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Sleepwalking Is Actually Pretty Common, Especially Among Children

Experts agree it can start as young as two.

29/11/2016 8:02 AM AEDT | Updated 29/11/2016 2:17 PM AEDT
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Five percent of children are likely to have sleepwalked within the last 12 months, compared to just 1.5 percent of adults.

Perhaps the reason sleepwalking is seldom talked about is because the majority of people who do it actually have no recollection of it, but a new study suggests the sleep arousal disorder is far more common than we think.

"Sleepwalking occurs during our deepest stage of sleep and symptoms can be quite different," Dr Helen Stallman, an expert on the science of somnambulism at the University of South Australia told The Huffington Post Australia.

"There's usually some sort of purpose or movement and it could be as simple as sitting up in bed or actually getting up and cleaning the house," Stallman said.

The study from UniSA's Centre for Sleep Research, "Prevalence of Sleepwalking: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis" found 6.9 percent of people are expected to sleepwalk at some point in their lives with children outnumbering adults.

The mata-analysis is based on 51 studies which assessed the prevalence rates of sleepwalking across 100,490 people.

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Keeping a safe sleeping environment is recommended (like, removing any tripping hazards).

"Early findings point to it starting from around the age of two -- but what we don't know is whether it starts then, or whether that's simply the age children get out of their cots and can actually sleepwalk -- we don't know from a neurological perspective that the same activity is happening in younger infants," Stallman said.

Another explanation could be that children have more deep sleep than adults, and therefore have more of an opportunity to sleepwalk.

Also, it tends to occur in the first third of sleep and parents are usually up at that time so they are witnessing it happening compared to if it was happening among say, adolescents who may go to bed later.

Stallman explains there are risks involved with being unaware you are doing it, in that you cannot take steps to ensure you are safe like removing any tripping hazards.

Basically your body is functioning, but your brain is not.

"You're not able to plan or problem solve and you're not perceiving things as they actually are," Stallman said.

Which explains why, when people sleepwalk they do not recognise people they know.

"The prevalence of sleepwalking has been reported previously as anywhere from 0-40 percent. What our research is doing is providing a more accurate assessment as to how many people sleepwalk," Stallman said.

The prevalence of sleepwalking has been reported previously as anywhere from 0-40 percent. What our research is doing is providing a more accurate assessment as to how many people sleepwalk.

Stallman explains being aware is the most helpful thing you can do.

"If your child is sleepwalking, ensure you are not locking their bedroom door as it becomes a hazard if there is a fire and you need to evacuate."

And now that they are aware of the significant number of people affected, Stallman said the research highlights the need for examination into treatments for sleepwalking.

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