What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is when your child moves around while they are asleep. It is quite common in children, especially between the ages of 4 and 8 years.
Children who sleepwalk will usually stop on their own as they grow up, but some people continue to sleepwalk as adults.
What are the symptoms of sleepwalking in children?
Sleepwalking usually happens in the late evening. If your child sleepwalks, they may get out of bed and walk around their room or your home.
After sleepwalking, your child may then either return to bed or lie down somewhere else.
If your child is sleepwalking, their eyes might be open. But, they may be staring and not focussing on things. Your child may do things like:
- open doors
- change clothing
- urinate (do a wee) in strange places, like on the floor or in a drawer or cupboard
They may sometimes talk but will not usually wake up if you talk to them.
Often, your child will take calm guidance from you about going back to bed. In the morning, they will not remember anything about their sleepwalking episode.
What causes sleepwalking in children?
Sleepwalking usually happens when your child moves from deep sleep into a lighter sleep.
Sleepwalking tends to run in families, but the cause is not known. Most children who sleepwalk do not have emotional or behavioural problems.
Your child's risk of sleepwalking may be higher if they:
- are stressed
- go to bed late at night
- are very tired or 'overtired'
- are unwell or have a fever
- have other sleep problems, such as sleep apnoea
Can sleepwalking cause problems?
If your child sleepwalks, they may injure themselves while sleepwalking by bumping into things.
Sleepwalking may also disturb your child's sleep and the sleep of other people in your home.
When should I take my child to see a doctor?
You should take your child to see a doctor if:
- they are tired the day after sleepwalking
- the sleepwalking affects the rest of your household
- sleepwalking happens more than 2 times each night
- they also snore loudly or gasp for breath while sleeping
- they wet the bed or their pyjamas during an episode
Also see your doctor if your child's sleep or sleepwalking seems unusual to you or you are worried.
Can sleepwalking be treated?
Most children do not need special treatment for sleepwalking.
There are some self-care things you can do to help.
How can I manage my child's sleepwalking?
To safely manage your child's sleepwalking, don't try to wake them up. Let them finish what they are doing before gently guiding them back to bed.
If you want to talk about the sleepwalking the next morning, remember that your child may not remember it. Don't make a fuss and stay calm so that your child does not get stressed
Make sure your house is safe if you have a child who sleepwalks. You can:
- put a gate across stairs to make sure your child can't walk downstairs or fall when sleepwalking
- lock doors and windows so that your child does not leave the house while sleepwalking
- make sure things are not left lying on the floor, so that your child doesn't trip while sleepwalking
- make sure that your child does not sleep in the top bed of a bunk bed
- set up a baby monitor, bell or buzzer on your child's door to alert you if they are sleepwalking
If your child goes away overnight, tell whoever is caring for them about the sleepwalking and what to expect. It may help to make sure your child is well rested before any overnight stays. This can help reduce the chance of sleepwalking.
Can sleepwalking be prevented?
Try the following to help reduce sleepwalking in your child:
- get your child into a regular sleep pattern
- establish a good bedtime routine
- try not to let your child get overtired
Resources and Support
The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne has information on sleepwalking in children.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: July 2023