My son is knee-deep in middle school, nerf guns, and video gaming right now. It’s amazing how quickly time flies. It seems like yesterday, he was a sleepwalking, mouth-breather, terrorizing my slumber. They were scary times. However, I did learn a few things about sleepwalking and how to cope. If you have a sleepwalker on your hands, maybe you can learn from our experience.
It’s Terribly Creepy to Watch
If you haven’t watched a toddler sleepwalk before, it can be creepy to see. The eyes may be open or completely closed. My son would shuffle around the house like a silent ninja, and sometimes would be touching my feet at the end of the bed to wake me up. Waking up suddenly to the Darth Vader, quasi-drooling breathing, is enough to incite fear in any right-minded adult.
Recognizing the Difference Between an Occurrence or a Habit
When I first understood my little guy was sleepwalking, I wondered if it would be an isolated incident or an ongoing occurrence. Some children respond to vivid dreams with a few nighttime strolls around the house, before ‘growing out of it’ and never sleepwalking again. Others, however, begin sleepwalking in tandem with night terrors or other sleep-related conditions. Once I realized I had one on my hands, I remember feeling like I would never sleep again. I would routinely wake myself, in a panic that my son would be inadvertently letting himself out of the house or falling down the basement steps.
Find the Common Denominators
We were transitioning to a toddler bed at the time. He seemed excited about it too. His sleepwalking began at the same time, and it wasn’t a coincidence. Another common denominator I found was the couch. After the sleepwalking had started, there was one evening, my son and I both fell asleep on the couch. It was the best night’s sleep either of us had had in a long time. No sleepwalking. I tested my theory, and every night I let him sleep on the couch, he didn’t get up to wander zombie-like throughout the house.
What the Doctor Said
It’s ok, and this is a completely normal phase. To avoid night terrors, do your best not to wake the child as you put him back to bed. My doctor was pretty great, too, about reminding me to find what works for us. If sleeping on the couch works, there’s no shame in couching it for a few weeks. She gave me a healthy stack of reading material about understanding sleepwalking habits, potential causes, and how to find balance. Every child is different, so learning about your situation may present with different solutions and causes.
Childproofing for a Sleepwalker
Keep your home locked up, of course. I added hook latches on doors that were out-of-reach, so my sleepwalking-shorty couldn’t reach and escape. Kitchen cabinet and drawer latches will help ensure your little one doesn’t start rummaging through the knives or household cleaners. Put gates in front of stairs to prevent falls. Once you recognize you have a mouth-breathing sleepwalker on your hands, walk through your house at his or her eye level, and secure any obstacles or potential hazards.
After a few months of sleeping on the couch, my son transitioned to his big-boy bed and never experienced sleepwalking again. He’s older now, and I remind him just how creepy it was to wake up to his cute little face, eyes closed, petting my forehead. We both can laugh about it now, but it was certainly scary back then. If you find yourself in the same boat as we once were, reach out to your child’s physician for advice and information. Hopefully, it will pass for you too, and you can one day giggle about the zombie shuffling, mouth breathing days.