Depending on the age of the sleepwalker, there may be different causes of the condition. In young children, it’s believed that sleepwalking occurs when the brain hasn’t learned to differentiate between the sleeping and waking states. In older adults, sleepwalking can be an indication of an underlying problem, such as excess stress or the onset of other sleep disorders.
How Can You Help a Sleepwalker?
If you know a person who has begun sleepwalking, there’s no reason to be alarmed. It’s a harmless event in itself and may cease naturally over time. Depending on the individual’s actions in this state, you may be more concerned that the person will harm themselves, while in the sleepwalking state.
While consulting a doctor may be wise to determine the causes, there are things you can begin doing immediately to help reduce the likelihood of future sleepwalking episodes. For instance, making sure the person is getting quality sleep and enough of it each night is important. Instead of letting the individual take sleep medications, try to make his or her bedroom as quiet and dark as possible.
It’s also important to make sure everyone else sleeping in the house knows of the sleepwalking incidents. This will prevent frights in the middle of the night.
You should also take steps to ensure the sleepwalker’s safety, such as locking all of the doors and windows and putting gates at the top of any staircases. Additionally, guns, knives, and car keys should all be out of reach of the sleepwalker. Children who sleepwalk should not be allowed to sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed.
If You Need to Wake a Sleepwalker…
If it’s at all possible, try to avoid waking the sleepwalker. Instead, gently guide him or her back to bed with a very gentle hand. Once you turn the individual, try not to touch him or her at all. Instead, walk near the person, only touching enough to guide them back to their bedroom and into bed.
If that’s not possible and you have a reason that the sleepwalker needs to be awakened, it’s important to do it the right way. First, back away from the sleepwalker, so neither you or the sleepwalker will be injured. Create loud and sharp noises that can be used to startle the individual out of their sleep. If you stand close and shake the sleepwalker, it may cause a violent reaction that could cause unintentional injuries to either one of you.
Sleepwalkers rarely know that they’ve been doing anything unusual. Whether you return them to bed or awaken them, you should take the time to explain the incident in a calm and consoling manner. They’re likely to be disoriented and frightened, so they will need your support.