Sheeba John used to sleepwalk as a child. She was around 8 years old when she first started sleepwalking. She experienced these episodes a couple of times and eventually outgrew it. However, she has no recollection of this and heard about it from her parents and was often made fun of by her siblings.
What is sleepwalking?
Sleepwalking also known as somnambulism is a behaviour disorder in which a child engages in walking or performing other complex actions while being asleep.
The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM) V describes sleepwalking as repeated episodes of rising from bed during sleep and walking about, usually occurring during the first third of the major sleep episode. While sleepwalking, the person has a blank, staring face, is relatively unresponsive to the efforts of others to communicate with him or her and can be awakened only with great difficulty.
According to Dr.Keerthi Pai, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospital, “Many children who sleepwalk also have some sleep/night terrors – a sleep disruption similar to a nightmare, but with a more dramatic presentation. Sleepwalking is commonly seen in children between ages 4 and 12, peaking between ages 8 and 12. Most often a child outgrows this problem.”
During sleepwalking, a child may get out of bed, move around in the room or go to other places in the house or outside. The child may have their eyes open and might mumble in some cases, but they still will not be aware of their surroundings & actions. Parents can guide the child back to bed and in most cases, the child goes back into a deep sleep immediately with no recollection of the previous night’s activity
What causes sleepwalking?
Dr.J.K Reddy, Pediatrician, Apollo children’s hospital has mentioned a few common causes for sleepwalking
- Sleep deprivation/insufficient sleep
- Over exposure to gadgets, especially before sleep time
- New sleep environment
- Academic pressure
- Peer related issue
- A family history of sleepwalking
- In some cases due to an illness or certain medications
- In rare cases, sleepwalking can occur due to a neurological problem like epilepsy
- Sometimes a child sleepwalks due to a full bladder
There is no specific treatment for sleepwalking. Most the often it resolves on its own without treatment.
However, in many cases, maintaining proper sleep hygiene reduces the problem. Behaviour therapy and counselling can be considered for children who are sleepwalking due to anxiety & stress.
Parents need to create a positive environment for the child. A calm & happy atmosphere at home will benefit the child and help him/her relax. If timely intervention does not happen, then the child grows up and experiences sleepwalking in adulthood as well.
Parents can also follow the steps mentioned below to ensure that their house is safe and sound for their sleepwalking child
- Do not have bunk beds
- Lock doors and windows
- Keep electric cords, heaters etc. out of the way
- Keep floors clear to avoid tripping
- If you have stairs, put barriers across them