EXPERT ADVICE: Why is my child talking and walking in his sleep?

If your child is either talking or walking their sleep, read on to find out what action you can take.

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Your little one’s been asleep for a while before you make a final check on her. Then, you hear it. She seems to be talking and mumbling something in her sleep.

Or maybe, you found her wandering around the living room in the middle of the night ― her eyes open, yet, she’s still asleep and unaware of her actions. Should you be panicking?

Both sleeptalking and sleepwalking are behaviours known as parasomnias ― disorders, including nightmares and night terrors, that disrupt sleep. Sleeptalking and sleepwalking are common among children, who tend to outgrow it by the time they reach their teens.

However, you don’t need to worry too much. Under normal circumstances, both are not considered medical problems, explains Dr Mahesh Babu Ramamurthy, Head & Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Pulmonary and Sleep, National University Hospital.

Dr Mahesh offers more details on these conditions:

Dr Mahesh, what causes a child to sleep talk?
The causes of sleep talking are not very clear. Sleeptalking is very common in childhood and can occur in otherwise normal children. It is known to be associated in children with other triggers like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), stress and decreased sleep.

Should parents be worried?

No, sleeptalking on its own is not harmful.

How common is this condition among young children?

The incidence varies. Some studies have shown that up to 80 per cent of children will experience some sleeptalking at some time or another during their childhood.

“Up to 80 per cent of children will experience some sleeptalking at some time or another during their childhood.”

What are the signs and symptoms of sleeptalking?

Children seem to be sleeping well but they start talking. Most times, these utterances are just mumbling with no clear words, though, at other times, words can be clear and relate to events in real life. Significant outbursts are rare, but occasionally, may be significant enough to disturb others at home. Children do not remember the occurrence of these events in the day.

When does sleep talking occur?

It usually occurs in the first third of the sleep period.

Is there a time when medical treatment is deemed necessary?

No treatment is usually required for sleep talking. Though, if it is associated with other disorders like OSA ― treatment will be required.

Can you prevent sleeptalking?

No, you can’t prevent sleeptalking.

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Is sleeptalking in young children linked to sleepwalking?

These two conditions are not linked, though they may coexist in the same child. Having one does not increase the chances for the other.

Which is more common among children?

Sleeptalking is much more common. Most children will outgrow both of these conditions with time. Only a small group of children will persist into adulthood. However, it is difficult to predict in a given child whether it will persist into adulthood.

Some children [who sleepwalk] can also do complex activities at night like using electrical equipment or walking out of the house, which can put their life in danger.

Which condition is more serious?

Sleepwalking is more serious ― children are often at risk of falls because they trip over objects at night. Some children can also do complex activities at night like using electrical equipment or walking out of the house, which can put their life in danger.

What triggers sleepwalking in children?

We are not sure of the triggers at present.

How do you treat sleepwalking in children?

No specific management is needed in most children. Careful watchfulness is all that is required.

Can you tell us how to childproof our home if we have a child who sleepwalks?

Parents are advised to keep the surroundings of the child safe with no wires crossing the room or other objects that the child can trip over. Parents are also asked to lock the front door of the house firmly, so that the child is not able to open it. If the sleepwalking episodes are very frequent, parents are asked to wake the child approximately one hour after they sleep. Sleepwalking usually occurs 90 to 120 minutes after the onset of sleep, hence, by waking them up after one hour, sleepwalking is suppressed in many. Very rarely is medication used and their use is not fully substantiated in children.

Photos: iStock

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