If you've ever caught your teen stumbling around the dark looking confused, you probably already know you have a sleepwalker on your hands. Sleepwalking is common during childhood, according to the KidsHealth website, but most children outgrow it by the teen years. A small number of children, however, continue to sleepwalk through their teenage years.
Definition and Prevalence
The medical term for sleepwalking is somnambulism, and it's defined as walking around while sound asleep. Sleepwalking is most common between the ages of 4 and 8, according to MayoClinic.com, but it can occur at any age. Sleepwalking tends to run in families, so if you or your partner were a sleepwalker as a child, chances are your child will be, too. In fact, an 80 percent to 90 percent likelihood exists that your child will sleepwalk if it runs in your family, according to Dr. Judith A. Owens and Jodi A. Mindell, authors of "Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep: The All-In-One Resource for Solving Sleep."
Sleepwalking tends to occur within an hour or two after your teen falls asleep, and can last for just a few minutes or up to a half hour, according to KidsHealth. Sleepwalking occurs during the deepest sleep cycles, which is why your teen might not wake up. Though one specific cause can't explain all instances of sleepwalking, triggers can make it more likely to happen if she's already prone to sleepwalking. If your teen is fatigued or hasn't been getting enough sleep, she's more likely to sleepwalk. Illness, fever, stress and certain medications can also increase the chance that your teen will sleepwalk.
You'll know your teen is sleepwalking instead of just overtired by watching for certain red flags. If your teen has glazed eyes or moves in a clumsy, lethargic way, he might be sleepwalking. Your might also catch your teen doing something that he would normally do during the day such as getting dressed or making a snack. You'll also have a hard time waking your teen up if he's sleepwalking because he's in one of the deepest cycles of sleep. Another tell-tale symptom is that your teen will have no memory of sleepwalking when he wakes up in the morning.
Because your teen isn't in charge of her behavior while she's sleepwalking, it's necessary to take certain precautions. According to KidsHealth, many children who sleepwalk do inappropriate actions while sleepwalking such as urinating in closets. Even scarier, many teens might leave the house while sleepwalking. MayoClinic.com notes that people might even drive a car during a sleepwalking episode. If your teen is prone to sleepwalking, ensure that she gets plenty of sleep and help her find ways to decrease her stress. Keep your teen's car keys out of reach to prevent her from driving when she's not fully awake. Lock the doors and windows and keep dangerous objects out of reach. Don't try to wake your teen when she's sleepwalking because it can scare her. Instead, lead her gently back to bed.