Lessons in how to completely freak out a sleeping parent

by Rhaea Miller /

Two of my three children walk in their sleep.

Ruby goes to sleep and wakes up in the morning without a single incident. She doesn’t talk or walk, and rarely moves. She sleeps so well, in fact, that every time she has had a stomach bug, we have had to wake her to let her know she has yorked all over herself. She’s a real delight.

Avery and Rita are not delights.

When small, Avery would talk in his sleep. Usually gibberish, but occasionally a hilarious conversation between him and whoever occupied his dreams.

This went on for several years. When he was 5 or 6, the walking started. There was a significant pattern to his sleep walking and we could count the number of minutes from the time he fell asleep to the time the walking would start. We would stay up and wait it out so that we would not be jarred awake by something crazy. He enjoyed made up foreign languages, dancing, and screaming, as did we.

Ultimately we figured out he was getting too hot. I have a friend who told me that she had nightmare pants. She swore that she had one pair of pajamas pants that would give her horrible nightmares. After some research, we learned that being overheated can cause nightmares and sleepwalking. Ta-da! We made him sleep in lighter clothes and blankets and the sleep walking ended.

Until one chilly evening when he put himself to bed bundled up. At 1:00am, we wakened to the sound of our home security system screeching. We rushed out of our room, Lee karate chopping the air in ninja mode, to find a startled Avery in the living room. At first, we thought the alarm woke him too. But after a series of questions, and my careful detective skills, we determine he had tried to leave the house. The alarm HAD startled him awake, but only because he was standing right next to the open door when it started.

This was scary and an eye opener. Thank goodness for that alarm. We became careful with setting it and the story became a single incident.sleepwalking

Until this past weekend.

Rita has always had trouble falling asleep, and once asleep has been known to wake the house screaming or crying in a ‘something must be crawling all over her’ kind of way.

Nearly every night she wanders downstairs exactly 15 seconds after she has been tucked in to tell us she can’t sleep. Unfortunately, I did this exact same thing until I was very old… probably close to 12. My dad used to tell me to stand and stare at the wall. This was dumb, so I would just go back to bed. Rita has a something she calls ‘the five minute thing’ where I send her back to bed and tell her to close her eyes and not talk and I will let her know when she can talk after 5 minutes. I have never notified her that 5 minutes are up. She asks to do the five minute thing every night and this is our routine.

This past weekend we were at our lake cottage and we had done the five minute thing. All is lovely, the house is quiet, and we all fall asleep.

Keep in mind that our house at the lake is on a small island surrounded by the lake and a channel. Water everywhere. And it is dark. There are no street lights, and unless other cottages have lights on, you are stuck with the light of the moon.

At 1:00am — apparently the witching hour — I groggily think I hear someone walking around the house. No one comes to tell me they are awake – because don’t you know that mom must be notified whenever someone is awake – and just as I am drifting back off to sleep I hear the front door open and close.

I fly out of bed, run through the girls’ room to see Rita’s empty bed, and down into the family room where Avery is sleeping. Rita isn’t there, so I run outside and start whisper-yelling Rita’s name. She is nowhere to be seen. As I stand barefoot in my pajamas in the yard I hear her crying. I find her across the gravel driveway at the neighbor’s back door, around the same time that the neighbor had come to investigate the crying. We shuffle Rita back to the house, she goes to the bathroom, my husband opens his eyes long enough to say ‘What? Huh? What’s going on?’ and everyone goes back to bed, except for me who is more than rattled over the possibilities of a child wandering around a water logged island in the middle of the night.

The next day I install bells on every door in the house, as apparently a locked door isn’t enough to keep my 8-year-old inside.

She doesn’t remember a thing and is mad about the bells. I tell her they are for the dog.

All I can say is thank goodness for Ruby and her sleep vomit. While disgusting, that’s much less scary.

Have you ever dealt with a sleep walking child?


Rhaea is a graduate of the University of Toledo with degrees in Broadcasting and English. She tampered with a variety of careers with fancy titles – including Network Production Coordinator for ESPN, Academic Assistant at the Yale University School of Medicine, and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator – before settling on her no-fancy-title-needed life calling of stay-at-home Mom. Although her children would be shocked to realize she has other things to keep her busy, she is also a Sunday school teacher, a Judge-Referee for the US Rowing Association, on the board of Community in Schools of the Tecumseh Area, and teaching assistant and former President of Little Indian Preschool in Tecumseh. After living in Connecticut for many years, she has spent the last 6 years in Tecumseh with her husband Lee, son Avery – age 10, and daughters Ruby and Rita – ages 8 and 6. She firmly believes that raising children can either make you laugh or cry, so take the bull by the horns and make it all good and funny.

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One thought on “Lessons in how to completely freak out a sleeping parent

  1. Boy, you said parenting will make you laugh or cry and I’ll add scare you….we also have had experiences with sleepwalking in our home. Three of our sons have been known to do this, two of them were scary enough just walking around in our home, but our youngest ( age 15 at the time) would go for walks around the neighborhood, in his sleep. He normally does walk around the area in the daytime after school, but added in an extra one without our knowledge at first. Of course, once we realized what was happening ( long story ) we did change some things, we added more alarms and we changed his routine up a bit. That seemed to do the trick for us. Talk about scary though! I don’t know if this is true or not but I’ve heard sleepwalking is from the fathers side of the family, my husband had brothers that were known sleepwalkers. I hadn’t heard of being too hot while sleeping, having anything to do with it, but it is hard for some people to sleep while they are really warm or just plain hot. So it certainly would be worth looking into if someone you love is a sleepwalker. You are an amusing writer, I really enjoy reading your columns. Wishing us all peaceful nights of sleep where our children stay safely in their beds. Toodles, Barbi

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