When Are Children’s Nightmares Symptoms?

Though parents wish their children sweet dreams, most kids have occasional nightmares. These scary dreams occur during REM – or rapid eye movement – sleep, and children often recall at least part of the frightening or unpleasant dream upon awakening. Some adults, too, have nightmares, though it’s less common than in kids.

For children troubled by nightmares, comfort from parents is usually all that’s needed to soothe them. “Talk to them, hug them, kiss them – give them a lot of reassurance,” suggests Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a clinical professor emeritus of pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago who has studied sleep issues in children.

In addition to nightmares, another common frightful sleep problem some children face is night terrors, which usually begin within a couple hours of a child falling asleep. “It can last five to 15 minutes and the child looks panicky – very frightened,” he notes. Harrowing for parents too, a child may sit up in bed, appear wide awake with a glassy stare and be inconsolable, but he or she won't awaken during the episode and will quickly return to normal sleep. “Because it’s not occurring during REM sleep, they have no memory of the episode, and it tends to occur mainly when kids are having fevers and when they’re overtired," Weissbluth says. He notes that these instances tend to dissipate by adolescence.

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