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Wandering in the dark: Is your child sleepwalking?

It's nighttime and your son already has gone to bed. A few hours later, you see him wandering around the house. His eyes are open, but he looks confused. He's walking in his sleep.

Sleepwalking is a very common sleep behavior. Studies estimate that many children walk in their sleep at least once. The cause isn't known, but it seems to run in families. Sleepwalking can involve common activities like walking into another room in the house or more dangerous activities like turning on appliances in the kitchen or trying to walk outside. Kids usually have no memory of it the next day.

Sleepwalking can be caused by things like:

  • Not enough sleep or changes in a child's sleep schedule.
  • Sleeping in a noisy or different place.
  • Stress.
  • Illnesses or fever.
  • Some medications.

So what can you do if your child sleepwalks?

1. Make sure your child keeps a regular sleep schedule and gets enough sleep each night. Try to limit beverages with caffeine because that can disrupt sleep.

2. Put safety measures in place.

  • Remove clutter from the floor.
  • Put away sharp or dangerous objects like knives or scissors.
  • Keep the doors and windows locked.
  • Add a simple alarm system, like a bell on the bedroom doorknob, to alert you that your child is sleepwalking.

3. During a sleepwalking episode, gently guide your child back to bed, but don't try to wake him or her up.

Kids generally grow out of sleepwalking as they become teenagers. If you're worried about your child's sleep habits, talk to your doctor. You also can make an appointment in the Sleep Center at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Clinics-New Berlin by calling Central Scheduling at (414) 607-5280 or request an appointment online.

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