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Why do children have nightmares and what you can do about them

First, let us ask this question:

Why is it important to focus on a good sleep?

Good sleep is important because spurts of growth hormones are released in the child’s body. Although these are released throughout the day but they peak especially when the child is sleeping (mostly during deep sleep, but may be released throughout sleep)

You can do nothing if a child has bad dreams except to comfort your child and keep him safe while he is having one.

There are some things that may be useful to consider:

  • Is the baby’s bedding clean? Sometimes bed bugs or bugs in general can be a source of discomfort and pain to the child. We may not realize it; often times we get annoyed by children constantly asking us to come for sleep on our beds, and not wanting to sleep on their own. It is helpful to check the child’s body for any signs of rash/ bite. Changing the bedding and also air drying/ sun drying the mattress just in case maybe a good idea.
  • It is also a good idea to regulate kids’ activity levels. Too much sugar during the day, may cause a sugar rush and imbalanced activity levels. Similarly, maintaining a good sleep routine helps regulate sleep and is something you can test and try. Even if it does not treat night terrors, it is always best to maintain a good sleep hygiene for the growth and well-being of your child, and these habits go a long way.

If all is well, then good!

Do not worry as nightmares are common in children especially children who have a lot of daytime activity. Also, children who have newly joined nursery or school may get nightmares. They may often dream of camels, dinosaurs or other creatures that they learnt about in their school. Any seemingly innocent creature in day time can be a source of scare for children at night. There are two very similar phenomena and it is good to know and be able to differentiate between them- nightmares and sleep terrors. Following are some differences **

A nightmare is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, that awakens you.These are part of parasomnias (undesirable behavior or experience during sleep) and are episodes of intense fear, screaming, flailing while child is sleeping
They usually happen during deep sleep (REM sleep) and are more likely to occur in the second half of the nightThey usually happen in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep), generally occurring during the first third to first half of the night, and rarely during naps
A child having a nightmare can recall having a nightmare when he wakes up in the morningA child who is having night terrors, cannot recall having it when he wakes up in the morning
These are common in children but can happen at any age.They are very common. Affect about 40% of children. If frequent or causing safety concerns, consult a doctor.
Occasional nightmares usually are nothing to worry about.Although they may seem very upsetting, they are not usually a cause of concern. Most children outgrow these by their teenage years.
If nightmares are causing distress, establish good sleep habits, calm the child, talk about the dream comfort the child and use a night light.For a child having sleep terrors, it may be a good idea to wake up the child from sleep to break the cycle. If the pattern is recurring, consider waking up the child some time before the sleep terror episode is expected to occur. This will help to break the cycle.

Sleep-walking is another parasomnia- a disorder of NREM sleep, that needs to be looked out for and that may be related to sleep terrors.

In summary, establishing a good sleep hygiene is very important for the comfort and growth of your child. Restricting TV/ tablets, etc. or other hyperactive stuff right before bedtime; restricting heavy dinner right before bedtime and instead giving an hour or so earlier before bedtime to allow enough time for it to digest; Epsom salt baths (Epsom contains Magnesium that decreases overall aches and pains, and is also a solution for Magnesium deficiency), or a simple bath or shower before bed, toothbrushing daily before sleeping are some simple, easy-to-do measures! It may take you and your child some time to adjust to this routine, but once done, you are sure to see the benefits.


*Reference for growth and sleep

**Reference for nightmares and sleep terrors:




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