Bad dreams: Parents can take steps to minimize the effects of nightmares
Does your child wake up crying or trembling? Do they appear sleepy and “out of it” in the mornings?
Perhaps your child is suffering from nightmares, unpleasant dreams that create intense emotions such as horror, sadness or fear. Usually sufferers of nightmares remember what happened, since bad dreams have a tendency to occur while coming out of sleep.
Because of this, the sleeper may have trouble getting back to sleep and remain plagued by their unpleasant thoughts. Hence, the image of tossing and turning and struggling to fall asleep are all true perceptions.
“Children may develop nightmares as early as the age of 18 months,” said Dr. Subbu Sonal, a pediatrician at the Yuma Children’s Clinic. “Interestingly, nightmares have a tendency to begin when our imagination starts to kick in. Really imaginative or ‘active’ children may have more powerful nightmares or begin them even sooner. I’ve seen children as young as one with nightmare issues.”
Although nightmares in and of themselves aren’t dangerous, they can lead to problems later on. Schoolwork or relationships with friends and family members may suffer if a nightmare-prone child isn’t sleeping enough.
Nightmares can affect any child, although “very active children, particularly those active at night, have a tendency to be more prone to nightmares,” said Sonal.
“In addition, it’s important to make sure the child isn’t suffering from abuse of some kind. Nightmares can be a result of those types of behaviors in the home or elsewhere,” he added.
“Ideally, we want our brains to calm down at night. Try to encourage soothing behaviors in children. Take a bath, read a story, but most importantly, turn off the television. The result of most nightmares is too much television, video games and other electronic stimuli. Give it a rest. Have a no-television rule a few hours before bedtime.”
To those who do suffer, there is some good news. Nightmares usually ebb around the age of 10. While nightmares are unpleasant, they probably won’t hurt the child who experiences them.
Should you seek a doctor for your child’s nightmares?
“Only if they are reoccurring to the point where your life is being affected,” said Sonal. “Then yes, seek help. It is not an uncommon problem and your pediatrician should be able to give you some advice.”