Tuesday, June 9, 2015
How to Deal with (And Prevent) Nightmares
My daughter used to have this recurring dream where she was lost in the woods, being chased by someone she couldn't see and couldn't find her family. The poor little thing used to come in to our room, panting, crying, and wild-eyed. It was heartbreaking for her, but it was also heartbreaking for me to lose sleep night after night.
On top of that, research shows that in kids, poor sleep at night leads to reduced ability to function, difficulty modulating impulses, and difficulties focusing (Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Mar 1996). For my sake and for hers, I was desperate to find a solution. Then one night, our babysitter came over and put my daughter to bed. Apparently as they were going to bed, my daughter shared with the babysitter that she was scared to go to sleep because she was afraid of having her dream. It just so happened that my babysitter had struggled for years with sleep problems and had a special trick for my daughter. She changed the dream. She listened patiently while my daughter explained every detail, then the babysitter changed it. Instead of being chased by someone she couldn't see, my babysitter explained that she was really being based by a bunch of adorable fairies who were trying to invite her to their party. They led her through the forest to an amazing party with cupcakes, bounce houses, flying fairies, and of course, her loving family waiting for her at the party. The transformation was astounding. She NEVER had that dream again. I did a little research and there are actually psychologists out there who maintain that changing dreams is a credible and recommended form of sleep therapy.
Since then, my daugther is mostly cured of bad dreams, but she still struggle occasionally and now my son has begun to have them as well. Through my own research and trial and error, I have come up with a list of ways we prevent and deal with bad dreams:
1. Cuddle at night right before bedtime. I try to minimize stimulation at this time (i.e. no books or TV). We just sit together calmly, and my daughter fully believes this will prevent bad dreams so she is content to just sit and cuddle. We have noticed that when we don't do this, bad dreams often occur, so it has become a reliable strategy for us.
2. Changing the dream. As I stated above, this works amazingly well for us, even in the middle of the night. I try to listen carefully and then help the kids "change the dream" so it doesn't become a recurring one.
3. Flush the dream down the toilet. Sometimes we playfully think of the dream, stand above the toilet and use our pretend magic wand to transfer to the toilet and flush it down so it won't ever come back.
4. Get more sleep. We have noticed that when we go to bed late and get up early (such as on a vacation), bad dreams occur more often, so we try to get the kids in bed by 7:30 at the latest (they are 5 and 6 years old).
5. When all else fails, let them sleep on your floor. It isn't ideal, but if nothing is working, I keep some sheets and a blanked by my bed just in case and allow my kids to sleep there if they are really struggling. For me, it's much better than letting them sleep in my bed, because I want to minimize the time out of their bed and allowing them to sleep in my bed will likely make them want to try it again. Since we have perfected the above strategies, we only have to do this a few times per year, which is a big improvement from doing it nightly, which was our reality at one point.
Some kids never struggle with bad dreams and that is lucky for them. For others, like us, it can take over the family dynamic so it's important to get it under control, both for the sake of the kids and the parents.
Please share with my any tips that you have for your families sleeping issues!
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