Sleepwalking, also called somnambulism, primarily occurs in children between the ages of 4 and 12. It is estimated that some 15 percent of children in that age group sleepwalk. This sleep disturbance usually stops on its own as the child gets older, although it can sometimes persist into adulthood.
Sleepwalking generally occurs during the deep-sleep (non-REM) stage of the first sleep cycle of the night, or early in the morning. It does not appear to be caused by or associated with dreaming. Episodes are thought to be triggered by a noise or a need to urinate, which wakes the body without rousing the mind. This leads the person to getting up and walking around. If a need to urinate triggered the episode, then the person might do it anywhere, not necessarily in the toilet. Some sleepwalkers accomplish complex tasks such as making food, putting on music and even opening locked doors.
Somnambulism itself is not dangerous, but it can put sleepwalkers at risk, especially if they manage to leave the house. Some experts recommend putting a little bell or an alarm on the child’s bedroom door, so that parents are alerted if an episode occurs. An alarm can also be placed on doors leading out of the house. A simple and inexpensive solution is to place a lock (e.g. chain lock) on the upper part of the door, out of the child’s reach.
It isn’t dangerous to wake up a person who is sleepwalking, but it can be difficult! Even if sleepwalkers have their eyes open, are walking around and even speaking, it doesn’t mean they are conscious of their surroundings. In fact, they usually have no memory of their nighttime actions when they wake up in the morning.
During episodes of somnambulism, the best approach is to guide sleepwalkers back to bed, so they can simply go back to sleep. If you need to wake them up, it is recommended to you do so by making a loud, sudden noise. However, make sure to stay out of reach, because sleepwalkers are usually confused when they wake up, and they may put up a fight!