Sleepwalking and night terrors are genetic, study says

A new study shows the unconscious habit of sleepwalking may actually be tied to genetics, may be passed from parent to child, and when both parents have a history of it, the probability of it happening with children increases.

The study, published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, found that the chances of sleepwalking for children increases nearly 50 percent when one parent has a sleepwalking history, and over 60 percent when both parents have a history of sleepwalking.

“These findings point to a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking,” the study authors wrote, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Researchers examined data on nearly 2,000 children born in the Quebec area in 1997 and 1998 and who were tracked until 2011, by asking the children’s mothers if they sleepwalked at any time between ages 3 and 13, the LA Times said.

The study found that 29 percent of children sleepwalked at least once before age 13, and that the prevalence of sleepwalking in children peaked around the age of 10, when 13.4 percent of children began sleepwalking, the article said.

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a behavior disorder that occurs during deep sleep. Besides walking, it can include other complex behaviors, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Some symptoms of sleepwalking can include:

  • Little or no memory of the event
  • Sleeptalking
  • Complex actions, such as walking around, driving, sitting up
  • Difficulty in arousing the sleepwalking

Sleep terrors have also been found to run in families, and sleep terrors in early childhood can lead to sleepwalking later in life, the study said.

The study found that as many as a third of the children who have early childhood sleep terrors become sleepwalkers later, CNN reported on the study.

“Prevention is really the cure in these situations,” Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told CNN. “You want to make sure the child is not overtired, stressed out, over-scheduled. And have a nice calming bedtime ritual so the child can actually calm himself down before going to sleep.”

Sleep terrors (night terrors) are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, only a small percentage of children are affected by sleep terrors, and usually children will outgrow them by adolescence.

Children are at the highest risk for sleep terror when they are sick or close to being sick, when they aren’t getting enough sleep, when they are stressed or in a noisy environment, Bhargava said.”The message is the same,” Bhargava told CNN. “Look at the child’s life, see where the stress might be adding up, and reduce that. Take those cell phones away, take the technology away and make sure they adhere to a good bedtime.”

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