Sleep walking

DW writes that her 8 year old son has a problem with bedwetting, but also on occasion, a problem with sleep walking. She may find him trying to go to the bathroom in the wrong place, like the kitchen or his sibling’s bedroom. If she hears him, she guides him to the right place. He has no memory of this in the morning. Is this common?

It’s not unusual for the bedwetting children that I work with to also have problems with sleep walking. Sleep disturbances, like sleep walking or even night terrors, are often a result of partially interpreted messages that come at the wrong time in the sleep cycle. We all have variations in our sleep cycle that occur throughout the night, usually in 3-4 hour intervals of time. You may have noticed if you’re awakened by one of your children an hour or two after you go to sleep, it’s more difficult to become oriented and think through what is happening. However, if you’re awakened later, like 4 or 5 am, you can easily jump up and know what you should do next.

Most sleep walking episodes occur early in the sleep cycle, during the phase where it’s difficult to become alert. This is also the time that your child could experience night terrors. Night terrors are sometimes frightening to parents but the children have no memory of this in the morning. During night terrors, children can become very disoriented, not knowing where they are or who their parents are, making little sense. The parents’ role is to keep the child safe and lead them back to bed. Most experts recommend not trying to “wake” up the child but simply calmly redirecting them back to bed. Many families report that the sleep walking or night terrors may occur at a time when the child needs to urinate. Often directing the child to the bathroom and having him or her empty the bladder will enable the child to get back to sleep more quickly.

One advantage to using a bedwetting alarm to help cure bedwetting is that the parents and child are alerted when the first few drops of urine are produced. Initially, some disorientation is perfectly normal when the alarm sounds early in the sleep cycle. After time, though, as the wetting begins to happen later in the sleep cycle, the brain begins to know that this sound means to stop the flow of urine and get up to go to the bathroom. Parents can assist with this learning process because you will know when your son is getting up since you will hear his alarm. Remind him to walk to the bathroom and guide him to the proper place if he’s not able to do it independently. Over time, wetting will occur later in his sleep cycle, closer to morning. He will have less occasions of “sleep walking” and more occasions where he knows that he needs to go to the bathroom and is able to find it without your help.

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