Kids and Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a condition in which a sleeping person appears to be awake and exhibits behaviors associated with being awake, but is actually still asleep. Sleepwalking can be more than just walking, however. Sleepwalkers also perform other activities, such as sitting up in bed, opening the refrigerator, eating food or even driving while asleep.

Sleepwalking is much more common in children than in adults. A recent survey found that around 1 percent of preschool children and 2 percent of school-aged children sleepwalk at least a few nights each week. Because the person is in a deep sleep throughout the episode, he or she usually will not have any memory of the activity.

“In most cases, children who sleepwalk don’t need extensive examinations or testing,” said Dr. Neal Nakra, medical director of the CHOC Sleep Center. “However, if the sleepwalking is persistent or involves concerning behaviors, a consultation with a sleep specialist can help rule out any medical problems and identify the proper strategies for your family.”

Sleepwalking Behaviors

Of course, getting out of bed and walking around while still sleeping is the most obvious sleepwalking symptom. But young sleepwalkers may also:

  • sleep talk
  • be hard to wake up
  • seem dazed
  • Have open eyes with a glassy, staring appearance
  • Perform repeated behaviors, such as straightening their pajamas
  • Give slow responses with simple thoughts, or use nonsense phraseology or absent responses.

What to Do if Your Child Sleepwalks

If your child sleepwalks, it’s important to modify the sleep environment to reduce the risk of injury to your child. Some steps to take include:

  • Ensure all doors and windows are locked.
  • Make sure sharp objects are put away and secured.
  • Reduce the risk of tripping and falling, especially down stairs.
  • Hide all car keys if you have a teen sleepwalker.

Why Do Kids Sleepwalk

Sleepwalking is far more common in kids than in adults, and tends to run in some families. Most sleepwalkers outgrow it by the early teen years, and it is rarely caused by an underlying medical, emotional or psychological problem.

Other factors that may bring on a sleepwalking episode include:

  • lack of sleep or fatigue
  • irregular sleep schedules
  • illness or fever
  • certain medications
  • stress.

Meet Dr. Nakra – CHOC Pulmonologist and Sleep Specialist

Dr. Neal Nakra serves as the medical director of the Sleep Center at CHOC Hospital in Orange and CHOC at Mission Hospital. He also sees patients at CHOC outpatient locations in Orange, Mission Viejo and Huntington Beach.

Dr. Nakra became interested in sleep medicine while completing his pulmonary medicine fellowship and his research investigated the associations between sleep apnea, obesity and markers for metabolic syndrome. He is board certified in pulmonology, pediatrics and sleep medicine.

He completed his pediatric residency at the St. Vincent Hospital and Medical Center in New York, and a pulmonary medicine fellowship at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. His professional interests include working with colleagues in pediatric endocrinology, otolaryngology, neonatology and plastic surgery to help with the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.

Dr. Nakra’s philosophy of care: “I pride myself on being able to provide families with a good understanding of the pulmonary problems their children have and how suggested treatments can help.  I also believe it is important to encourage families to ask questions and feel comfortable before embarking on a treatment plan.”

University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Texas

Pediatric Pulmonary
Sleep Medicine

Dr. Neal Nakra

Healthy Sleep for Babies

As new parents often find, no one in the house sleeps if the baby doesn’t sleep. It’s very common to have sleep troubles with a baby, especially as new habits and routines are being developed. Newborns and babies should get the recommended amount of sleep based on their age.

Sleeping baby

Time to Re-Think the “All Nighter”

Teen girl sleeping

One of the most important investments you can make in your teen’s academic success won’t cost a dime. A good night’s sleep is essential to concentration, learning, memory-retention and problem-solving skills.

CHOC at Mission Hospital Opens State-of-the-Art Sleep Center

Families in South Orange County now have access to a state-of-the-art Sleep Center for children who need overnight monitoring to diagnose problems related to sleep.

Hallway at CHOC in Mission Viejo

Knowledge is the best medicine. Learn more about your child's health in these features from the experts at CHOC.

Screen Time Insomnia
Setting screentime guidelines can help parents avoid battles with their kids. “Up to two hours a day is reasonable,” says Dr. Galion. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two have limited screen time.

Kids and Snoring
When your child snores a condition called sleep apnea may be the reason. There are two types, central and obstructive. Obstructive is a greater concern.

Kids and Sleep
Sleep is an essential part of your growing child’s health. When it comes to making sure your children are getting the proper amount of Z’s, there are some guidelines you can follow.

Podcast - Ensuring Safe Sleep for Babies
October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month, but parents should remember two things year-round to keep babies safe during sleep: babies should sleep alone and on their backs, a CHOC community educator tells CHOC Radio.

Subscribe to KidsHealth