Sleepwalking is medically referred to as somnambulism. It mostly affects children who are in the pre-pubertal stage of their life (between ages of 4 and 8). The frequency of these episodes may vary. In rare cases, when somnambulism occurs more frequently, incidents of physical injury could occur. The affected person not only tends to walk, but might also do other things. When asked later, he/she would show total unawareness about the episode.
Somnambulism occurs during deep, non-REM sleep. It is believed that this disorder might be associated with fatigue, sleep deprivation, anxiety, stress, etc. Children with a family history of night terrors or somnambulism are more likely to have such episodes. Other factors include magnesium deficiency, fever, nighttime asthma, and obstructive sleep apnea, a condition wherein breathing stops temporarily while sleeping.
The prominent symptom is the difficulty in arousing the affected person while he/she is sleepwalking. The affected child may not remember or have a single clue regarding the incident. Other symptom include loud or soft mutterings which are incomprehensible most of the time, suddenly sitting up in the bed, and sometimes running or moving around the entire room. Parents have also observed that their children tend to use words which they do not utter when awake. Sometimes, children may also urinate in inappropriate places.
Most children outgrow this disorder. The frequency of the events tend to reduce as the kids age, and eventually the episodes may not occur at all. If the episodes continue, it would be best to seek medical help.
Parents must ensure that their child gets plenty of rest and goes to bed every day at the fixed time. As mentioned, stress is one major trigger. So, performing relaxation exercises before bedtime helps the body and mind to de-stress. Make sure that the child's bedroom is on the ground floor and the room is free of objects that may pose a physical threat to the child. Placing an alarm bell on the bedroom door and on the windows will also help parents to be aware if any episode has occurred.
Doctors also advise parents to maintain a record of the time when their children actually sleepwalk. This way they can wake them up 10 - 15 minutes before the recorded time. This method is also effective in countering the problem. As far as medical treatment is considered, it is best left to the doctors. If there is any underlying cause for the behavior, then medication is targeted towards addressing the cause. Such causes, however, are mostly found in cases of adults who sleepwalk.
Somnambulism does not raise any major concerns and most children have been found to outgrow the disorder. However, there might be a few exceptions. In such cases, medical help must be sought.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.