Treatment and prevention of nightmares in children.

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Nightmares are a common sleep problem among children. By some estimates, about 30 percent of children experience nightmares from time to time. Although they are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 7, they can occur at almost any age .

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Night terrors are generally considered normal or benign. However, they are often very scary and annoying for nervous parents, especially when the child is scared the first night.

Confession of night terrors

When you listen to most experts describe nightmares , it's easy to see why parents find them unpleasant. Children with night terrors are often described as "straightening up" with wide eyes, expressions of fear and panic, and emitting a "bloodcurdling scream." These children also usually sweat, breathe frequently, and have a rapid heart rate (vegetative symptoms). And although it will appear that they are not sleeping, during the night the children of terror will seem confused, they will not comfort themselves and they will not recognize you.

Typical nightmares last 5 to 30 minutes, and after that, children often go back to normal sleep. If you manage to wake a child during a night terror, they are more likely to panic and become agitated, mainly due to your own reaction to the night horror, especially if you were shaking or screaming to wake them up.

Rather than trying to wake a terrified child at night, it's generally better to make sure he's safe, comfort him if you can, and help him fall back to sleep when he's done.

Night terrors vs nightmares

The diagnosis of "nightmares" is usually made on the basis that the child "wakes up" early at night, screams, and remains inconsolable. Nightmares are most often mistaken for nightmares, but unlike nightmares, a child having a nightmare is often easy to wake up and comfort .

Another concern for many parents is that these episodes are a form of seizure . Although the various types of partial seizures, including temporal lobe and frontal lobe epilepsy, may seem similar to nightmares, they are generally short-lived (30 seconds to several minutes) and are more common in older children and adults. .

Treatment and prevention

Common nightmares generally do not require treatment. Since they often occur in overworked children, following a good sleep schedule and getting your child enough sleep can help prevent them.

Has your child just stopped napping? Do you go to bed later or wake up earlier? Are you traveling and have you disrupted your child's normal sleep patterns?

All of these can cause nightmares. A sleep diary can help you recognize triggers.

For children who have frequent nightmares, it may be helpful to wake the child at the time when they usually have night terrors (timed awakenings). This is believed to interrupt or disrupt the sleep cycle and prevent night horrors from occurring (it can also work for sleepwalking). Once he has stopped having nightmares for a week or so, you can start waking him up less often until everyone falls asleep through the night.

In rare cases, sleep medications can be used for a short time if your child has nightmares a lot .

What you need to know about night terrors

Some other things to know about children with nighttime fears include the following:

  • Night terrors are also called sleep fears or night fears.
  • Like sleepwalking and sleep speech, nightmares are considered arousal and partial arousal disorders of NREM sleep .
  • Night terrors and sleepwalking also appear to run in families, with a high chance of a child having nightmares if both parents were sleepwalkers in the past .
  • Unlike a nightmare, children generally do not remember the nightmare .
  • Also, unlike nightmares, nightmares usually occur at the beginning of the night, about 3 hours after sleeping .
  • If your child has nightmares, make sure babysitters and other caregivers know about them and what to do if they occur.

And most importantly, keep in mind that most children get over nightmares as they get older.

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