What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is a tendency to wander during deep sleep. Sleepwalking most often occurs in children 4 to 15 years old. 15% of normal children sleepwalk.

While sleepwalking:

  • Your child cannot be awakened no matter what you do.
  • Your child's eyes are open, but staring blankly.
  • Your child is not as well coordinated as when awake.
  • Your child may perform semipurposeful acts such as dressing and undressing, opening and closing doors, or turning lights on and off.

What is the cause?

There is no known cause for sleepwalking. It tends to run in families and occurs more often in boys.

How long does it last?

Your child will start sleepwalking 1 to 2 hours after going to sleep and may walk around for 5 to 20 minutes. Children will usually stop sleepwalking during adolescence.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Gently lead your child back to bed.

    First, steer your child into the bathroom because he may be looking for a place to urinate. Then guide him to his bedroom. He may stop once he's in bed. Don't expect to awaken him before he returns to normal sleep.

  • Protect your child from accidents.

    Although accidents are rare, they do happen, especially if the child wanders outside. Sleepwalkers can be hit by a car or bitten by a dog, or they may become lost. Put gates on your stairways and special locks on your outside doors (above your child's reach). Avoid having your child sleep in a bunk bed.

  • Help your child avoid exhaustion.

    Fatigue and a lack of sleep can lead to more frequent sleepwalking, as well as night terrors. If your child needs to be awakened in the morning, that means he needs an earlier bedtime. Move lights-out time to 15 minutes earlier each night until your child can self-awaken in the morning.

  • Try prompted awakenings to prevent sleepwalking.

    If your child sleepwalks frequently, try to stop this distressing sleep pattern. For several nights, note how many minutes pass from the time your child falls asleep to the time he starts sleepwalking. Then on the following nights awaken your child 15 minutes before the time you expect him to start sleepwalking. Remind your child at bedtime that when you do this, his job is "to wake up fast." Keep your child fully awake for 5 minutes. Continue these prompted awakenings for 7 nights in a row. If your child starts sleepwalking again, repeat this seven-night training program.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick”, American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2006-03-02
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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