New research confirms if you were a sleepwalker in your childhood, then your children are likely to be sleepwalkers as well. The new study, undertaken by Montreal’s Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine and published in JAMA Pediatrics on May 4th, determined 47.4% of children with one sleepwalking parent were also sleepwalkers. When both parents were sleepwalkers, the percentage increased to to 61.5%.
The large study involving 2,000 children also discovered that kids that have “sleep terrors” (a form of severe nightmares) are also much more likely to sleepwalk than children who don’t.
Statement from pediatrician
“That’s interesting because it can help parents know that ‘Hey, if my little one has sleep terrors, and several of them, then perhaps he or she might be more at risk for sleepwalking when they are between the age of 10 and 13,” noted Hansa Bhargava, a pediatric specialist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“It’s definitely genetic,” Bhargava continued. “Prevention is really the cure in these situations. You want to make sure the child is not overtired, stressed out, over-scheduled. And have a nice calming ritual at bedtime so the child can actually calm himself down before going to sleep.”
More details on the Quebec sleepwalking study
The study found that the majority of sleep terrors occurred between 1.5 years old and 5 years old, but some children continue to suffer from them until 13. The terrors are often transient (per the study having terrors before age 4 but none later). Some children, however, have persistent terrors that continue past age 5. Of note, the study data also indicated that twice as many children with a parental history of sleepwalking suffered from persistent sleep terrors.
Sleepwalking typically happens during the deeper stages of sleep, stages 3 and 4, when it’s difficult to wake up. Although the large majority of sleepwalkers leave it by their teen years, a small percentage never stop or have regular relapses as adults.
Experts note that sleepwalking can mean just sitting up in bed, or getting up and taking a few steps before going back to sleep, or opening up the closet door and urinating or even leaving the house.
That’s why it’s a good idea to sleepwalk-proof the house if you have a family member with a history of sleepwalking. A few considerations include putting away sharp or breakable things as well as avoiding bunk beds and using at least three-foot tall safety gates on stairs.