strange phenomenon occurs more often in boys than in girls. The other common causes linked to sleepwalking include certain environmental factors such as disturbed or erratic sleep schedules, stress, fever and a deficiency in magnesium. Various drugs have also been discovered to trigger episodes of sleepwalking, such as antihistamines. Women who are pregnant or who are menstruating are also known to walk around in a zombie-like state during the wee hours. Sleep experts are toying with the idea that hormonal changes also increase the risk of sleepwalking and this may explain why pregnant women and menstruating women are occasional sleepwalkers.
How to treat sleepwalkers?
There is nothing that can be done to stop sleepwalking from occurring but because injuries can occur during this transitional state there are precautions that can be taken to prevent any injuries and to safeguard the night walkers. These include:
- Ensuring that the child is getting the right amount of sleep.
- Helping the child to relax with a few relaxation exercises before bedtime. Reading or a warm bath will aid the child to relax and they will sleep better.
- Keep the child away from visual stimuli before bedtime. Do not let the child watch TV shortly before going to bed, and put an end to the playing of electronic games before bed. The continual flashing of the images will over stimulate the brain.
- If your child is a regular sleepwalker – take a walk around your home and look for any obvious risks. Remove sharp objects or items that may pose a danger to the child during a sleepwalking episode.
- Do not allow a regular sleepwalker to sleep on a top bunk.
- Lock all external doors and put the keys in an unknown place. Even though the child is sleeping they still have the capability of unlocking doors, and even climbing out of windows.
Sleepwalking – facts and fictions!
- The fact is that although sleepwalking is one of the most common sleep disorders or disturbances, it’s one of the least understood.
- Waking a sleepwalker is a fatal decision and can cause the heart to stop beating. This is a myth. However it’s recommended that sleepwalkers are not woken but rather led safely and gently back to their beds. Sleepwalkers or somnambulists, if woken, will feel disorientated and confused but waking them is not a fatal error and will cause no harm.
- Sleepwalkers engage in a wide variety of activities and it’s not unusual for your child to start shouting strange words of abuse, throwing toys around the room, or attempting to escape, etc. Adult sleepwalkers have been known to drive cars and even play musical instruments while in this transitional state. The slumbering walker is completely unaware of their actions.
- It was once believed that a person will sleepwalk because their subconscious is consumed with negative emotions like shame, guilt or fear. This is a myth!
- Unless a child is an excessive sleepwalker and is engaging in dangerous nightly activities, there is no reason to consult a medical professional. Children who are regular sleepwalkers often outgrow it.
- Sleepwalking happens during the deepest stages of sleep which are stages 3 and 4. During these stages, the brainwaves are very slow.
- Somnambulists are often portrayed with their hand outstretched and a robotic walking pattern. This is a myth. Sleepwalkers do have glassy-looking or glazed over eyes and they have a strange blank expression on their faces but their hands are not outstretched. They may appear to be awake but they act clumsy.
- Sleepwalking episodes can last for a few seconds or for a half an hour.
- A popular myth is that somnambulists cannot injure themselves during sleepwalking escapades. The fact is that serious injuries are common occurrences during episodes of sleepwalking.
- Sleepwalking is most likely to occur among children who are between the ages of 6 and 12 and sleepwalking occurs a lot more frequently in identical twins!
So if you happen to hear the rustling of chip or sweet packets in the middle of the night – you may have a somnambulist on your hands!