Children who sleepwalk exhibit this nighttime behavior during Stage 3 or 4 of the sleep cycle within two hours of falling asleep. The parasomnia event can last from seconds to half-an-hour. The child may simply walk without making a sound, or on the more extreme end, will appear agitated while running. Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is caused by genetic, environmental, or medical factors.
For instance, a genetic study of 51 subjects found a positive sleepwalking history across multiple generations in 7 families. Furthermore, 33 subjects were found to have deficiencies in craniofacial anatomical features that increased their risk for sleep-disordered breathing. One caveat is that the study was not able to establish why parasomnia episodes were provoked in some subjects with sleep-disordered breathing, but not in all of them.
Environmental conditions that can lead to sleepwalking in children include irregular sleep schedules, lack of sleep, and stress. Keeping your child on a regular routine that is not overly strict can help.
Medical conditions that can prompt sleepwalking include heart arrhythmias, fever, GERD, and asthma to name a few. Respiratory conditions like snoring and sleep apnea can also be associated. To rule out these conditions, be sure to mention the occurrence of sleepwalking events to your child’s pediatrician.
Experts believe that sleepwalking involves immature neurocircuitry. Sleepwalking by itself is a benign parasomnia disorder. However, it is linked to other more troublesome daytime neurological disorders. These include developmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, and the inability to handwrite. Clinicians may also find it difficult to distinguish sleepwalking from sleep-related epilepsy. The two disorders present similarly, and can even coexist in the same individual.
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