Sleepwalking: Causes and recommendations

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Sleepwalking: Causes and recommendations
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Sleepwalking is defined as a sleeping difficulty with a neurological origin.  Often many children are affected by this problem.   It is believed that between 15 to 30% of children will have experienced at least one episode of sleepwalking during their childhood.  From the age of 13 years old, around 3% of teenagers are affected by this problem while roughly 1 to 2% of adults still suffer from sleep walking.  What causes this sleeping difficulty and what techniques can you use to manage or overcome this problem? 

What are the causes of sleep walking?

Most of the time, sleep walkers appear to be awake with their eyes open for brief episodes of between 5 minutes to one hour. Boys aged between 7 and 12 years old are seven times more affected than girls of the same age.

In 60% to 80% of cases, sleep walking is hereditary cause by a genetic link.  However other factors can also trigger sleep walking episodes. According to the NHS these factors can include:

  • Stress or anxiety,
  • Lack of sleep,
  • An emotional trauma,
  • Taking recreational drugs,
  • Waking up from a deep sleep with an urge to go to the toilet,
  • Startled by a sudden noise, being suddenly awaken from a deep sleep,
  • Certain types of medication, for example some sedatives,
  • The excessive consumption of alcohol.

What happens when sleepwalking and how to react?

Sleepwalking be dangerous for those who suffer from this problem as it can put them in danger without them realising.  For example they can go out onto the road, into the garden with a swimming pool, or try and walk downstairs or onto a balcony… In some very extreme cases people can even try and drive a car!

Sleepwalkers will usually have their eyes open and can even half respond to questions being asked. However they won’t have any memory of getting out of bed in the morning.

Firstly, if you find someone who is sleep walking you should make sure that they are safe and don’t leave them in a dangerous situation. You should gently try and lead them back to bed without making any abrupt movements or loud noises.  It is generally not recommended to wake someone who is sleepwalking as this could cause them to lash out uncontrollably.  Only in severe cases should you try and wake a sleepwalker.

Treating the issue

Unfortunately there is not a specific treatment for sleep walking difficulties.  However there are a few techniques you can try to prevent any of the triggering factors.  For example you could:

  • Try and get to bed at a similar time every night,
  • Ensure that your bedroom is sufficiently dark and silent to get a peaceful sleep,
  • Avoid drinking any caffeinated drinks before going to bed,
  • Relax your body and mind before sleeping with breathing exercises or a bath,
  • If you are aware that your child sleep walks at the same time every night you could perhaps try waking them up 15 minutes before so you can alter their sleep cycle.


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