Nightmares can begin around the age of 2 to 3, but it is 5 to 10 years that they become more frequent. They usually occur at the end of the night, during the phase of REM sleep. The child suddenly wakes up with a feeling of anxiety. Generally, there is no need to worry about dreams and nightmares are part of the psychological development of the child.
The causes of nightmares
The exact cause of a nightmare can be difficult to identify. In fact, there are several possible reasons:
- The child faced different fears and insecurities during the day, such as fear of the unknown, change or learning difficulty. It can also be information collected during the day and that he does not understand. These concerns can reappear in different forms at night in his dreams;
- The child may live in internal conflicts. Dreams, good and bad, help him to face the world of the great;
- He may experience stress because of a change: a move, separation, adaptation to school or a new teacher, the arrival of a younger brother or sister, etc.
- A milestone event may have occurred near him or he may have been impressed by images seen on television or in a book. Always carefully choose the stories you tell him at night and watch what he’s watching and listening on TV or the web.
If the child has a nightmare
- Stay a few minutes with him to reassure him.
- Ask him to tell you his bad dream. Help him find a positive end (where he will triumph over the monster, for example).
- Give him his doggie or favorite toy or give him soft music as needed to help him return to more positive feelings.
- Leave the door ajar and remind him that you are close. Avoid letting him sleep in your room. He must learn that he does not have to be afraid in his bed, that his room is a safe place.
- Do not make fun of his fears. They are real. Try to find out if something is disturbing him at school or at home.
Drawing to chase bad dreams
During the day, if the child mentions his nightmares, encourage him to express them by drawing Help him find an imaginary solution or invent an end that pleases him for every bad dream. When done several times, changing the nightmare by drawing would help to reduce bad dreams in children ages 6 to 11 who make one or more a week.
To encourage a peaceful sleep
You can take some precautions to reduce your child’s nightmares or intensity.
- Prepare with your child a soothing routine before bedtime and get used to bedtime at regular times.
- Let your child sleep with his favorite toy and a night light as needed.
- Avoid violent movies or monster stories before going to bed.
- Before bedtime, talk to your child about positive things.
- Some children prefer to fall asleep with a background noise, but avoid loud and loud noises.
If nightmares persist
Nightmares are normal; they are part of the child’s development. However, if they are too frequent, very intense, or if they last several weeks or months, it is better to consult a doctor. Also, consult a healthcare professional if your child is still tired after a night’s sleep and this problem persists.
The night terrors
When the child starts screaming, crying, and seems panicked at the beginning of the night (in the first 3 hours of sleep), it is probably a night terror and not a nightmare. The child’s eyes are wide open, but he is still sleeping. Like sleepwalking, a night terror is the result of a partial awakening: one part of the brain is awake and the other is still sleeping deeply.
During an episode of night terror, the child is inconsolable. If you try to intervene, touch it, take it in your arms, this only prolongs the current episode. Do not try to wake him either. The episode will cease on its own after 30 seconds to 1 minute. Night terrors occur mostly in infancy and affect about 10% of children aged 5 to 8 years. They are more common when the child is tired, lacks sleep or is jet lagged. However, if night terrors persist, are too frequent, or if there is a danger of the child getting injured during these events, it may be advisable to consult a sleep specialist.