Nightmares: What’s Normal, What’s Not
by A. Grano
While we all may wish for ‘sweet dreams’, unfortunately, bad ones do sometimes occur. Usually vivid and memorable, nightmares take place during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, also known as dream sleep. Typically, nightmares decrease in frequency as we age, as young children are more sensitive to all the new (and sometimes overwhelming) stimuli and experiences they are learning to process.
While it’s quite normal for children from about 6 months onward to have the occasional nightmare, they nevertheless can have an impact on the entire family. Besides the sleep interruption itself, children may be afraid to return to sleep, leading to grogginess the following day. If not addressed, chronic nightmares can contribute to fatigue and other issues such as poor performance in school, work, and relationships.
What’s a night terror?
Often confused with a nightmare, a night terror occurs during a non-dreaming state of sleep and is characterized by extreme terror and the inability to fully wake up. Children may appear to be awake but are actually still in a hazy state of sleep, although they may be screaming and crying.
Unlike nightmares, which have a distinct fearful situation or object involved in them, a child experiencing a night terror is generally only aware of the panic and feelings of fear and very little else.
Causes of nightmares and night terrors
Although different, nightmares and night terrors are linked to many of the same causes, such as:
- Illness or fever
- Unresolved psychological conflicts, such as chaotic home environment, overheard arguments, anxiety, some form of loss or grief
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Exposure to violence on television or video games
Help for nightmares and night terrors
As with most approaches to health, getting to the main cause of the problem is paramount. Particularly regarding emotional health, it’s important to address any potential factors that could be contributing to ongoing sleep disturbances. Consult your child’s pediatrician or a child psychologist if the nightmares or night terrors are increasing in frequency or if you suspect a more serious underlying condition.
Practice positive bedtime routines that are free of excessive stimulation, including TV and computer time. Providing a nurturing, peaceful environment will help put a child into wind-down mode.
For additional natural support, homeopathic ingredients such as Aconite, Kali phos and Nat. sulph can be very helpful, while herbal remedies such as Passiflora incarnata and Chamomile are known to promote calm and relaxation.