Sleepwalking, or somnambulism (its fancy Latin-derived medical name), is fairly common – up to 18% of the population does it at some point.
Sleepwalking refers to walking or performing other activities typically associated with being awake while actually asleep.
These can include complex behaviors such as urinating in a closet or driving a car.
A child doing this may even talk, but he may be hard to understand.
The child’s eyes are usually open, but they will have a “dazed” look to them.
Most common in children 4 to 14 years of age, the behaviors often occur during deep sleep (but sometimes during dream sleep).
This means that sleepwalking usually occurs one to two hours after the child falls asleep.
Episodes can last longer than half an hour but are often shorter than 10 minutes.
The sleepwalker likely has no memory of an episode the next morning.
Because adolescents spend less time in deep sleep, children usually outgrow sleepwalking.
Somnambulism often runs in families, and bedwetters are more likely to have episodes.
Indeed, a full bladder can often trigger an episode.
Ensuring that the child urinates before bedtime is wise.
Other triggers include sleep deprivation, stress, sedatives (such as alcohol), certain medicines, illnesses with fevers and obstructive sleep apnea.
Serious causes of sleepwalking such as seizures are more common in adults.
The main danger from sleepwalking is the risk of injury during an episode.
Precautions for sleepwalkers include gating stairs, keeping doors and windows locked, and removing tripping hazards.
If an episode occurs, it is best to gently lead the sleepwalker back to bed.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, sleepwalkers can be awakened safely, but they are often confused for a few minutes afterward.
Typically, no treatment is needed for sleepwalking. If episodes become frequent, occasionally sleep medications are used.
Other therapies include hypnosis and a technique called scheduled awakening.
Sleepwalking is not considered a sign of mental illness or instability in children.
This is good, because I was a sleepwalker well into my 20s.
My parents had some interesting stories about my somnambulistic adventures.
I once woke up standing in my front lawn in my pajamas early one morning.
Believe it or not, I don’t miss those kinds of events.