What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is fairly common for children. Children who sleepwalk usually start around the age of 4, and stop on their own before the teen years.
If children sleepwalk, they may get out of bed and walk around the room or house a few times each month. It usually happens in the early part of the night. They may walk around for up to 20 minutes, then either return to bed or lie down somewhere else.
Their eyes are usually open, but are staring and not focused. They may do things like open doors, change clothing, eat, drink or use the toilet. Sometimes the child will talk, but will not usually wake up if you talk to them.
Often, the child will take calm guidance from you about returning to bed. In the morning, they rarely remember anything about sleepwalking.
What causes sleepwalking?
Some sleepwalkers are more anxious and shy than other children their age.
However, most children who sleepwalk do not have emotional or behavioural problems. Sleepwalking tends to run in families, but the cause is not known.
In children who do sleepwalk, being very tired or stressed or going to bed late can make it more likely to happen that night. It can sometimes be caused by a fever or illness or a medical condition.
Most children need no special treatment for sleepwalking. But you can try to make it happen less often by:
- trying not to let your child get too tired in the day
- get your child into a regular sleep pattern
To safely manage your child’s sleepwalking:
- Don’t try to wake them up. Stay calm and gently redirect your child back to bed when they have finished what they are doing.
- Avoid talking about the sleepwalking the next morning as they will not remember it and you may stress them.
- Make the environment safe. Make sure your child can’t walk down stairs or trip and fall when sleepwalking. Lock doors and windows, don’t leave things lying around on the floor, and put a gate across stairs. Don’t let your child sleep in the top bed of a bunk bed.
- You can set up an alert like a baby monitor or bell or buzzer on your child’s door to alert you if they are sleepwalking.
- If they are away overnight, tell whoever is caring for them about the sleepwalking and what to expect.
When to see a doctor
Sleepwalking in children is not usually caused by an illness or medical condition, but see a doctor if:
- the sleepwalking makes your child tired very next day
- it’s happening in the early hours of the morning
- it happens more than 2 times each night
- they snore loudly or are gasping for breath
- they wet themselves during sleepwalking
- their sleepwalking seems very unusual to you
If a child is not sleeping well because of stress or anxiety, psychological treatments may be used. Medication is not usually used in sleep problems, but can help in some extreme situations. This should be discussed with your doctor.
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Last reviewed: August 2021