Sleepwalking in Kids and Adults

4 min read

From stories about ex-partners almost sleep walking out of windows (and regretfully, in hindsight, stopped from doing so), to the time my darling brother walked into my bedroom one night and lifted the doona up like it was a toilet seat and then attempted to use it as such – we’ve all had some crazy adventure with sleepwalking.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking usually involves more than just walking during sleep; it is a series of complex behaviours that are carried out while sleeping, the most obvious of which is walking. Symptoms of sleepwalking disorder range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the room or house, to leaving the house and even driving long distances.

When it is over, most people are able to remember very little of what they did, if anything at all. Usually, sleepwalking starts in childhood, becomes less common as a teenager and usually stops as a young adult. For some folks, it may continue for most of their life.

Sleep walking can be a genetically inherited condition. For children it may also be related to a stage of development. Not getting enough sleep, having irregular sleep hours, stress, drugs and some medicines increase the risk of sleepwalking. In addition, medical conditions such as sleep apnoea, seizures and fever can contribute to the likelihood of sleepwalking.

How common is sleepwalking?

It is estimated that between 1% and 15% of the general population sleepwalks. Surveys suggest that 2 or 3 children in 100 sleepwalk often and approximately 5 in 100 children sleepwalk sometimes. In adults, 3 or 4 in 100 say that they have sleepwalked at least once in their lives, but only 4 in 1000 are still sleepwalking.

Some people may stop sleepwalking after childhood, but it may come back if they are unwell or stressed.

How does it affect people?

If sleepwalkers wake up suddenly, they may be confused. Sometimes they may not be able to quickly go back to sleep. This will prevent the sleepwalker from having a good night’s sleep and make them tired during the day.

But contrary to popular belief, a sleepwalker should be awakened. In fact, it can be quite dangerous (in the case of attempted unsafe exit via window) or messy (whereby they may be confusing a bed for the toilet) not to wake a sleepwalker.

It can also cause anxiety and depression. Sometimes an injury may occur by bumping into objects or leaving the house. However, the number of injuries is far less than you might expect, given the number of people who sleepwalk.

How is sleepwalking treated?

In a child, sleepwalking may just be part of growing up. Parents should be able to comfort the child and direct them back to bed after they sleepwalk. With time, they tend to grow out of it. Action should be taken only if it happens too often and has a big impact on the child.

This might be if they feel tired during the day from a lack of sleep or they are at risk of injuring themselves. In adults who sleepwalk, it is important to have good sleep habits. This may reduce the frequency of sleepwalking. Occasionally, sleeping tablets may be used, but this should be discussed with a doctor.

What could you do to help with symptoms?

Try to reduce stress levels. Stay away from caffeine and other stimulants before bedtime. Baby monitors can also be useful to hear if anyone starts moving around at night.

Where and when should you seek help?

If sleepwalking is affecting how you or your child functions during the day, you should talk to your local doctor.




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