Aug 18, 2019 | Updated: 08:03 AM EDT

Sleepwalking May Be Genetic, A New Study Says

May 05, 2015 07:54 PM EDT


If you have a history of sleepwalking, the chances that your children will become sleepwalkers, otherwise known as somnambulists, is much higher. In a new study from Montreal, researchers have added more support to the growing belief that behaviors such as sleepwalking and night terrors may actually run in families.

The offspring of parents who were sleepwalkers were between three and seven times more likely to sleepwalk than other children, reported the researchers from the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine at Sacré-Coeur Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Montreal.  If both parents have a history of sleepwalking, the likelihood of their children being sleepwalkers goes up even further.  Researchers found that in families where both parents are sleepwalkers, almost two-thirds of the children were also sleepwalkers.

Among the children studied, about 47 percent of sleepwalkers had one parent with a history of sleepwalking.  Nearly 23 percent of the children who were sleepwalkers had parents with no history of somnambulism.

"Not all sleepwalking is problematic," first author of the study and research assistant at the center, Dominique Petit says. "Very often you don't need to do anything with sleepwalking. (But) in some rare cases, there's potential for injury."

Most sleepwalkers can easily navigate their house and can even climb or descent stairs.  They may perform tasks such as making and eating a snack only to not have any memory of the incident later.

On occasion they can even get hurt.  She noted there have been reports of children dying of hypothermia after leaving their homes in winter and falling back into a deeper sleep in the snow.  Parents of children who sleepwalk are recommended to put an alarm on doors if they do try to leave the house.

Sleep terrors were also more common with about 56 percent of the children experiencing this sleep disturbance at some point during the study.  They are most common at younger ages but the number drops as children age with 34 percent of 18 month old children experiencing them but only 13 percent of kids at age 5 and then only 5 percent at age 13.

The pattern of sleepwalking, on the other hand, rises through childhood.  It is uncommon for young children but increases as they age.  In the study, the peak time for sleepwalking was between the ages of 10 and 13, with just over 13 percent of children reported as occasionally sleepwalking.

These behaviors appear to be linked with at least one-third of children who had sleep terrors also sleepwalking.

"More and more it's the accepted idea that they're part of the same condition."

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