Your 5 year old has been in bed and asleep since 8 p.m. At 10 p.m. you’re in the kitchen cleaning up and you see your child walk into the living room. You call out to him and he does not respond.
You then recall a similar event the night before when he wandered into your bedroom and urinated in your closet. You run over to him as he is about to “water the plants” and redirect him to the bathroom. You then lead him to his bedroom and he back is in bed, asleep.
What’s going on? Your child is sleepwalking.
Is sleepwalking normal?
Yes. Sleepwalking is common, particularly in pre-school to school-aged children. They can occur as often as every night and up to several times per night. They usually occur during the first part of the night.
Even though the child’s eyes may be open, they are asleep. They may seem confused and talk nonsense or appear agitated and scream during the episodes (sleep terrors). Sometimes they may do strange things such as urinate in random places or get dressed to go to school.
In the morning, the children do not remember anything about the event. Children often outgrow sleepwalking by the time they are teenagers.
What causes sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking runs in families — a child whose parent or sibling sleepwalks is more likely to sleepwalk. Additional causes include:
- Lack of sleep
- Fever or illness
- Having a full bladder during sleep — this disturbs sleep and can result in nighttime wandering to empty the bladder
- Sleeping in a different environment
What should parents do if a child sleepwalks?
It’s important to keep a consistent sleep schedule for your child and make sure he or she gets enough sleep. During a sleepwalking episode:
- Try not to wake the child. Rather, gently redirect the child back to bed.
- It is important to make sure your child is safe.
- There should be no access to harmful objects such as firearms or knives.
- Clear the floor of obstacles before your child is in bed.
- Make sure your child cannot leave the home during an episode.
If there are other medical or safety concerns, a referral to a pediatric sleep specialist may be necessary for further evaluation and/or management
- Louella Amos, MD, pediatric sleep specialist, Sleep Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
The Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only sleep center in the state dedicated solely to the care of children and teens. The center has two locations (Milwaukee and New Berlin) both accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by four board-certified pediatric sleep specialists.