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Sleep walking and sleep talking - children

sleep; walk; walking; talking; talk; starts; disturbances; stresses;

Any sudden change in the pattern of a child's sleep may be triggered by something stressful happening in her life, but these sleep disturbances (sleep walking, nightmares, night terrors) can happen when there are no new stresses. 

Sleepwalking, like night terrors, seems to be due to a child or adult partially waking up. It tends to run in families. 

Sleep talking is so common that it needs to be thought of as normal. It also it runs in families.

Content of this topic

Other sleep disturbances are looked at in these other topics:

Sleep walking

Up to 30% of children sleepwalk at least once, though only a small number do it often. It does not happen during a dream and the person does not remember having walked during her sleep. Many children who sleepwalk also have some night terrors.

  • Sleep walking usually happens during the first few hours after falling asleep. It may last for a few minutes, or maybe up to 20 minutes.
  • A child may sit up in bed, get out of bed and seem as though she wants to go somewhere such as to the toilet or to get something to eat.
  • She may move around her room, go to other places in the house or even go outside.
  • A younger child may crawl around the cot or bed.
  • She may have her eyes open and be mumbling, but not be able to see you, understand what you say, or talk to you.
  • She may let you take her back to bed, or to the toilet, then back to bed, without being really awake.
  • Young children may then go quickly back to deep sleep, while older children may appear to fully wake up for a moment, then go back to sleep.
  • It seems that some children sleepwalk more if they are unwell and have a fever, or get overtired. Sometimes they sleepwalk if they have a full bladder.
  • Sleepwalking doesn't mean that your child has emotional or psychological problems unless there is some other stress in the child's life.
  • Most sleepwalking happens when children are between 3 and 7 years old. As they grow older they sleepwalk less, but quite a few adults sleepwalk sometimes.

What to do about sleepwalking

You do not have to wake a sleepwalking child, and it often makes a child quite upset if you do wake him. However nothing bad will happen if he does wake up.

  • The most important thing is to make sure your child is safe.
    • Do not have bunk beds.
    • Lock doors and windows, and put heaters, electric cords and any other dangerous objects out of the way.
    • Keep floors clear so there is nothing to trip over.
    • If you have stairs, put barriers across them.
    • Some parents tie a bell to the child's door to let them know if the child opens the door.
  • If you find your child sleepwalking, guide him back to bed.
  • Make sure that he is getting enough sleep and has a regular sleep pattern.
  • Protect him from being teased, and let him know that sleepwalking is not a sign of any problems or illness. If someone else in the family used to sleep walk, it may help him to know about it.

Sleep talking

Sleep talking is so common that it needs to be thought of as normal. It also it runs in families.

  • The usual pattern is that a person (child or adult) is deeply asleep and lying still, then after an hour or so of sleep quite suddenly moves around in the bed restlessly, says some words, and then goes back to deep sleep.
  • What is said may be clear, or mumbled and unclear.
  • The person may even sit up and appear to look around before going back to sleep.
  • Sleep talking occurs during a partial wakening, like night terrors, not during a dream, and the person does not remember talking.

Sleep 'starts'

Sleep 'starts' or jerks are sudden, usually single jerks of the arms, legs or whole body at the beginning of sleep. These are very common for children and adults of all ages, and are considered normal. The reason why they happen is not known, although some people think they happen more often when the child or adult is stressed.

Teeth grinding

Young children from about 10 months can grind their teeth. It usually doesn’t cause any damage. Older children can put pressure on their teeth by clenching their jaw. This can cause damage to the teeth, sore cheek muscles or headaches. Talk to your dentist if you are worried.


South Australia

Parent Helpline Phone 1300 364 100 For advice on child health and parenting

Child and Family Health Service (CaFHS) Phone 1300 733 606, 9am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri for an appointment.  

Parenting SA For more Parent Easy Guides e.g. ‘Sleep (0–6years)’, ‘Bedwetting’, ‘Living with toddlers’ and ‘Dealing with a crisis’  

Talk with your doctor - if your child is having very disturbed sleep an assessment by a specialist in child health could be of use, and maybe a referral to a Sleep Disorders unit.

More information

Raising Children Network (Australia)  

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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