It may be a terrifying time for parents when they first learn their child is a sleep walker.
“One of the common things parents will tell me is, they won’t hear something but they’ll get a feeling that someone’s watching them,” says Lee Memorial Health System sleep specialist Dr. Jose Colon. “And they look up and their kid is looking at them.”
Most sleep walking occurs during non-REM sleep stages when the brain slows down. It tends to run in families and is not a life-long condition.
“You see it more in the pediatric range because they are able to get in a deep sleep. As time goes by we lose that ability to get into that deep of a sleep so that's one of the reasons we out grow it,” says Dr. Colon.
It’s understandable that parents might be afraid of things that go bump in the night. Sleep walking itself isn’t harmful, but safety is a concern. While you don’t want to startle or scare the child by waking them up, it’s important to clear the clutter and limit your child’s range.
“Put locks on the door, put away glass, make an environment where they can’t hurt themselves and they will remain asleep.”
Experts suggest exhausting other options before going to medications which limit deep sleep.
“That deep sleep is where a child secretes growth hormones, secretes gastric acid for digestion. So first line treatment is actually environmental measures,” Dr. Colon says.
Making sure your child has an empty bladder at bedtime can reduce frequency. It also helps to address other conditions like apnea or restless leg which may trigger activity. Doing these things may help everyone rest easier.