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What Causes Nightmares?
Plain and simple, a nightmare is dream that is scary enough to wake up your child. Nightmares may have scary themes such as fear of injury or loss of control. They can also include frightening images such as animals, ghosts, monsters or bad people. They are most likely to occur very late at night or early in morning, during the dreaming stage of sleep.
Exactly what causes nightmares is not always known, however, they can often be tied to a stressful emotional or physical event, such as moving, starting school, violent tv shows, potty training or a divorce. Nightmares can be a symptom pf post-traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes not getting enough sleep or not having a regular bedtime routine may cause nightmares. If your child becomes sick, the fever and some medications may cause nightmares.
In addition, psychological and genetic factors can lead to nightmares. Studies have shown that 7% of children who have nightmares also have a brother, sister or parent that has nightmares. Nightmares are also more common in children that have depression, mental retardation or certain diseases that affect the brain.
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Treating Nightmares in Children
You may not always be able to tell when your child is having a bad dream because nightmares do not necessarily cause your child to cry out or move around. However, when they wake up, your child will probably be scared and remember what the dream was about. It is important to first help them calm down and feel safe. Turn on the light and reassure them everything is OK. Sometimes your child may want to get in bed with you, which is comforting for them. Just be sure to go back to their regular bedtime routine the following night.
If your child is young enough, a “nightmare protector" such as a flashlight or stuffed animal can help sooth your child. Sit down with your child before bed and talk about their day. When your child is able to talk to you about something that is stressing or bothering them, you can help them with a solution or reassure them everything will be worked out. Focus on positive thoughts and good things that happened during the day.
It is important to implement a regular, calming bedtime routine. Playing relaxing music or story tapes will help soothe them to sleep and help them stay asleep. Getting enough sleep is a very important part of treating nightmares in children
Nightmares tend to run their course and usually disappear over time. However, if your child’s nightmares do not stop after about 6 months, if they begin affect your child's ability to function during the day, or if your child begins to sleep walk, then it is time to take your child to the doctor.
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