In my experience there were two times of year that brought out the most nightmares: Halloween and back to school. According to the sleep experts, the reason our little loved ones wake us up as we’ve settled into a nice deep sleep is that nightmares happen during REM when the brain is active. But nightmares can strike at any time and any age. Over this past week, I’ve been plagued by anxiety nightmares. And I can tell you, my body is exhausted, but my brain is mush!
Our dreams and nightmares are our brain’s way of processing thoughts and emotional situations that we have faced during the course of our day. Nightmares may be more frequent during times of stress or when dealing with change or events that have been unsettling. They can be a reaction to real life trauma, reading a scary book, or watching a television show that has aroused an emotional response.
Nightmares are hard to deal with, no matter how old the inflicted person is. Emotions are real, and when you’re woken from a nightmare, the feelings are fresh and raw. Little ones may not understand the difference between a nightmare and real life due to how real the emotional response is.
Both Timothy’s Adventures and Kaylee’s Adventures have chapters that you can share with your little ones to help them deal with nightmares. Be sure to check them out!
So how do we help our little ones go back to sleep after a nightmare?
- Reassure them that you’re there for them.
- Label it as a nightmare.
- Offer them comfort and love.
- Check places that they are afraid of, i.e., under the bed, the closet or behind the door.
- Provide a nightlight or flashlight.
- Help them settle back in with a comfort item, i.e., dream catcher, soft music, stuffy.
- Talk about the dream they might like to have.
- Give them a kiss to hold while they sleep.
* Most important, be a good listener and if need be, in the morning, help them process by talking, drawing, or writing about it.
How can we help prevent or limit nightmares?
- Help them relax and unwind before bedtime.
- Try to establish a routine and schedule.
These help children to feel safe and secure!
- Try to avoid scary triggers before bedtime.
- Try to provide space to talk about their day openly and honestly with you.
- Children’s bedrooms should be a safe place. It should be a place of comfort and peace. Never use their rooms as a place of punishment.
* Most nightmares are not a cause for concern, however, if the nightmares present with other emotional or behavioral trouble, seek professional guidance.