It was midnight on the night before the first day of school. I had finally set my “first-day teacher jitters” aside and fallen asleep when a sudden loud noise jolted me out of bed. It was our house alarm blaring from every room. My husband and I sprung into action, somehow both instinctively knowing that this jarring sound was not caused by an intruder. It was, in fact, caused by someone escaping.
As we ran through the house searching for an open window or door, I heard my husband say the most haunting words, “He’s in the backyard.” As my heart sank, I ran through the living room and out the back door. When I opened the patio screen door I saw him — my six-year-old boy wandering in the pitch black, all alone, sleepwalking.
With our dark wooded lot as a backdrop and my neighbor’s lake just two doors down, my mind immediately ran through all of the dangerous outcomes that this night’s adventure in sleepwalking could have had. I thought of the late-night drivers that sometimes speed down our dark stretch of the road we live on. What if he had gone out the front door and wandered down the driveway? What if we had forgotten to set the alarm? What if? What if? What if?
A History of Sleep Issues
Our son’s disruptive sleep habits started at a young age. From around the time he turned one, we realized that his restless nights were different than your run of the mill “not sleeping through the night.” He was not hungry or in need of a diaper change, but seemed distraught and inconsolable. It took us months to realize that what he was experiencing was night terrors (also referred to as sleep terrors). While he often would walk around or even yell and scream from his crib, he was not actually awake. It was terrifying to see him in that state. It was nerve-racking to ever leave him overnight with a babysitter as we knew how disturbing it could be for a caretaker to see him in the throes of a bad night terror.
What Causes Sleep Disruptions?
For years we lived in a state of trying to figure out a cause for our son’s terrors. Our pediatrician gave recommendations to purposely wake him before the night terrors generally occurred. We attempted to track his sleep patterns and adjust his bedtimes. We often noticed that his night terrors would coincide with stress and anxiety. There were nights when we would be up 5 or 6 times throughout the night trying to help our little guy get back to a peaceful sleep. Nothing seemed to help.
Recently, we noticed a decline in the number of night terrors our son was experiencing. We were hopeful that this sleepless phase of our life was coming to an end. And then, he began sleepwalking. It is believed that night terrors and sleepwalking are related. In both cases, children are not actually awake although they appear to be. Kids generally have no memory of their experience from the night before. Both night terrors and sleepwalking are common in young children, especially boys, and (thankfully) usually go away by adolescence.
What Can We Do to Help?
While it is next to impossible to ever have a stress free night of rest in our home, we do sleep easier with the knowledge that we have an alarm to alert us if our son should attempt to leave the house while sleepwalking again. We keep our home as “baby proofed” as possible and have recently installed additional locks on all our exits. We sometimes find clues in the morning of our son’s nightly travels — a blankie in the hallway or toys on the floor. Often he will call out for us or ramble on about a random topic when we find him sleepwalking. He never remembers these adventures the next morning. For now, the only other thing we can do is go to bed each night hoping for an uneventful rest and praying that this sleepless phase ends soon.
Do you have a sleepwalker in your life? Drop your safety tips in the comments below!