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It's 10 o'clock - Do you know where your children are? If you're the parent of a sleepwalker, the answer may be "no." Somnabulism, or sleepwalking as most people call it, is more common than one might guess. Thirty to fifty percent of normal children between the ages of 4 and 15 sleepwalk. Sleepwalking behavior ranges from sitting up in bed with one's eyes open (sometimes mumbling incoherently) to actually walking around.

Characteristics of the


Occasionally, children will awaken because of a nightmare or illness and walk directly to their parents' room. With a little reasoning and a lot of child psychology, kids can be coaxed back to sleep. These children are not sleepwalking.

The eyes of a sleepwalker are open, but they just stare blankly. Even looking straight at you, they won't show any recognition. Avoiding most objects in their way, children who sleepwalk see where they are going, but are unaware of their surroundings. Unfortunately, this means that they cannot differentiate between their bedroom door and the front door. When asked a question, sleepwalkers will respond in a single-word or speak nonsensically. You can't have a conversation with them.

There are two classic findings with sleepwalkers: they are almost impossible to awaken while sleepwalking and they have no memory of their sleepwalking the next day. Confusing objects such as chairs, boots, wastebaskets, and closets for the toilet is common sleepwalking behavior.

Were you a sleepwalker as a child? If so, it is very likely you will have a child with the same problem since a tendency towards sleepwalking is inherited.

Taking Safety Measures

Although only 1% of sleepwalkers are injured, safeguarding a child's environmental is crucial. Parents can do this by:

* Removing sharp objects and obstacles in a child's room.

* Placing protective gates on stair-cases.

* Locking windows and doors securely (the locks need to be very high and difficult to open because sleepwalkers can manipulate easy locks).

* Closing off a dangerous area like the laundry room where toxic products are stored.

* Attaching a bell to the child's bedroom door.

* Never letting the child sleep on a top bunk bed.

* Locking away any firearms.

* Lighting hallways.

What To Do When You

See Your Child Sleepwalk

Instinctively, parents who find their children sleepwalking may want to wake them up to stop this behavior. Awakening sleepwalkers is very difficult because they are unaware of your presence. It is also the wrong thing to do. If you awaken sleepwalking children they become frightened adn disoriented.

During a sleepwalking episode, if you see your child returning to her bed, just watch quietly. If she is walking away from her bed, gently lead her back - stopping first at the toilet. She may have gotten confused while looking for a place to urinate. Once back in bed, a child will usually return to sleep without completely awakening.

Finding Help

If a child sleepwalks occasionally, forget it. Sleepwalking is only a problem when:

* Episodes become frequent.

* It is disruptive to the family.

* It poses a danger to the child.

* If it hasn't stopped during adolescence.

When sleepwalking becomes a concern for parents, a child should first be seen by his own doctor. Most likely, the doctor will offer practical advice on safeguarding the child's environment and recommend ample rest and a regular sleep schedule.

Sleepwalking is a problem only when it is potentially dangerous, occurs frequently, disrupts the lives of the child and his family, and when it doesn't stop around adolescence.

If sleepwalking continues and you are concerned for your child's safety, then it's time to seek the advice of a specialist. There are over 1,000 sleep disorder centers in this country, 147 of which have been accredited by The American Sleep Disorders Association.

Most children outgrow sleepwalking. During adolescence, sleep patterns change and sleepwalking will just stop. Until this happens, there are things that parents can do.

* Supporting and reassuring children that occasional sleepwalking is normal.

* Protecting the child's environment - always err on the side of caution.

* Making sure that a sleepwalker is well-rested in order to reduce the pressure for deep sleep. Sleepwalking will only occur when a child sleeps very deeply, so fatigue can actually lead to more frequent episodes.

The way parents handle sleepwalking is extremely important. The family's reaction to child's sleepwalking determines the way the child will react. If parents act in a punitive or angry manner, it can be very upsetting and emotionally damaging for the child.

Brothers and sisters who have been awakened by a sleepwalking sibling and have witnessed the behavior first-hand will probably be the ones to talk about it in the morning. If not done tactfully or with sensitivity (and children are hardly known for these qualities,) a sleepwalker can easily beging to feel "weird" or "abnormal." The message a child must hear is: "There is nothing wrong with you. We want to take care of you and keep you safe." As in every aspect of your child's life, love goes a long way.

Judith Angerman is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles with her family. She enjoys writing about medical topics, using her Masters of Science as her basis for medical understanding.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Pediatrics for Parents, Inc.
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Author:Angerman, Judith E.
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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