By our Smarty friends at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A.
For many children, Halloween is a fun time to play dress-up and scare each other with harmful frights like ghosts and goblins. But for some children those scares can be a bit much, and when they fall asleep they have nightmares. Today we’re going to talk about what causes nightmares and what you can do to help your child if they have scary dreams.
What causes nightmares?
Nightmares are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 6 years old, although children of any age can have them. While the exact cause is not known, their risk can increase if your child isn’t getting enough sleep, doesn’t have a regular sleep routine, or is experiencing stress or anxiety. Children with active imaginations have also been known to get nightmares. So, if your child is experiencing a lot of Halloween excitement – whether it’s from staying out late trick-or-treating or watching scary movies with their friends – they might have more nightmares than normal.
That said, some medical issues – family history, depression, fevers, and some medications, for example – can also cause nightmares.
How do I help my child if they are having nightmares?
If your child has a bad dream, the best thing you can do is go to them right away and comfort them. Reassure them that everything is okay and that their dreams are just dreams.
“One of the best ways to soothe your child is to talk about the dream,” CEENTA Sleep Services Medical Director Fariha Abbasi-Feinberg, MD, said. “Discuss who was in it and what happened, and then remind them that nightmares are not real. Re-imagining a different, happier, or funny ending can be very helpful to decrease the frightening experience.”
In some cases, you may need to take the time to do a relaxing activity before your child goes back to sleep.
Don’t ignore your child or get angry at them, though, because that will likely upset them and cause even more anxiety and fear. It’s also not a good idea to let them sleep with you, because they could start associating nightmares with being in their own beds.
How do I keep my child from having nightmares?
The best way to cut down on nightmares is to cut down on stressors that could be triggering them. For example, try to keep them from watching or reading anything scary. We know this can be tricky at Halloween, but it’s still a good idea to minimize it as much as possible.
Major life events that disrupt a child’s normal routine can also trigger nightmares. For example, if you’ve just moved or they’re starting at a new school, they might be dealing with a lot of extra stress.
Regular, relaxing bedtime routines can also soothe your child and help them feel calm and secure right before they fall asleep. This could include a bath, reading a book, or a pleasant talk about the day and what you plan to do tomorrow.
If your child is having severe nightmares that are causing extreme anxiety or disrupt their sleep, you might want to bring your child to their doctor.
Halloween is supposed to be a fun time for children, and being prepared to deal with nightmares is a good way to make sure it’s something you both look forward to.
To make an appointment with a CEENTA sleep specialist, call 704-295-3000.