boy asleep walking outside who needs a sleepwalking prevention device

Sleepwalking prevention devices: 5 things to try for easier nights

By Jason Wooden, PhD | September 28, 2019

Over 8 million people in the US sleepwalk which can put themselves and others at risk.  Good news –  there are a variety of sleepwalking prevention devices that  may help.

Some work as a simple barrier to keep a sleepwalker from wandering.  Others sound an alert when they get out of bed or attempt to leave the bedroom.

Your choices include gates, safety door locks, bedroom door alarms, motion sensors, and floor mat alarms.  It’s also important for sleepwalkers to get regular sleep and avoid the known triggers.

Getting a sleepwalking prevention device may be more important than you think

It’s no surprise you’re curious about sleepwalking prevention devices since people have been known to do some of the most outrageous (and worrisome) things while asleep.

Maybe you’ve been awakened at night to find a spouse doing something odd in the kitchen and the following morning they have no memory of it.

Or perhaps, you have a child who gets up at night, shuffles into the hallway, and mumbles incoherently about random things…

Whether it’s an adult or a child, sleepwalking is a serious issue because they can unknowingly harm themselves or others.

Did you know that over 8 million people in the US are prone to sleepwalking?

It’s more common in children than in adults. In fact, close to 20% of kids in the 8 to 12 year old range are affected by it.

Sleepwalking from your bed to sleep on a couch downstairs is one thing, but what about someone who leaves the house?

And what about the stories of people sleepwalking to a kitchen and handling dangerous objects like knives?

This can be pretty unnerving.

It can also wreck your sleep if you’re on edge worried about what’s going to happen.

man walking on couch who needs a sleepwalking prevention device

Why do people sleepwalk?

 Before we get into the sleepwalking prevention devices, let’s talk about what we know.

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is when someone walks or does other complex things while asleep.  It’s an unusual state between wakefulness and sleep.

Normally, you go through different stages which include cycles of non-REM and REM sleep.  Non-REM is where deep sleep occurs.  In sleepwalkers the brain is triggered to rouse the body while still in a deep sleep.

The reasons this happens is not fully understood but some of the risk factors and triggers for are known:

Genetics – it tends to run in families

Poor sleep – you’re more likely to sleepwalk if sleep deprived

Stress and anxiety – can be from life changes or other things going on

Other health issues – fevers, asthma, acid reflux, underlying sleep disorders, and other health problems

Psychiatric issues – people with dealing with issues such as depression, neurological disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, or posttraumatic stress disorder have an increased risk

Alcohol – heavy drinking can increase your risk

Medications – Some meds may trigger sleepwalking in patients including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and beta-blockers

Sleepwalking prevention devices

Okay, if you’re thinking about trying out a sleepwalking prevention device, the thing to keep in mind is that they don’t directly treat sleepwalking.

Instead, most work by sounding an alert when someone is out of bed or as a physical barrier to keep them from wandering away.  Your options range from low-tech no-frills remedies to more sophisticated electronics.

As you consider the various options, a couple things to think about:

  • For alerts, who do you want to hear it, the sleepwalker or someone else?
  • Do you prefer a soft or loud alarm?
  • Do you need a quick low fuss setup or are you willing to spend the time needed to fine tune a more sophisticated device?
  • Some may work better for a kid than an adult

Depending on your specific situation, some options may work better for you than others, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

door gate that could be used as a sleepwalking prevention device for kids

1) Simple gate

How it works:  physical barrier

Price range:  $20 – $60

Pros:
– low-tech
– durable
– easy to set up, adjustable

Cons:  may work best for younger kids

Regalo extra wide walk gate

VIDEO:  safety door gate overview

2) Door alarm

How it works:  makes a noise if bedroom door is opened

Price range:  $20 – $30

Pros:  variety of options

Cons:
-will only alert if sleepwalker attempts to open door and leave room
-may be too loud for some depending on the device
-alert may wake up everyone
-door has to be closed or at least partially closed

brass bells that can be hung on the door as a simple sleepwalking prevention device

Simple bells to hang on door

Safeguard wireless door alarm with portable receiver

VIDEO:  Portable door sensor alarm

3) Door safety lock

How it works:  prevents inward swinging exterior or basement door from opening

Price range:  $12 – $25

Pros:  low tech, durable

Cons:
– will not work for bedroom door
– requires install

VIDEO:  Door Guardian safety lock

4) Floor mat alarm

How it works:  alarm triggered when sleepwalker gets out of bed and steps on mat

Price range$90 – $190

Pros:
– easy set-up
– adjustable volume for some models
– remote pager for some models
– can position by bed or door depending on preference
– durable

Cons:
– alert may wake up everyone
– monitor is connected to mat with cord and placed nearby
– battery-operated
– some devices are always on

picture a sleepwalking prevention device with a wireless pager

Secure Caregiver Alert System, remote alarm pager

VIDEO:  wireless/cordless floor mat alarm system

motion detector that can be used as a sleep walking prevention device

5) Motion sensor

How it works:  detects movement and sounds an alert

Price range:  $37 – $70

Pros:
– variety of options
– alarm volume
– adjustable for some
– portable monitors

Cons:
– alert may wake up everyone
– must be carefully placed to prevent false alerts from movement in bed
– battery changes required

VIDEO:  Motion sensor for wandering

man who uses a sleepwalking prevention device talking to a doctor about his triggers

What else can I do beside sleepwalking prevention devices?

Sleepwalking prevention devices can be useful and make for better nights, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you do.

Since we know quite a bit about risk factors and triggers for sleepwalking, it’s important to address them as best you can.

Safety measures

You may need to adjust your living space to prevent an injury.  This can include relocating objects a sleepwalker can trip on or otherwise hurt themselves. 

You may also need to block stairways and doorways with a gate, lock doors and windows, or secure car keys.

Get regular sleep

Since being overtired is a known trigger, it’s important to get adequate sleep every night.  Start with improving your sleep hygiene which is everything you do during the day, evening, and at bedtime that can set the stage for quality sleep.

For better sleep hygiene, you should:
-maintain regular wake up & sleep times
-avoid naps
-avoid stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
-maintain a bedtime routine
-keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool

Learn more

See a sleep specialist

Did you know that an underlying sleep disorder could be causing sleep problems?  A sleep doctor can check for things like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders linked to sleepwalking.

They will also check for other health issues linked to poor sleep and sleepwalking.  This include things like asthma, fevers, heartburn, and heart problems.

Finally, they’ll check for medications linked to poor sleep and sleepwalking.

Learn more

Stress management

There’s lots you can do to help manage stress – lifestyle changes, aerobic exercise, and relaxation exercises.  Getting regular sleep will also help.

Learn more

Anticipatory awakening

This involves waking up someone about 15 minutes before they usually sleepwalk.  The person then stays awake for a few minutes before falling asleep again.

Learn more

Counseling

A mental health professional such as a psychotherapist can help figure out ways to lower stress and anxiety.

Learn more

Meds

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines and anti-depressants.

Avoid alcohol

Since alcohol may trigger sleepwalking, limit your consumption during the day and avoid drinking before bed.  Another reason to avoid alcohol at night is that affect the quality of your sleep.

5 things to remember about sleepwalking prevention devices:

  • Sleepwalkers can put themselves and others at risk
  • Some devices work as a physical barrier
  • Other devices give an alert when someone leaves a bed or room
  • You should get regular sleep
  • You should also avoid other sleepwalking triggers

Sources:

1. “Sleep Walking: Facts, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment”, American Sleep Association website

2. “Preventing Sleepwalking: Scientific Findings to Help Stop a Chronic Sleepwalker”, 2018, Amerisleep website

3. “Do Prescription Sleep Medications Cause Sleepwalking?”, 2015, Psychology Today

4. Medication induced sleepwalking: A systemic review, 2018, Sleep Med Rev 37:105-113.

 

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