Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nightmares Explained

By Brandi M. Seals

As a child I was constantly afraid. I had nightmares nearly every night for a year or two. Therefore I tend to be very sympathetic towards kids that have nightmares. Parents can do a lot to easy a child's fears. Safe guard them from scary movies or anything that may frighten them. Listen when they tell you about the dreams, but realize often times there is little that you can do.

Nightmares are distressing dreams which tends to wake up the sleeper or at least partially wakes him or her. Those having a nightmare may feel angry, guilty, sad, or be depressed. However, dreams tent to feel fear and anxiety during a nightmare. Nightmares can be very different from person to person or may change with time. One of those most common nightmares involves being chased. Children tend to see animals of make believe figures chasing them and adults tend to see an unknown male chasing them.

Probably everyone has had a nightmare at some point. Nightmares are extremely common in children aged 3 to 4 and those aged 7 to 8. These nightmares seem to be a part of normal development. They generally do not signal a problem. Some adults still have nightmares, though they are much less common in adults. Some adults have nightmares as often as at least once a month. But these frequent nightmares affect less than 10% of adults.

Nightmares may come about for a number of reasons. Some are caused by certain medications or drugs. Nightmares can pop up when a person is rapidly withdrawing from these medications or they may be the result of some illness or fever. None medical related causes of nightmares seem to be traumatic events. It is trauma related nightmares that are usually reoccurring. The trauma does not have to be big. It may be as simple as the death of a pet or surgery. Assaults and accidents are also at the root of some nightmares.

Some people and children have nightmares due to stress in their everyday lives. Perhaps they are moving, starting school, pregnant, or have financial troubles. If there is something new going on in your child's life, do not be surprised if he starts having nightmares. However, most childhood nightmares usually result as children learn to deal with normal childhood fears or problems.

The first step in preventing nightmares is to find the source of the problem. Unless your child is taking some kind of medication, you can generally rule out medicine or drugs. You may wish to talk with a doctor to rule out illness. Have your child talk about the nightmares. It may help them to talk about what is scaring them at least in dreamland. Do not dismiss their nightmares, it will only make your child clam up and keep the fears to himself.

You can also utilize some techniques to ease the distress your child feels. They include writing down what happened in the dream, drawing or painting what happened. Even imagining a happier ending may help.

If you suspect that a traumatic event has triggered the nightmares, keep an eye on the situation. Usually they will become less frequent and less intense. If they do not, you may want to take your child to see a therapist.

Your child may also be experiencing something known as night terrors. Whereas nightmares tend to occur after a child has been asleep for several hours and rarely includes thrashing movements or screaming, night terrors are very different. Night terrors occur within the first couple of hours of sleep. The child may start screaming or thrashing around yet is fully asleep. The child is usually hard to awaken and does not remember much. Those that sleep walk may be more prone to night terrors. Night terrors generally clear up by puberty but may reappear in adults under stress. Night terrors and nightmares seem to differ due to the stage of sleep the individual is in.

Try to be understanding when your child is frightened by a nightmare. A nightlight might help him to go back to sleep after a disturbing dream. Many children prefer to seek protection in their parents' bed. That may be okay from time to time, but do not let it become a habit.

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