Partial Arousals From Sleep: Is My Child Awake or Asleep?
Has your child ever woken up at night and you don’t know whether they are awake or asleep? They may appear awake, but they are doing strange things like talking nonsensical, walking or thrashing around. Your immediate reaction is to go to them, try to calm them down, or lead them back to bed which may or may not help. What your child is experiencing is a partial arousal from sleep.
Partial arousals, where you body is in an overlap state of awake and asleep, occur during a partial awakening from deep non-REM sleep. Your child will be showing signs of being asleep, but they will also be showing signs of being awake. They may be talking, walking, or throwing their arms around, but they don’t recognize you or acknowledge your presence.
Partial arousals tend to be more severe and more prolonged for children who are overtired and not getting adequate sleep. You may notice that these partial arousals are more prominent after the holidays or a special occasion. You can help your child become better rested by giving them an earlier bedtime, and a consistent daytime schedule. A consistent schedule will help their biological clocks regulate, which will help them take good naps. They will fall asleep more easily and their sleep with be more restful and restorative, helping them be better rested overall.
If you child experiences a partial arousal and they seem half awake and half asleep, the best thing you
can do is watch them to make sure they are safe, and don’t try to wake them or interfere. Touching them or trying to wake them can often prolong the episode. Also, try avoid talking to them about the event the following day because they often won’t remember the partial arousal and discussing it could scare and confuse them.
Partial arousals are most likely to occur in children 4 to 12 years old, with most outgrowing them by adolescence. They are completely normal, harmless, and are not linked to a psychological issue or traumatic event. They most often occur because of overtiredness or change in routine, so ensure your child is getting adequate sleep and has a consistent appropriate schedule.
Jenn Kelner is a mother of 3 children (including twins!) and a Certified Child Sleep Consultant at BabyZzz. She helps tired families with infants, babies and toddlers become well rested families through customized sleep solutions and support. She offers various services including home, phone/Skype and overnight consultations.