How to Protect a Sleepwalking Child When You Travel
It was every parent’s worst nightmare. I didn’t even know I had to be worried though. A sleepwalking child seemed like a habit that should have surfaced several times at home by this point. And yet, at midnight, while in a hotel in the middle of West Virginia, I was awakened by a pounding at the door.
A Mother’s Nightmare
“Ma’am, do you have a son?” asked the hotel security guard.
“Yes, I have two,” I responded in my tired and confused haze.
“Well, we have one of them downstairs,” he replied.
I looked around dumbfounded. We were in a large corner room at the Embassy Suites. You know, the kind where the front door is all the way on one side of the living room and the bedroom is way on the other side. You can’t hear a thing in your bed.
I never heard my son leave. How could he get up and just walk out of our room without me noticing? What kind of mother was I?
Confusion about Sleepwalking in Children
As I threw on flip-flops and a sweatshirt, I checked on my youngest who was still sound asleep in his bed. I grabbed a room key and checked the main door to the suite. I knew I had bolted and latched our hotel room door, just like I did every night. It was a standard safety precaution that was embedded into my subconscious. How did my sleepwalking son get past that? I would worry about it later. Right now, I needed to get to my kid.
I ran to the elevator, peering over the side of the hallway to the lobby where I could see my son wrapped in a sheet, chatting with a woman. How had he gotten down there? Who was this woman?! All questions that soon would be answered.
The doors to the elevator opened and I rushed out to my son, scooped him up and smothered him in hugs and kisses. He was so worried. I reassured him that he was not in trouble (apparently this was weighing on his mind), and that I was so glad he was OK. I just needed to know what the heck was going on.
Children Sleepwalking Out of Hotel Rooms
My child had been sleepwalking at midnight in a strange hotel… full of strangers.
The woman next to my son explained that she had seen him in the elevator. He had gotten off on her floor and walked over to a door. She thought it was odd, but assumed he was going back to his room. After she grabbed something from her room she was headed back to the elevator, when saw my son talking to a man. The man was obviously confused and very much not my son’s father. She walked over and told my son that she was going to bring him to the front desk so they could call his mom. She was a grandmother. Her instincts were telling her something just wasn’t right.
The Reality of My Son Sleepwalking
My sleepwalking son would later tell me that he woke up on the elevator. He got off thinking he was on the correct floor, walked to what he thought was our room and knocked on the door. The man who answered was not his dad, but he did try to call me. Thankfully, I have drilled my cell phone number into my sons’ heads since they were three years old. I never heard my phone ring, but I later found a message from this very nice, very confused gentleman.
I got my son, who was just about to turn eight years old at the time, back into bed. Naturally, I wasn’t going back to bed anytime soon. My adrenaline was on overdrive. I immediately called his father, who was not traveling with us, and freaked out. Everything could have gone wrong that night. My son could have gone sleepwalking out of the hotel. Someone could have snatched him. That man who answered the door could have been unkind and enjoyed little boys in the wrong way. I thank God every day that my son stayed safe and had people looking out for him that night.
Our Happy Ending Might Not Have Happened
Thankfully, everything went right. For the next 24-hours I would hear about how this hotel essentially went on lockdown until I was located. Other hotel guests would see us in the elevator and lobby. Many came up to check on my son to make sure he was OK, because they had seen him that night. Two conventions were being held at the hotel. One man even told me he called his wife, who was a pediatrician, to let her know he was staying downstairs to make sure my son was OK and that she wasn’t needed (she was with his children upstairs).
My son was safe, and he would be OK. But, how did my sleepwalking son get out of our hotel room in the first place?
Common Sleepwalking Triggers
According to a little Internet research that night, sleepwalking children are fairly common, especially between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. There are several factors that can trigger sleepwalking in children, also known as somnambulism, including:
- Lack of sleep
- Irregular sleep schedule
- Certain medications
- A Full Bladder
While we were traveling, both of my sons were definitely off of their usual sleep schedule. They were also not getting their normal amount of sleep each night.
How Did a Child Sleepwalk out of a Hotel Room?
I chatted with another friend who also has a sleepwalking child. When I asked how she keeps her daughter safely in her hotel room, she said she simply bolts and latches the door. I told her my son unlatched and unbolted the door to get out. We were both amazed.
For the remainder of our trip, I grabbed a rubber stopper for the main door to our suite. I also built a furniture obstacle course every night. It wasn’t the safest option, since it was probably a fire hazard, but it was all I could think to do in a pinch. My family needed to stay safe.
How to prevent your child from sleepwalking out of a hotel room
- Alert the hotel staff that your child is or may be a sleepwalker.
- Don’t let your kids drink a lot before bedtime.
- Get your child up to use the bathroom. My kids go to bed earlier than I do. Before I go to sleep, I get both of my boys up to go to the bathroom. This also causes a disruption in the sleep cycle, which can help prevent sleepwalking as well.
- Avoid caffeine near bedtime.
- Don’t push your kids to exhaustion. This is a huge trigger for sleepwalking. Make sure you get downtime when you travel.
- Invest in a simple rubber stopper, like this one. It packs up small and can be a great security for break ins and break outs in your hotel room.
- Hotel Door Alarms: There are portable door alarms on the market, like this one, if you need a little more peace of mind, and a lot of noise to alert you when the door is opened.