sleep walking and night terrors

sleep walking and night terrors

Sleep walking and night terrors are common features of childhood. A recent study not only points to a link between the two parasomnias, but also provides evidence for a familial link.


Reported this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, are the results of a study assessing the link between sleep walking and night terrors. The study found that the occurrence of sleep terrors peaked in children aged 1.5 years, while the occurrence of sleep walking peaked in children aged 10. It was reported that over 50% of children between the ages of 1.5 and 13 years experienced sleep terrors, while almost 30% of children between 2.5 and 13 years of age had experienced sleep walking. Interestingly, children who experienced sleep terrors were almost twice as likely to go on to experience sleep walking. In light of these results, the authors suggest that sleep walking and sleep terrors may be different manifestations with the same underlying cause.

The study reported an increase in the occurrence of sleep walking in children whose parents also experienced sleep walking. Children who had one parent with a history of sleep walking were three times more likely to be sleep walkers. However, if both parents has a history of sleep walking, the children were seven times more likely to experience sleep walking. This familial history was also found to predict the occurrence of sleep terrors in children.

Overall the results of the study not only link the occurrence of sleep terrors and sleep walking, but demonstrate a strong familial association for these two parasomnias.



Petit, D, Pennestri, M-H, Paquet, J, Desautels, A, Zadra, A, Vitaro, F, Tremblay, RE, Boivin, M, Montplaisir, J. “Childhood Sleepwalking and Sleep Terrors: A Longitudinal Study of Prevalence and Familial Aggregation” JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(7):653-658. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.127

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at




Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD


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