“Sleepwalking teen walks 9 miles” made headlines on November 3, 2015, after a 19-year-old was found safe after disappearing from her Denver, Colorado home at night. It turns out the teen, who was known to walk in her sleep, had apparently sleepwalked for hours — something she didn’t remember after she woke up in her pajamas and socks 9 miles away from her home. It was an occurrence that sleepwalking experts said is highly unusual but not impossible. The triggers, one sleep expert said, include sleep deprivation and stress.

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The news triggered a memory of a night some years back in Oakland, California, when my friends’ 12-year-old son shuffled out of his room at midnight, a towel hanging over his arm and a glassy, dazed look in his eyes. He noticed me and paused for a moment. “We have to get to the airport,” he whispered urgently. “The plane’s about to take off!”

He had sleepwalked before and I wondered if his subconscious was dealing with the trauma of the Oakland firestorm just days earlier, when our neighborhood had prepared to evacuate. I was reluctant to wake him up for fear of scaring him, but he was heading toward the door. I tried to think fast. “Ben, you know what?” I said. “The flight was canceled.” He turned around. “Oh, huh, okay,” he said, sounding relieved, and shuffled back to his bed.

Almost 17 percent of children sleepwalk at some point (it's more like 4 percent of adults), according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleepwalking and sleep-eating — part of a group of disruptive sleep behaviors known as parasomnias — originate during deep sleep. Sleepwalkers have been known to walk, climb out windows and even drive, but since they’re in a deep sleep, they are hard to awaken and rarely remember the episode.

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If you have a child or teen who sleepwalks, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has these tips.

  • Try not to wake your child if he’s sleepwalking because this might frighten him. Guide him or her back to bed instead.
  • Lock tall the windows and doors in your home in case your youngster decides to leave the house Consider extra locks. If your child is old enough to drive, keep the car keys out of reach.
  • Don't let your sleepwalker sleep in a bunk bed.
  • Remove any sharp or breakable objects from the vicinity of your child's bed.
  • Keep dangerous objects out of reach.
  • Remove clutter from the floor throughout the house to prevent a fall.
  • If your child is young, install safety gates outside his or her room and at the top of any stairs.

The AAP and the National Sleep Foundation suggest establishing a relaxing bedtime routine for your child or teen (and yourself, if you sleepwalk). Sleepwalkers should avoid drinking too many liquids before bed, since a full bladder is linked to sleepwalking. Adults should also avoid alcohol as well as certain medications if they seem to trigger an episode.

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Diana is an award-winning writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience in magazine, video, book and digital journalism, with a specialty in health coverage. She was a longtime writer and news editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting; has written for publications from the Washington Post to the Times of London syndicate; and has served as a senior and/or consulting editor at Time Inc. Health, Hippocrates, HealthDay News Service and Reporting on Health. She was also editor in chief of Consumer Health Interactive, a national health and medical web site, and has reported on finance for Blueshift Research and PBS Frontline. Before joining SafeBee, she was editor of Bioenergy Connection, a national magazine about bioenergy at UC Berkeley. Her favorite safety tip: Wear a bike helmet.