What To Do If Your Child Is Sleep Walking
Sleepwalking can occur up to 12 times per year in around five percent of children between the ages of six to 16 years old. An additional five to 10% of children may sleep walk one to two times per year. It has been suggested that there is genetic factor also, and boys are more likely to experience this sleep concern.
Typically, sleep walking, a partial arousal parasomnia disorder, will occur within the first one to three hours of going to sleep when the brain is entering a slow wave type sleep. Despite the fact that your child appears to be awake, this is often not the case. According to mum of four Lucy Wolfe, a paediatric sleep consultant; "Each episode may last for up to 20 minutes and mostly parents will be ineffective here until the situation has passed. It is unlikely that your child will remember the next day."
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A large concern with a sleep walker is safety, so it is a good idea to be prepared if your child has demonstrated a vulnerability to this disorder. Although your first instinct might be to wake your child up, you should not disturb them, Lucy explains. "Parents should be encouraged not to intervene, as waking your child may potentially upset your child unnecessarily. Gently guide your child back to bed and remain with them until they have settled back to sleep."
Mom tip: "When I spoke to my son the following day about sleeping walking the previous night he didn't remember it. He appeared very embarrassed about it." Mary, from Cork.
A less worrying, yet a very common sleep disturbance, is sleep talking which is just as common in adults as it is in children. Where children are concerned, they more likely to talk in their sleep because the linguistic centres of the brain are highly stimulated, particularly in the preschool years.
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"From three to ten years old almost 50 per cent of children will chat in their sleep at least once a year," says Lucy. "Once again, boys may be more inclined to experience this sleep disturbance. It is not unusual for children to shout out simple phrases such as 'I don’t want to', or 'go away'. There is no need to worry, it is a normal presentation."
Lucy’s top 5 tips for what to do if your child is sleepwalking:
1. Keep the floor clear of toys or large furniture that your child could stumble over.
2. Ensure that windows and doors are locked and secure.
3. Use a stair gate at the top of the landing.
4. Don’t allow your child to sleep in the top bunk.
5. Use an alert system like a bell hanging over their door to signal to you that your child is on the move.
Does your child sleep walk? What have you found are the best ways to manage it? We'd love to hear.
About Lucy: Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. Visit: www.sleepmatters.ie