You are enjoying your “Mommy Time-Out”, only to be surprised that your little one is wandering down the hall with glazed eyes, after putting him to bed almost two hours ago! He even stares at you blankly, but he doesn’t recognize you! Don’t fret, your little wanderer is probably sleepwalking.
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking, also known as “somnambulism”, is a sleep disorder in which your kid partially wakes up at the beginning of the night, within a couple of hours of falling asleep, and starts walking around aimlessly. He may even do other activities such as opening cupboards, getting dressed, eating, or even urinating in odd places. Your little sleepwalker may look you in the eyes or utter meaningless things without even recognizing you. Moreover, your kid will most likely forget what happened the next morning.
Sleepwalking usually happens between the ages of 4 and 8 years, and then your kid outgrows it during adolescence.
What causes sleepwalking?
Rest assured that in most cases, sleepwalking has nothing to do with emotional or psychological problems. In fact, there are many factors that can trigger sleepwalking, including sleep deprivation, fatigue, anxiety, fever or other illness, full bladder, and genetics. However, if you suspect that some medical conditions or sleep problems are the main cause of sleepwalking, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor.
How to keep sleepwalking at bay?
Before you resort to natural sleep aid, sleep meditation, or other sleepwalking treatments, take heed of the following:
- Stick to a bedtime routine
- Cut out nighttime fluids, caffeine, and sugar
- Ensure soothing bedtime rituals, such as listening to soft music, reading a book, or taking a warm bath
- Make sure that your child empties his bladder before bedtime
If you tried these tips, but to no avail, consider consulting a doctor, especially if sleepwalking happens often ( more than two times per night), your kid appears to be drowsy during the day, sleepwalking episodes are associated with snoring or gasping for breath, or if your kid wets his bed during an episode.
In these cases, the doctor will recommend “schedule wakening”, which requires keeping track of your child’s sleep to determine when he gets up to sleepwalk, and disturb his sleep cycle 15 mins before the expected sleepwalking episode for several nights in a row. You don’t have to completely wake him up to disturb his sleep. A brief and gentle stirring is enough to control his sleepwalking behavior. Moreover, in rare cases, the doctor may prescribe medication.
However, if the doctor suspects that sleep problems or medical causes including apnea, seizure disorder, or limb movement disorder are behind your kid’s sleepwalking episodes, a sleep study will be required. Your kid will have to spend the night at a sleep lab with a recording camera and electrodes attached to certain body parts to monitor the oxygen level in the blood, heart and breathing rates, muscle tension, and eye and leg movement.
Is sleepwalking dangerous?
As long as your kid is not injuring himself or practicing dangerous behaviors while sleepwalking, such as wandering outside, opening windows, or walking down the stairs, there is nothing to worry about. However, to ensure your kid’s safety, make sure that your home is secure by installing gates at the top of the stairs, locking windows and doors, and keeping dangerous and sharp objects out of the way. Furthermore, never let your little wanderer sleep in a bunk bed!
Consider informing his babysitter, or any relative that might watch over him at night, about his sleepwalking episodes and what to do in case it happens.
If you ever find your little one taking a nighttime stroll, don’t panic or wake him up! Instead, guide him back to bed while reassuring him that he is safe.