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Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a disorder that affects about 1% to 15% of the population. This condition is more prevalent among children than in adults.
If your child happens to be suffering from somnambulism, it is imperative that you are aware of the causes, signs, treatments and everything else that this disorder entails.
What is Sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking or somnambulism is a condition that involves the performance of several activities, mainly walking – when the person in question is asleep. The kind of activities that a sleepwalker performs ranges from merely getting up and looking out of the window, to even going out of the house and walking long distances.
How Common Is It In Kids?
Sleepwalking happens to be more common in kids than in adults. An estimate of 1% to 15% of the general population suffers from this disorder, more than half of which are kids. It has been observed that if the child has been sleep-deprived or is tired, the chances of that child having a sleepwalking episode is more likely.
Do You Need to Worry if Your Child Sleep Walks
Sleepwalking by itself is not harmful to your child, but the fact that the child isn’t aware of what he or she is doing can prove to be hazardous. This is a given, because if your child strolls out of the house, or climbs downstairs, then he or she might get hurt. There have been instances when children have walked out on the street, only to find themselves lying in an unknown location in the morning. Having said this, you will have to worry about what your child does while having a sleepwalking episode, than worrying about the fact that your child has this condition at all.
Causes of Sleepwalking In Kids
A few causes of sleepwalking in kid include –
- Sleepwalking is the kind of disorder that runs in the family. If you or another family member happens to be suffering from this, then there are chances that your child will follow suit.
- Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of sleepwalking. If your child is suffering from lack of sleep, the chances are that he or she will have a sleepwalking episode.
- An irregular sleeping pattern can cause sleepwalking as well.
- Medication can cause sleepwalking. If your child is on some strong medication, then these meds are probably the culprit. A few strong medications like stimulants, antihistamines and stimulants.
- Stress is the cause of a number of disorders, and this holds good for sleepwalking as well.
- Sleep apnoea is a condition wherein the affected person stops breathing for a brief period during the night. Sleep apnoea can be responsible for sleepwalking as well.
- Restless leg syndrome is a condition that affects the CNS, where the affected area (usually the leg) has an unusual moving pattern. RLS can be another cause of sleepwalking.
- Having a history of head injuries.
Sleepwalking Signs and Symptoms
When you hear the term sleepwalking, the first thing that you associate it with is walking during sleep. However, walking while asleep is not the only sign of this disorder. There are endless signs and symptoms of sleepwalking, and these are a few of the most common signs among children:
- Sitting up and looking around.
- Talking while asleep but not responding when talked to.
- Crying while asleep.
- Walking around and then urinating in inappropriate places (like inside wardrobes or the sink).
- A cycle of repetitive behaviours like opening the windows or doors and closing it, which is mostly repetitive.
- Inability to remember having a sleepwalking episode the next day.
- Screaming (especially when having a nightmare).
- Violent behaviour like kicking and hitting
- Difficulty in waking the child.
The diagnosis for sleepwalking includes an examination of the sleep patterns and the history concerning the sleepwalking episodes that the child has had. A physical exam is administered as well, where the patient is examined for nightmares, seizures during sleep and panic attacks. In some cases, nocturnal sleep study or polysomnography is administered, wherein the child is made to spend the night overnight in the lab, and the brain waves, heart rate, oxygen levels, REM, and leg movements are observed.
Treatment Options for Sleepwalking in Children
To treat somnambulism, you need to go down to the roots, because this is usually caused by underlying issues like sleep deprivation, stress or anxiety. So when you get to the root or the cause, treating this disorder becomes much easier. Several treatment options can help with this disorder, but in most cases, a child stops having episodes of sleepwalking once he or she hits the teenage years.
In some cases, the causal factor for sleepwalking is drugs and certain medications. Consult your doctor for an alternative that does not have sleepwalking as its side effects.
Therapy and counselling can help with sleepwalking as well. A few sessions of stress reduction and sleep therapy has helped a great deal.
A lot of children experience sleepwalking episodes, and this gradually decreases once the child hits the teenage years. You can keep this preventive measures in mind to avoid sleepwalking episodes in the future –
- Make sure your child has had enough sleep. Most of the time insufficient or disrupted sleep can lead to an episode of sleepwalking.
- Take note of the dates, when a sleepwalking episode occurs. Most of the time, you will see a repetition or pattern.
- If your child has a history of sleepwalking episodes, take him or her to a therapist and administer sleep relaxation techniques or stress reduction therapy.
- Make sure the child’s bedroom is cool, dry, comfortable and dark. This helps aid better sleep.
- Make sure there is no noise or other disturbances during the night when the child is asleep. If the television or radio is kept in or near the child’s bedroom, make sure you move it from there.
- Maintain a regular and consistent timing of sleep.
- Don’t let your child sleep for long hours during the day, especially post three in the afternoon, as this can disrupt the sleep pattern at night.
- Ensure that your child is getting good exercise. If this is not the case, incorporate a good exercise routine on a daily basis, or at least three to four times a week.
- Make sure your child eats healthy. Indulging in junk food is fine if occasionally done. Avoid giving your child a heavy diet during the night.
Ways to Keep a Sleepwalker Safe
As mentioned before, sleepwalking in itself is not harmful, but the activities that are performed during each sleepwalking episodes is what can cause real harm. If your child is a sleepwalker, then it is imperative that you do everything in your control to keep your child safe, so that he or she isn’t harmed during these episodes.
- Make sure the room your child sleeps in is free from clutter and objects that can make your child trip and fall.
- If your child is a sleepwalker, make sure his or her room is on the ground floor. This can help avoid him or her taking the stairs.
- Make sure you’ve bolted and locked the doors.
- You can keep a bell or alarm on the door of your child’s room, so if he or she opens the door, you will be aware of it.
- Make sure you remove or hide dangerous objects like knives and scissors from the reach of your child.
- Hide the house keys and your car keys, in case your child tries to walk out of the house or take the car.
- Make sure your child isn’t sleeping in a bunk bed.
- Keep hazardous chemicals or any such objects from the reach of your child.
How to Deal With Sleepwalking Child?
Sleepwalking is a disorder that affects a lot more people than you think. In most cases, you will see a gradual decrease in the number of sleepwalking episodes. In some cases, your child might engage in inappropriate activities like urinating in the wardrobe, kicking or screaming. This can be upsetting, but you need to realise that your child has no control over his or her episodes. You need to be patient and understanding. Resorting to punishment is a strict no, as this can help trigger the situation and it can take a turn for the worse. Talk to your child, and in case the episodes become more frequent, get in touch with a therapist.
Home Care Tips
A few home care tips that you can keep in mind when dealing with a sleepwalking child are –
- Make sure the child gets enough sleep.
- Make sure the environment your child sleeps in is free from unwanted noise, lights and other disturbances.
- If your child has a sleepwalking episode, gently guide him or her back to bed.
- It is a common notion that you must not try to wake up a sleepwalker – this is a myth. Make sure you gently wake him or her up as this can come as a shock.
- Avoid giving your child caffeine – keep away alcohol and nicotine as well.
- Create a calm environment. Stressful situations and environments can trigger sleepwalking episodes.
Sleepwalking is a disorder that can be upsetting, especially if your little one is suffering from it. But with the right treatment and therapies, you can help treat it. Make sure you follow the above tips, treatment and precautionary measures so that your child stays safe.