Nightmares are a stressful and traumatizing ordeal for kids, and sometimes as a parent you feel helpless, but here is some insight into what causes nightmares and how to deal with them when they happen. The first thing you have to remember is that the nightmare will seem very real for a child. Never underestimate how scared they are and comfort them first and foremost.
How Nightmares are Caused
When we sleep, we all go through various stages of sleep. Our brains never switch off and alternate throughout the night between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. This occurs every 90 minutes or so, but as the night progresses the REM phase lasts for longer. The REM phase is when our brains are the most active and is normally when we dream – or have nightmares. You will find that most people have nightmares during the early hours of the morning when the longest phase of REM sleep occurs.
Stress is the most common cause of nightmares. The things that we face during the day are all released when we are sleeping and manifest in nightmares. For children, this could be stress felt at school, at home, at sports, or during any disruption in their life such as moving or the death of a loved one.
Nightmares can also be caused by reading scary stories or watching scary movies just before bed.
Some medications cause nightmares, so make sure you tell your doctor if you notice your child has more frequent nightmares since being on a certain medication.
An illness can also cause nightmares, especially if your child has a high fever.
How to Prevent Nightmares
Correct sleeping methods are the best thing to prevent nightmares and child health experts recommend you take the following steps:
1) Make sure that your kids go to bed at the same time every night and shorten their day time naps if they still have them. Developing a good routine is important.
2) Let them sleep with their favourite stuffed toy, or a few of them if it makes them feel secure.
3) Use a nightlight so that they don’t get scared if they wake up in the dark.
4) Leave their door open a crack so that they are more secure in knowing that you are close by.
It is also important to find out where the source of the stress is coming from, if you notice that nightmares are occurring on a regular basis. If you have ruled out poor sleeping habits, then there might be something or someone at school bothering your child. Speak to them about school and ask them if there’s anything they don’t like, or if they are finding something too difficult. It could be a bully, or it might be that they are frustrated with learning to read.
Eliminate stress at home as much as possible and don’t let them run around or exercise too much before bed.
What Can You Do When Your Child Wakes From a Nightmare?
It’s really tough for some parents seeing their child so frightened, but the best thing to do is calm and reassure them. Keep on telling them that it was just a bad dream and that everything is fine. If they think that there are monsters under the bed or in the closet, you can check for them, and even pretend to spray something under the bed that monsters don’t like that will keep them away. You could also make up a little song that they can sing to keeps monsters away, and in no time they should be back to sleep.