What Causes Nightmares?

Don’t you just hate it when your good night sleep is disturbed by a terrifying nightmare? Whether it’s the Boogeyman chasing after you, arriving at a planet with no food or water, or losing your job and everything you have, nightmares can be a terrible experience.

Although you’re relieved that none of these things is real, you certainly wish you don’t have nightmares that ruin your sleep. But do you know that it’s even more difficult with children? Nightmares are common in children especially preschoolers ages 3 to 6 years old. This is the time when the imagination is extremely active and normal fears begin to develop. Half of children in this age group have frightening nightmares that disrupt their sleep as well as that of their parents.

Children’s nightmares can be anything from scary monsters, ghosts, weird animals or bad people. These can also be about scary situations where they or someone close to them are put under threat. Night terrors are different from nightmares. The former are like nightmares but are accompanied by cries and movements. It’s more difficult to wake up a child having night terrors and often, the child does not remember what the dream was about.

No one knows what causes nightmares. Some say it’s exhaustion. Others point to poor quality sleep or irregular sleep routine. Stress and anxiety are also common culprits. For some children, it’s a coping mechanism for a change in their lives such as going to a new school, home relocation, or the parent’s divorce or remarriage.

There may also be a genetic factor in this since about 7 percent of children who have nightmares have parents or siblings who have had the same problem. Having nightmares is also common in children who are depressed, mentally retarded, or have diseases that affect the brain. The occurrence of nightmare is also sometimes linked to fevers. When a child has high fever, he/she is more prone to having bad dreams. Finally, it can also be brought about by a traumatic experience. When some children undergo trauma, they have nightmares that can signal a post-traumatic stress disorder.

The only treatment you can give your child after having a nightmare is comforting him/her. Talk to your child in a relaxed tone. It won’t be necessary to turn on the lights. Lights on would signal the melatonin in your child’s brain that it’s already morning and that would make it even more difficult for him/her to go back to sleep. Instead, comfort and reassure your kid that you’re sleeping nearby.

Encourage your child to find a funny or happy ending to the scary dream. This will help your child realize that he can control his/her dream. It would make him/her feel safer. Even though there’s no guarantee that you can prevent a nightmare from happening again, it would help a lot to let your child relax an hour before bedtime. This is why, it’s not a good idea to allow your kid to watch TV or play video games before going to bed. Instead, spend time with your child, telling him/her a nice story or letting your little one listen to soothing music before dozing off. These things would help keep nightmares at bay.

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