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Sleepwalking, What Parents Should Know

sleepwalking, what parents should know

Neither of my parents were sleepwalkers, yet when I was about 12, I started wandering at night and engaging in activities such as making the bed. I was apparently in the minority, because a new study finds that more than 60 percent of kids whose mother and father were sleepwalkers also develop the practice themselves.


This discovery suggests that sleepwalking has a genetic component. Therefore, parents who have a history of somnambulism or noctambulism (formerly used terms) should be alert to the possibility that their children may experience the same behavior.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that the estimated prevalence of sleepwalking among the general population is 1 to 15 percent. The figure tends to be higher in children, especially those who are between the ages of three and seven, and among those who also wet the bed.

New study of sleepwalking
According to the authors of the new study of sleepwalking in children, published in Pediatrics JAMA, when both parents have a history of sleepwalking, there’s about a 61.5 percent chance their children will wander at night as well. The authors evaluated nearly 2,000 children born between 1997 and 1998 in Quebec.

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Among the other findings of the study are the following:

  • When only one parent had a history of sleepwalking, about 47 percent of children were sleepwalkers
  • 56 percent of kids ages 1.5 to 13 years experienced sleep terrors, with the condition more common among the younger children. Early childhood sleep terrors occurred in as many as 33 percent of children who also engaged in sleepwalking
  • Sleepwalking affected 29 percent of children ages 2.5 to 13 years, and the condition was less common among the younger kids

What parents can do
If your children are sleepwalking, here are some precautions you can take to ensure they are safe.

  • Get your children on a regular sleep schedule. Adequate sleep can help reduce the incidence of sleepwalking
  • Eliminate stimulation prior to bedtime. That means do not allow your children to use electronic devices (e.g., computers, cell phones, TV) before bedtime.
  • Establish a relaxing routine before bedtime for your kids. That may include a warm bath, listening to soothing music, reading to your children, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Remove objects that may cause your child to fall during the night, such as toys on the floor or sharp objects
  • Children who sleepwalk should not sleep in bunk beds
  • Lock windows and doors that lead to the outdoors
  • Put a bell or an alarm on doors or windows if your child is especially active and may try to leave the house or walk into hazardous situations, such as stairs or the street

It may help parents to know that kids who sleepwalk typically do so within one to two hours of falling asleep and wander for from a few seconds to about 30 minutes. When I was sleepwalking, my mother said I would not only strip and remake the bed, I also would walk to the stairs that led to the basement!

Also read about adults who are afraid of the dark

National Sleep Foundation
Petit D et al. Childhood sleepwalking and sleep terrors: a longitudinal study of prevalence and familial aggregation. Pediatric JAMA 2015 May 14 published online. DOI:1001.jamapediatrics.2015.127