For an adult, nightmares and bad dreams can be unsettling. For kids, they're even more unsettling. Nightmares are just as vivid as regular, positive dreams, so it's no surprise that children are so rattled by nightmares. Even though they can rationalize that nightmares aren't real from a young age, that doesn't stop a kid from being totally disoriented and scared. And that's just from a random nightmare. But what if they're having recurring nightmares? It is even harder to not only help them rationalize them, but to try and explain where they're coming from is often a lot harder.
Nightmares, which often occur during the second stage of sleep, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, are quite common among children. They can start during the toddler years. VeryWell Health reports that 22 percent of kids between the ages of two and six report having nightmares. The numbers rise significantly for kids between six and ten to 41 percent. Even 22 percent of adolescents report having nightmares.
During REM sleep, imagery can be very vivid, which is why a nightmare can be so distressing, especially for a young child. If they wake up suddenly and seem distressed, they likely had a nightmare. There is no way of knowing what exactly causes kids to have nightmares, but assurance that they're safe is a great way to soothe them, no matter how old they are.
Unfortunately, there is no way to stop nightmares from happening. It's also very hard to know where they originate. The Cleveland Clinic notes that nightmares are often indicative of where a child is developmentally. For example, toddlers may have nightmares about being separated from their parents, while older kids may have nightmares about a scary story they've heard or a movie they've seen.
Kids may also have nightmares related to traumatic events such as natural disasters, accidents or injury, notes Kids Health. They also mention that nightmares could be a response to something troubling in their own life. This could include a new sibling, starting school, or any sort of disturbance to familial harmony, such as mom and dad fighting.
While the occasional nightmare is normal, if they become more frequent, or your child is having the same nightmare often, it may be cause for concern. There could be some sort of underlying psychological issues at play. There could also be medical issues, such as sleep apnea playing a part of it as well. All experts say that creating a positive pre-bedtime experience is a good way to hopefully stave off nightmares.
Creating a positive routine like reading a lighthearted book before bed, or listening to soothing music can help. Even investing in something as simple as a nightlight could be beneficial. Talking about the nightmare could also help you get to the bottom of where they're coming from as well.