Tips To Keep Kids Calm

It's a tossup whether nightmares are more terrifying for the kids who experience them or for the parents who must help their children deal with them. In either case, there is something parents can do about it.

The importance of sleep
"Getting a good night's sleep is an important factor in a child's development," says Dr Greg Omlor, director of Akron Children's Hospital's Sleep Center. "The problems your child has at night in bed can directly correlate to problems during the day in school."

Understanding what type of nightmare your child is experiencing is the first key to solving the problem, according to Dr Omlor. There are several types of childhood sleep disorders, including confusional arousals, night terrors and nightmares.

Confusional arousals
Confusional arousals are usually seen in infants and toddlers. These episodes often start with movement and moaning and progress to crying and perhaps calling out. The child may also thrash about in bed. His eyes may be open or closed. Often he looks confused or appears "possessed" but doesn't seem scared. He may not waken and may even push his parents away if they try to intervene.

Night terrors
Night terrors are characterized by a sudden arousal from sleep with a piercing scream or cry. During the episode, heart and breathing rates may increase and the child's eyes may be open, but he probably won't remember what happened other than waking up and feeling scared.

Night terrors occur when the child is in deep sleep. Instead of waking or moving into another state of sleep, the child gets stuck between stages. Night terrors usually occur in older children and may affect as many as 15 percent of children. They can be caused by being overly tired or having an interrupted sleep cycle.

By themselves, confusional arousals and night terrors are not dangerous, but what happens during one can be. A child may jump out of bed and do something that he might not otherwise do.

If a child is behaving in a way that may be harmful to himself, items may need to be removed from the room or additional locks or gates set up. Gentle restraint can also be attempted but this may prolong the episode or result in injury. Encouraging a regular wake/sleep schedule and avoiding sleep deprivation may be beneficial in preventing the episodes. If the problem persists, speak to your doctor. In rare cases he may prescribe medication.

Remember to warn babysitters and other family members who may be present overnight so that they will understand what is happening and won't overreact. The good news is that children usually outgrow confusional arousals and night terrors.

Nightmares differ from night terrors in that they are usually psychologically based, are more often remembered, and aren't usually dangerous.

"Nightmares happen only during rapid eye movement sleep," says Dr Omlor. "During REM sleep, the sleeping person's eyes move quickly, heart rate and breathing may be erratic, and dreams may occur."

No one is sure what causes nightmares, but there are several theories. Some people believe that eating spicy or rich food or drinking caffeine just before sleep will cause bad dreams. Others say watching scary movies or reading scary books at night increase the chances of your child having a nightmare. Certain medications may also cause nightmares. And some people think that if kids exercise just before bedtime, they may be more likely to have a bad dream.

But none of these theories has been proven. Things that may cause nightmares include problems at home or at school, major changes such as moving or the illness or death of a loved one, and stress from the pressures of sports or classwork. Of course, it's hard to prevent something when you don't know its cause.

But there are some techniques you can try to eliminate nightmares. For starters, even though the theories haven't been proven, you may want to help your children avoid the things discussed earlier.

Some kids like to sleep with a special quilt or a comforting object, like a toy that reminds them of a time they felt secure. Another favorite is a "moon bath," a relaxing soak in a warm tub with soft music on. Never leave a young child unsupervised around water.


Most of the time, nightmares are not a big problem. Encourage your children to tell you about their bad dreams. Together, you may be able to figure out if something is troubling them during the day. Some kids "rewrite" their nightmares by giving them happier outcomes.

If your child has recurring nightmares, you may need to visit a doctor or a sleep clinic. A doctor can determine whether your child's nightmares are the result of a physical condition. A sleep clinic can check your child's brain waves, muscle activity, breathing and other things that happen during sleep.

If nothing else seems to work, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help your child sleep through the night. And if something is bothering your child that may be related to the nightmare, it may help to take your child to a counselor or a psychologist.

Tags: nightmares

recommended for you