Nurturing Sleep

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Do Babies have nightmares?

Posted on May 4, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Nightmares are frightening dreams that wake children up. We don’t know exactly when little ones start to experience nightmares because until they have the language ability to communicate their fears and experiences we can’t be sure if their reason for waking is a frightening dream. However, there are specific characteristics associated with nightmares – so here is what we do know.

During the second part of the night there is more REM – or dreaming – sleep, so this is when nightmares mostly occur. Nightmares are common in healthy, happy children and are considered normal reactions to the experiences of growing up. The occurrence of nightmares is linked to a child’s growth and development of imagination, curiosity and understanding. In early childhood for example, children don’t always understand the difference between what is real and what is imaginary, and they begin to understand that there are things that can hurt them. So this is why nightmares are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 6 years, however younger children can experience them, and of course older children and even adults experience nightmares.

After experiencing a nightmare a child will wake, and although anxious she can be comforted and reassured by your presence and her familiar surroundings. Usually children remember their dream vividly and will explain the content of the bad dream clearly. Often the dream’s theme or content is related to the child’s age and/or experiences. The theme for young children’s nightmares for example maybe associated with images such as monsters or very large animals; older children may describe events of a TV programme, film or something seen on television, or new experiences like moving house. Why nightmares occur is a mystery; often they occur spontaneously, however there are known factors that may trigger them such as anxiety, stress, illness, and even sleep deprivation.

Providing comfort and reassurance to a child who has had a nightmare is important, as well as staying with them until they are feeling relaxed and safe to sleep again or if necessary, staying until they are asleep. In most cases nightmares are harmless and on the whole become less frequent as a child grows older. However, if your child experiences major episodes, becomes overly disturbed by her experiences, and/or her daily life becomes disturbed by them then it’s advisable to seek medical help and advice.


Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to inform and not for medical diagnoses or treatment. Please contact a health care professional if you have concerns about your child’s health.



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