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Sleepwalking and Children

Sleepwalking affects approximately fourteen percent of school-age children between 5 and 12 years old at least once. Approximately one quarter of the children with this sleep disorder have more frequent episodes. Sleepwalking is more common in boys than it is in girls. Most children that sleepwalk outgrow the symptoms by adolescence as their nervous systems develop.

In children, this disorder is thought to be as a result of the immaturity of the brain's sleep and wake cycles. Normally the entire brain wakes up at the same time. In the case of a sleepwalker, the entire brain does not wake up at the same time. The portion of the brain that is responsible for mobility wakes up before the part responsible for cognition and awareness. The child may really be in a deep state of sleep.

It is common for a sleepwalker to get out of bed and walk around. They do not respond to conversation or their name being called out. A sleepwalker's movements usually appear clumsy. A sleepwalking episode usually happens one to two hours after going to sleep. Most of these episodes last for fifteen minutes or less, but some can last for an hour or more.

This sleep disorder is usually outgrown and treatment is generally not necessary. In most cases, a parent gently guiding the child back to bed is all that is needed. Treatment is often dependent upon the amount of danger they are in during an episode. Treatments can include behavioral therapies, self hypnosis, or prescription medication.

A sleepwalker needs to have a safe area so that they do not get hurt during an episode. Precautions can be taken to eliminate some dangers. Parents should make sure the child's bedroom does not have any sharp or breakable objects. Doors should be locked at night to keep the sleepwalker from going outside. Sometimes it is necessary to put bells on doors to alert the sleeping parent that their child is sleepwalking.

A child needs to be protected and kept safe during an episode. It is the environment they are in that is the danger, more than the sleep disorder itself. Recurrent episodes warrant contacting your physician and asking for advice about the matter.

Brain and Mental Health

References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health

last update: May 2009

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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