Nightmares occur frequently in young children. Around 25 percent of young children get nightmares more than once in a week. It can occur in children with very active imaginations, and in children who are sick. Children may also have nightmares if there have been recent accidents, injuries or other traumatic incidents at home. Even the common stresses at home or in school, can trigger nightmares in younger children. Certain medications like antidepressants, barbiturates and narcotics may also cause nightmares.
Most nightmares usually occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep , which is usually between four and six o’clock in the morning. Sometimes a nightmare may repeat itself on different instances. Nightmares are frightening for children, and they may resist falling asleep if they are afraid.
Children may perceive nightmares as real, and it is essential for parents to help children to make them feel secured. A child would usually share details regarding his nightmare. Thus parents should try to probe further, and help the child perceive nightmares as unreal. You can also be creative by editing your child’s nightmare through a story, and turning it into something pleasant and non-threatening.
Since children who are stressed out are prone to having nightmares, parents should try to examine what may be bothering the child. Young children may still not handle stress properly, and parents need to do their part in helping the child cope with the stressors. Provide support and comfort the child, in order to make him feel secured.
A child who is often bothered by nightmares, may no longer want to sleep alone. It is essential that parents try to be very supportive during this time. Sometimes it can help if you ensure that your child has his security object, in order to make him feel safe. A night light can also be reassuring, in case your child wakes up in the middle of the night. Opening your child’s bedroom door as well as the door to your room, can also give reassurance to a frightened child. Your child may be comforted at the thought that he can go to you freely in case he is terrified. Parents should also avoid giving a child snacks before bedtime. Eating before bedtime can boost metabolism and brain activity, which may lead to nightmares.
Although nightmares are common, parents need to ensure a child’s safety under these circumstances. Ensure that safety gates are in place on top of stairs. Children who wake up in the middle of the night may still be groggy, and parents need to address safety issues accordingly.
Medical consultation due to nightmares is very rare, but parents need to seek medical advice if a child’s nightmares disrupt his sleep patterns. Likewise, it is also necessary to report any signs and symptoms, which accompany your child’s nightmares. Medications are rarely used for the treatment of nightmares, and it is usually given to suppress REM sleep. Although nightmares are unreal, it can be really frightening for a child. Parents just need to keep in mind that children need all the support that they get during this trying time.