26 Apr Is Your Child Having Nightmares?
Nightmares are no fun for anyone. A lot of children experience nightmares, and most will eventually grow out of them. But what can you do about them in the meantime? Well, it depends on whether your child is experiencing nightmares or night terrors. Let’s talk through the differences and how you can help your child in each instance.
Between 80–90% of people experience nightmares at some point in their lives. Nightmares can start in children as young as three years old. They can happen because children are stressed or overtired, but most have no underlying reason or trigger. Nightmares occur during REM sleep when dreaming is most vivid, which is why nightmares seem so realistic and can continue to frighten a child even after they wake up.
What to Do
Get to your child as soon as you can. Console them and help them calm down, maybe by reading to them or singing to them briefly. Electronics (like TVs and cell phones) aren’t the best idea because they’ll stimulate your child instead of calming them. If they want to tell you about the scary dream, let them do so and reassure them that it wasn’t real. If they don’t want to talk about it right then, save that talk until the morning when it’s light outside. If they have anything in their room that’s contributing to their fear (like shadows), do your best to fix or remove those things. Sometimes you may want to sit with your child as they fall back asleep, but try not to do this too often, or else your child might become dependent on your presence to fall asleep.
These are much less common than nightmares; about 3% of children between 4–12 years old experience them. Most children who experience them will grow out of them eventually, usually by adolescence. Night terrors occur in the first few hours after the child goes to bed, before REM sleep starts. With night terrors, the child might look awake (they may open their eyes or sit up), but they are not actually awake. In fact, it is difficult wake a child having a night terror. The good news is that the child probably won’t remember anything about it the next morning.
What to Do
Do not try to wake or console your child—as much as we wish it would help, it won’t. Instead, make sure that your child can’t hurt themselves by bumping into something or knocking something over. If they try to get out of bed, gently help them to remain in bed. Remember that night terrors are usually worse for the parents who are watching their child having a night terror. Although it’s scary for the child in that moment, they won’t remember it the next day.
For more information on the web, visit healthychildren.org. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding your child, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.