Sleep walking in children is more common than you think. Here's what to know about why it happens and how to handle it.

By Hattie Hayes
January 03, 2019
child sleeping at table
Credit: Ladybirdstudio/Shutterstock

Sleepwalking in kids is a strange phenomenon that can be a bit scary for parents who are experiencing it for the first time. It's also more common than you may think. 

“About one out of six kids will sleepwalk at some point,” says Michelle Caraballo, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep-medicine specialist at Children’s Health, in Dallas. Generally, kids may start to sleepwalk between the ages of 4 and 6; the behavior peaks between 8 and 12. They usually outgrow it during adolescence. 

And, yes, your child really is asleep. Sleepwalking falls into a category of disorders called parasomnias that occur in a stage of deep non-REM sleep. He won’t remember it the next morning and probably won’t know he does it unless you tell him.

Sleepwalking in kids may be more likely to happen when:

  • He’s overly tired
  • He's stressed
  • He's sleeping somewhere different, like at a friend’s house

You can’t predict how often your child will sleepwalk, but it tends to occur about one to two hours after bedtime.

“Most kids wander aimlessly,” says Dr. Caraballo. “But to be safe, install baby gates on stairs, equip exterior doors with alarms and locks placed high, stash away sharp objects, and clear the floor of trip hazards.”

And as tempted as you may be, don’t wake up your sleepwalker—it could make the event more severe and frightening for him. “Just gently guide him back to bed,” says Dr. Caraballo.

The next morning, refrain from asking about it as it may make him feel afraid or guilty. If it comes up, reassure him that it’s not his fault and you’ll keep him safe.

Parents Magazine