Child Nightmares - Solutions & Treatments to help your children sleep

Child Nightmares - Solutions & Treatments to help your children sleep
By Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua, ND

Adults often forget what it was like to be a child. We may remember the endless hours of fun and games, the birthday parties and the carefree days, but we sometimes forget the bad times. For some children, these bad times may be recurrent nightmares or night terrors.

Nightmares are a condition that occurs in sleep, characterized by a sense of extreme uneasiness or discomfort, or by frightful or oppressive dreams from which one awakens in extreme anxiety or in a troubled state of mind. Night terrors are a disorder similar to nightmares. Night terrors occur when the child awakens in a semiconscious state screaming with fright and in distress for a short period of time.

Chronic nightmares and night terrors are very traumatic for young children. These nightmares may lead to insomnia as the child fears going to sleep, to subsequent fatigue, irritability and apathy and to poor grades at school. Chronic nightmares may also disrupt the household as parents awaken throughout the night to console their child. Researchers have found that imagery therapy may be useful in the treatment of chronic nightmares.

A study was conducted at the Wyoming Girls School in Wyoming, USA, on 19 adolescent girls aged 13 to 18 years. The girls had previously suffered a high prevalence of unwanted sexual experiences in childhood and adolescence, and experienced nightmares, sleep complaints and post-traumatic stress symptoms.

The girls in this study had nightmares for an average of 4.5 years and they reported experiencing 20 nightmares per month—approximately one bad dream every other night. One group of girls received imagery rehearsal therapy while the others received no treatment.

The imagery rehearsal therapy consisted of three steps that were practiced for 5 to 20 minutes each day while in the waking state:

1. Select a nightmare;

2. Change the nightmare any way you wish; and

3. Rehearse the images of the new version (rehearse a new dream).

After three months, the girls receiving imagery rehearsal therapy reported a decrease in the number of nightmares per month, while the girls who did not receive any treatment did not report any changes. The researchers concluded that imagery rehearsal therapy was an effective method of treating chronic nightmares.