Sleepwalking is a benign sleep disorder. Special treatment is not usually necessary, although it is sometimes accompanied by other sleep disorders.
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking is considered a type of parasomnia . Parasomnias are sleep disturbances, usually benign, that manifest with unwanted behaviors or experiences during sleep. They are classified according to the phase of sleep in which they appear and the way they manifest, so that sleepwalking, along with night terrors and confusional arousal, are part of the group of awakening parasomnias.
Specifically, sleepwalking is characterized by an episode of motor activity that normally appears during slow-wave sleep (deep sleep), and almost always in the first third of the night.
Who is affected?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, between 1% and 15% of the population suffers from sleepwalking, being more frequent in children . According to data from the Spanish Sleep Society (SES), 10% to 20% of cases are children between 4 and 8 years old, the age at which the first episodes usually appear. In adolescence, episodes of sleepwalking begin to regress spontaneously, and few people continue to sleepwalk into adulthood.
What is a sleepwalking episode like?
A typical episode of sleepwalking begins when the child gets up from the bed, usually with a whitish facial expression and with some indifference to objects or people in their immediate environment.
Episodes typically last several minutes, but can last half an hour or an hour.
Unless the sleepwalker is awakened during the episode, the child will not remember anything the next day.
Not all sleepwalkers move around the room or walk out of it, some just sit up in bed and act as if they were awake (look around, gesticulate, rub their eyes, readjust the pillow, move the sheets…) when they are actually asleep.
Sleepwalkers keep their eyes open , but their level of alertness is not always high enough to avoid objects.
His cognitive functioning, his consciousness and his ability to judge are greatly altered.
How does a sleepwalking episode end?
An episode of sleepwalking can end in different ways:
- After sitting up in bed and performing repetitive movements, the child goes to bed and continues to sleep normally.
- The boy wakes up during the episode showing a state of disorientation for a few moments.
- The parents or a sibling wake the child and the child is disoriented and confused, and may even be aggressive towards the person who woke him up or try to run away.
- The child, after wandering around the house, returns to bed on his own initiative or ends up going to bed in another place, not remembering anything that happened the next morning.
What causes sleepwalking?
The causes of sleepwalking are not very clear, but several factors are pointed out:
- Genetic factors: According to data from the Spanish Sleep Association (ASENARCO), 80% of children with sleepwalking have a relative with this problem.
- Psychological factors: Fatigue, anxiety, having slept little, etc. are elements that can precipitate an episode of sleepwalking.
- Developmental maturational deficit: According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is more common in children who suffer from sleep apnea –hypopnea (abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep) and among those who wet the bed.
In addition, sleepwalking is sometimes accompanied by other sleep disorders, such as somniloquy (talking during sleep), night terrors and enuresis. It can also appear in febrile processes.
Do you need treatment?
As it is a benign sleep disturbance, no special treatment is usually necessary. The main concern that parents should adopt is to ensure that the child cannot harm himself during the sleepwalking episode, also avoiding exposing him to situations that may facilitate its occurrence. Treatment, therefore, should be aimed at promoting the sleepwalker’s safety and identifying and eliminating possible causes or triggers.
Recommendations for childhood sleepwalking
- Clear rooms and hallways of furniture or obstacles that your child could trip over. Make sure there are no wires, objects, or furniture; block stairs with a security fence or gate; secure the windows and lock the front door; keep items that can cut, puncture, or burn them out of their reach, and keep them from sleeping in a high bed, such as the top floor of a bunk bed.
- Avoid going to bed with a full bladder . Don’t let him drink too much in the late afternoon, and don’t forget to take him to the bathroom before bed.
- Set a regular sleep schedule . Sleep deprivation, or markedly irregular sleep, can precipitate the onset of sleepwalking episodes. You can put him to bed earlier or add a short nap after eating.
- Install an alarm system. Something like, for example, a bell on the door of the room, to alert you that he has left his room.
- Keep him from getting excited before going to sleep. Try not to drink substances such as chocolate or caffeinated drinks and try to avoid violent activities or games before going to sleep.
- Turn the room into a comfortable place. Minimize lights and noises that can disturb your sleep.
- Perform relaxing routines before going to sleep. Such as reading a story, singing a song, listening to relaxing music.
- Don’t wake him up. The sleepwalkers become disoriented as they suddenly exit the episode. Instead it is best to calmly lead him to bed.
- Guide him gently to the bed. To do this, use simple phrases in a relaxed tone.
- Do not explain what happened during the episodic. It is possible that he becomes afraid and puts up resistance to go to bed to sleep the next day.
- It reduces your anxiety. Talk to your child about what worries him
For children who have frequent sleepwalking episodes, their doctor may recommend a treatment known as scheduled waking , in which, under expert supervision , parents wake the child 15 to 30 minutes before their usual bedtime. get up while sleepwalking, and keep you awake for a few minutes, then allow you to go back to sleep again.
What you should know…
As it is a benign sleep disturbance, special treatment is not usually necessary.
Treatment should be aimed at promoting the safety of the sleepwalker and identifying and eliminating possible causes or triggers.
On certain occasions sleepwalking is often accompanied by other sleep disorders, such as somniloquy (talking during sleep), night terrors and enuresis. It can also appear in febrile processes.