Sleepwalking is often parodied on television and in the movies, but when it happens in our own homes it can be rather scary. Estimates vary, but some say that as many as 17% of children and 10% of adults sleepwalk. So if it is happening to you or someone you love, you’re certainly not alone.

Someone who gets up in the middle of the night and walks around in a dazed manner is probably sleepwalking. But that’s not all that happens. Some sleepwalkers don’t walk at all, but they sit up in bed and talk. Others get up and eat, feed pets, or go for a stroll outside.

In and of itself, sleepwalking is not a dangerous condition. It usually requires no treatment unless it is happening regularly. The most important concern is keeping the sleepwalker safe. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts of dealing with a sleepwalker.

Do’s

* Keep the windows and doors shut and locked. If you find that the sleepwalker is trying to open them, consider putting child locks on them. Even if you have an adult sleepwalker, he will probably be incapable of figuring them out while asleep.

* Put up safety gates. This is especially important at staircases. You could also block off a small area so that the sleepwalker can’t go outside of it. But if the sleepwalker is a child, it’s a good idea to provide access to the bathroom and your bedroom.

* Let the sleepwalker sleep on the ground floor if possible. This will make it even less likely that he will fall down the stairs or go out a high window.

* Get rid of clutter on the floor. Sleepwalkers are prone to tripping and falling, so it is important to eliminate items that present a danger as much as possible.

* Keep sharp, breakable, and otherwise dangerous items in a safe place. Lock them up in a cabinet, or put them far out of reach.

Don’ts

* Never let a sleepwalker sleep on the top bunk. He could attempt to step out of bed and fall to the floor, possibly resulting in severe injuries.

* Don’t wake someone who is sleepwalking. This could frighten him terribly. Instead, talk to him in a soothing voice and lead him back to bed.

* Don’t let the sleepwalker drink a lot of liquids in the evening. In some cases, a full bladder can be a contributing factor in sleepwalking episodes. Caffeine should also be avoided in the evening, because it can cause sleep disturbances, which may exacerbate the problem.

Sleepwalking isn’t cause for alarm as long as the sleepwalker doesn’t harm himself or others. If he does, or if sleepwalking occurs more than a couple of times a month, it might be time to get a doctor involved. But in most cases, simply maintaining a safe environment is preferable to medical treatment.

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