Children that have Nightmares
Nightmares are natural psychological phenomena that occur in most people. Its frequency increases in the children with ages from 5 to 8 years, as the child’s imagination is very active during this period. They are dreams about frightening events or scary people or objects that stimulate the fear center of the brain during sleep. They may wake the child up with fear, or the child might just mumble in their sleep, trying to fight it off.
Timing of Nightmares
There are two types of sleep patterns i.e. the rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). Both of them repeat at the interval of 90-100 minutes in an acyclic manner during sleep. During REM sleep, when the dreams are more common, nightmares occur frequently.
Causes of Nightmares
If a child wakes up in the middle of the night, scared and even crying at times, there’s a possibility that they have had a nightmare.
The exact reasons behind nightmares are unknown. However, a number of physiological, environmental and social factors have been found to be responsible for them. Following are some common observances:
- During the age of 5-8 years, the child is grasping the concept of the perils of real life; hence it’s possible that their learning will result in a nightmare during sleep.
- A scary story or a TV show that has some gruesome images in it, which might not even be frightening by an adult’s standards, may be so for a child, and it can transform into a nightmare.
- Mental status before going to bed. Excitement and anxiousness can cause bad dreams.
- Restlessness, sleep deficiency, and distressed brains generate nightmares.
- Events occurring in a child’s life like a change in school, parents’ divorce and a death in the family can also cause stress which converts into nightmares.
- Environmental factors such as; darkness, noise, uncomfortable bed and non-availability of fresh air can also be a reason for nightmares in children.
Effect of Diet on Nightmares
Studies conducted on volunteering individuals who claimed that a specific diet induced nightmares during sleep depicted that 17.8% of them showed positive results. Different kinds of foods cause different sorts of nightmares.
Most of the disturbing and bizarre dreams are caused due to the ingestion of dairy products, including ice-cream, cheese and even milk before going to bed. Spicy food items come second. They cause the most disturbing dreams after dairy products. Foods with high levels of carbohydrate can also induce bad dreams in children. Also, some of the subjects claimed that eating late at night in general can be a reason of nightmares as well.
So dietary habits it could be a possible factor for having them.
Helping a Child who is Having Nightmares
When the child comes to you, crying or scared after a nightmare, it is important to give them your complete, undivided attention. Go to their aid at once, while keeping your own levelheadedness in check, because you need to be calm first in order to bring ease to your child.
Next, comfort them in the way which soothes them the most. Physical reassurance, like cuddling together, helps. Make them at ease and wait for them to recover from the frightened state. Ask them if they want to share the dream or not, and don’t push it out of them. Some children are too scared to recall it. Listen to it if they tell you and reassure them that it was just a simple dream and nothing else. You could also show the child that there are no monsters or scary beings under their bed or behind the closed closet doors. It further reassures them.
When the child is in a perfectly healthy state of mind, return them to their beds. This is very important, as it helps in building up their confidence and decreases their dependence on parents or care taking adults.
Judging by the state of mind of the child, you might also need to take a specialist’s advice. If the child is stressed over the nightmare during the day as well, scared to go to bed altogether, or if the nightmare is persistent for several nights, it could be a sign of an emotional issue that requires attention, so consult a mental health specialist in this case.
No matter what choice you make, the satisfaction of the child and their peaceful mental state should be your first priority, which demands your immediate attention to begin with.
Nightmares can be prevented by taking simple measures. First and foremost, make sure your child gets enough sleep. A relaxing proper sleeping schedule helps minimizing bad dreams.
You could also tell them a soothing cheerful bedtime story or sing a song like a lullaby that relaxes them right before they go to bed. Some children feel more confident if they have a sense of control. For this purpose, you can use several techniques to make them believe that you’re providing them with monster preventing devices, such as:
- Rub a bit of lotion or skin cream over their belly or forehead and tell them that it’s a happy dream cream.
- Make a vanilla scented room spray, and spritz the contents at night before tucking the child to sleep; making them believe it’s a monster repellent spray.
- Make a charm or bracelet that the child could wear before they sleep to remind them that it’ll keep them safe.
- A stuffed animal or a soft small pillow tucked in with the child also helps in this regard.
Nightmares are a common occurrence that, if not dealt with right away, can become a hindrance later on in life. This is particularly important for children as their minds are still developing. It’s not that rare of an event in one’s life but if left unchecked, it could develop into something more worrisome such as a phobia. Hence, it’s of utmost importance for parents and adults who have young children under their supervision, to make sure that they give proper attention to every issue of a child, including nightmares.
© Teresa Boardman, Nanny Options.
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