Childhood Sleepwalking May Be Influenced By Parent Sleep History

Child sleeping
Child sleeping
Children of parents who both had a history of sleepwalking were seven times more likely to sleepwalk.

Sleep disorders in children, including sleepwalking and sleep terrors, may be a familial trait, according to results from a long-term study in Canada.

More than 60% of children developed sleepwalking when both parents were sleepwalkers, researchers found, with the odds of sleepwalking increasing based on sleepwalking history of parents.

Jacques Montplaisir, MD, PhD, of the Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal, and colleagues, analyzed sleep data from 1,940 children born in Quebec in 1997 and 1998 over 12 years. Prevalence of sleep terrors and sleepwalking was assessed yearly from ages 11/2 and 21/2 years to age 13 via a questionnaire completed by the mother. Parental history of sleepwalking was also asked about.

The prevalence of sleep terrors from ages 11/2 to 13 years was 56.3%, with terrors occurring most often at age 11/2 (34.4%) and dropping to 5.3% by age 13. The overall prevalence of sleepwalking from ages 21/2 to 13 years was 29.1%, with less frequent occurrences during preschool-aged years and increasing to 13.4% by age 10.

Results indicated that children who had sleep terrors from ages 11/2 to 31/2 were more likely to develop sleepwalking at age 5 years or older (34.4%) than those who did not experience sleep terrors (21.7%).

Additionally, researchers found that children’s odds of sleepwalking increased based on the sleepwalking history of their parents: children with one parent who sleepwalked had three times the odds, and children whose parents both sleepwalked had seven times the odds of becoming a sleepwalker. Overall, 22.5% of children without a parental history of sleepwalking developed sleepwalking compared to 47.4% of children with one parent who sleepwalked, and 61.5% of children whose parents both sleepwalked.

“These findings point to a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking and, to a lesser degree, sleep terrors. This effect may occur through polymorphisms in the genes involved in slow-wave sleep generation or sleep depth,” the authors wrote in the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics. “Parents who have been sleepwalkers in the past, particularly in cases where both parents have been sleepwalkers, can expect their children to sleepwalk and thus should prepare adequately.”


  1. Petit D et al. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.127.