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Dr. G's Zzzzz's: When your child sleepwalks

My 9-year-old daughter has always talked in her sleep and even had a few sleepwalking episodes when she was younger. They stopped when she was 6 or 7. Now she's started walking in her sleep again and she's more adventurous. I can get her back to bed with no trouble but then I can't sleep because I'm afraid she might go outside. Will she outgrow sleepwalking?

The good news is that your daughter will most likely outgrow her sleepwalking. It typically resolves by the teen years.

Sleepwalking is a type of sleep disorder called a parasomnia. Parasomnia is a medical term that includes “wake-like” behaviors during sleep. Some examples are sleepwalking, sleep-talking, teeth grinding, bedwetting, night terrors and nightmares.

Parasomnias are a normal part of development for some children, usually appearing in young school-age children. They happen more frequently in families where there’s a history of parasomnias. Forty-five percent of children may experience sleepwalking or another parasomnia if a parent had one as a child. If both parents had parasomnias, the rate rises to 60 percent in their children. It’s not uncommon to experience sleep-talking early in life and then develop sleepwalking.

You are right to wonder if your daughter could go outside your house during sleepwalking. Though unusual, it’s possible for sleepwalking children to shower, go outside or even try to cook. Be prepared by “proofing” your home with bells that will sound if your daughter leaves her room. Bolting the exterior doors also offers protection.

If your daughter is trying to cook, venture outside, or get into another dangerous situation while sleepwalking, it’s time to seek a doctor’s help. Other signs you should consult a physician for sleepwalking:

* Your child also has problems falling or staying asleep.

* Your child is unrefreshed after sufficient sleep (10 hours per night for children ages 5 to 10, 9 to 9.5 hours per night for pre-teens ages 10 to 13, and 9 hours per night for teens older than 13).

* In addition to sleepwalking, your child snores loudly and habitually, or you hear pauses in her breathing.

* The sleepwalking occurs more than once per night, or more than twice a week consistently.

Watch your daughter to see if you notice anything that triggers her sleepwalking. You may begin to see a pattern. Some triggers include lack of sufficient sleep, illness and stress, such as the beginning of school. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless-legs syndrome can also cause sleepwalking.

Dr. Jeannine Gingras is founder of Gingras Sleep Medicine in Charlotte and Concord. A nationally recognized expert in sleep disorders who practices sleep medicine exclusively, she is double board-certified in sleep medicine and is also board-certified in pediatrics and in neonatal-perinatal medicine. Gingras has more than 20 years of experience in children's sleep problems and has also evaluated hundreds of preterm and term infants for sleep apnea and SIDs monitoring. Reach her at jgingras@gingrassleepmedicine.com.

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