What to do about sleepwalking disorder in kids

This article explains the tips for parents to help their kids who are suffering from the sleepwalking disorder. It is also known as somnambulism. Little sleepwalkers sometimes may hurt themselves, and thus, parents must take proper care in this aspect.


Sleepwalking is also clinically referred to as somnambulism. It is a sleeping disorder. It usually affects young kids but is also found in adults. Those who walk in their sleep are known as somnambulists. To others, watching a kid who is sleepwalking or performing other activities in sleep may seem funny. However, parents and elders of such kids know how difficult it is to take care of their little ones, especially when their kids suffer from sleepwalking episodes regularly and frequently. Sleepwalking is common in childhood. In the majority of cases, kids on reaching their teen years overcome it. Thus, in the majority of cases, it hardly turns out to be a matter of concern or become a disorder. Below-mentioned is causes, symptoms, preventive measures and treatment related to the sleepwalking syndrome in kids.

What is pediatric sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking as the name itself describes is walking in the sleep which commonly occurs during the first three non-REM sleep stages. It usually affects kids between the ages of 4 and 8 years. It is a type of sleep disorder or parasomnia. In this disorder, kids carry out all those movements which are considered as abnormal while sleeping. Kids behaviour is also abnormal. After waking up, they cannot recollect anything about the previous night. Also, they have a blank look on their face when they are in a sleepwalking episode. Sleepwalking usually occurs 1-2 hours after kids go to sleep. Duration of a sleepwalking episode varies. Sometimes it may end up in a few minutes. In other cases, it may continue up to an hour.

Why is this disorder dangerous?

Kids during sleepwalking episode get up from their beds and start walking. Sometimes, the act is not just limited to walking. They also carry out certain tasks. Usually, the sleepwalking disorder is harmless. Walking around in the room, sitting in the bed, staring at something with blank face are all considered as harmless symptoms. However, sleepwalking can also become dangerous. There is every possibility that kids may hit a hard object and hurt themselves. They may trip down and fall from the stairs. They may open the door and wander alone outside without a parent's attention. They may touch electrical appliances. Unless the kids are in their homes and safe zone, sleepwalking is not dangerous. If they step out of their safe zones, sleepwalking can become dangerous.

REM and non-REM sleepwalking

Sleepwalking as described earlier occurs during the first three non-REM stages of sleep. These stages are dreamless. In certain cases, the kid may also walk during the REM stage of sleep while he is dreaming. Such kids are not called as sleepwalkers. The condition is known as REM sleep behaviour disorder. Difference between REM sleep behaviour disorder and non-REM sleepwalking is that kids remember the incidents of the previous night when they suffer from REM sleep behaviour disorder, unlike non-REM sleepwalking. Also, in the case of REM sleep behaviour disorder, kids are dreaming. Thus, they try to enact their dream. Apart from REM sleep behaviour disorder, other two conditions can also be confused with non-REM sleepwalking. They are nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy and psychiatric disorders.

Symptoms of a Somnambulist

  • Walking in sleep,
  • Carrying out various tasks in sleep such as eating, drinking or getting dressed,
  • Awkward and clumsy movements,
  • Urinating,
  • Unaware of others presence,
  • Showing no response even when acknowledged,
  • Inability to recollect previous night's memory,
  • Maintaining a blank expression during the episode,
  • Talking in sleep and repeating the same words,
  • Doing repetitive things such as opening and closing doors, windows or drawers, rubbing eyes, walking in circles,
  • Screaming, violently behaving and experiencing terrors during the episode


  • High level of stress and anxiety,
  • Sleeping for inadequate hours,
  • Poor quality of sleep,
  • Frequent change of bed timings,
  • Full bladder and bedwetting problems,
  • Hereditary factor,
  • Fever,
  • Illness,
  • Migraines,
  • Certain drugs such as sedatives, antihistamines, stimulants,
  • Certain medical conditions such as restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, epilepsy and sleep apnea,
  • Night terrors,
  • Change in sleep environments,
  • Trauma to the brain

When to consult a doctor?

Sleepwalking disorder, as stated earlier, is a harmless condition. It can be prevented if parents or elders in the house take proper care of the kids. However, in certain cases, this disorder may worsen. If kids display regular and frequent episodes of sleepwalking and if they are turning violent, it is time to consult a doctor. Sleepwalking may zap most of the energy of the body, especially if kids are showing violent behaviour. Since they do not sleep well, they will fall asleep during the day time which will interfere with their timetable and routine. Thus, consult the doctor to know the underlying cause and seek proper treatment.


Diagnosis is made based on gathering information from parents related to kids sleepwalking symptoms. The doctor may ask about kid's medical history, sleeping habits and lifestyle. The doctor will try to identify the underlying cause by conducting psychological and physiological tests. If the underlying cause is certain medications, illness or disease, the doctor may run a few other tests and change the medication.

Treatment of Somnabulism

Sleepwalking in kids usually stop when they enter their teen years. In the majority of the cases, sleepwalking is due to bedwetting problems and uncontrollable bladder. This problem triggers sleepwalking or somnambulism in them. When it gets corrected, they overcome sleepwalking disorder easily. Thus, usually, no treatment is recommended in the case of kids. However, the doctor may suggest that parents should maintain healthy sleeping habits for kids. The kids have to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Parents must make sure that kids sleep for adequate hours daily and enjoy high-quality sleep which is undisturbed. When certain factors which trigger sleepwalking are eliminated, the frequency of episode decreases and slowly kids may overcome the disorder. However, if there is an underlying disease or illness which can be psychological or physical that is triggering the event, the doctor recommends proper treatment to cure the disease to treat the sleepwalking disorder.

The sleep study may be recommended if a child is suffering from sleep apnea. Parents may be asked to follow scheduled awakening. In this technique, parents observe their kids and record the timing of sleepwalking. They then are asked to wake their kids approximately 10-15 minutes before the expected episode. Scheduled awakening if followed for a few days will help the kids to overcome sleepwalking disorder as their sleep cycle will get reset. Also, kids may be given some alarms or specialized equipment that will make them wake up before the episode. There are various preventive measures and home care tips for sleepwalking kids.

What to do with kids who sleepwalk?

As described earlier, kids who sleepwalk do not respond to the presence of anyone in the room. They hardly acknowledge anyone. It is parents or elders responsibility to make kids come out of the event. First of all, parents should not panic or try to physically stop their kids. Physical restrain is not a good way to stop sleepwalking kids. In case they are suffering from night terrors, they might get scared and behave violently. The best thing to do is to wake them by gently shaking them. When they come out of the episode, they will look confused. They may not understand the reason why they are not in their bed. Do not stare at them. It is better to not to make them more confused or scare them.

When parents behave irresponsibly and start shouting at their kids, it may further worsen the situation. No matter how worse the sleepwalking disorder is in kids, parents must help their kids to overcome it. Behave normally. Gently wake the children and carry or guide them to their bed. Assure them that they are safe. Do not leave them until they fall asleep. Kids may find it difficult to go back to sleep as some of them might be confused and others might be suffering from a night terror. Thus, parents should help their kids to sleep well by assuring them with their presence.

How to ensure that little sleepwalkers are safe in the house?

Follow the below-mentioned tips to keep little sleepwalkers safe when they sleepwalk in the home.

  • Parents should ensure that their kid's rooms are free from objects that can make them trip and fall.
  • Get rid of breakable and sharp objects within reach of sleepwalking kids.
  • Ensure the doors and windows of the kid's room are locked.
  • Keys to open the doors should be kept out of reach of kids.
  • For better safety, double lock the outside door so that kids cannot step out of their house and wander alone outside.
  • Make sure the locks to open windows and doors are out of reach of kids. Thus, install them a little higher.
  • Install alarms on windows and doors so that when kids open them, they can awake parents.
  • A child door in the staircase will prevent kids from coming down the staircase.
  • Do not make kids sleep in a bunk bed.
  • Turn off the geyser button so that if kids try to turn the tap on, they do not injure themselves with hot water.
  • Get rid of floor clutter not only from kids room but also from entire house.

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Author: K Mohan04 Aug 2020 Member Level: Gold   Points : 4

The author has brought very important topic in this article to which every mother would be interested to know the cause and solution for the sleepwalking children. We can understand that during the course of the day, the child is exposed to various activities and they get attracted to some of them which are very dear and liked and thus during the sleep also they try to feel the happenings. Some children have the habit of standing on the bed and start even walking and that is dangerous as they may fell down or come in contact with the running ceiling fan. Children need to be told good moral stories before going to the sleep and thus feel away from the clumsy happenings and have nice sleep.

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