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Are Children More Likely To Have Nightmares With A Fever? An Expert Explains

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It can be overwhelming to take care of your babies when they are sick and have fevers. They seem so down and helpless, and sometimes, all the popsicles and cuddles in the world do nothing to ease their discomfort. All you want for them is enough rest to get better, but many times, that's not likely, either. Especially because many kids (and adults) are prone to nightmares with fevers. But, are children more likely to have nightmares with a fever, or is it just some kind of coincidence?

Pediatrician Dr. Sarah Kohl, M.D., tells Romper simply, "Yes, children often have nightmares when they have fevers. It's distressing for parents, but doesn't often have medical significance." As noted by BBC's Science Focus, the simple explanation for why this happens is that temperature affects the way your brain works. During REM (rapid-eye-movement), your body's temperature control is poor, and so, a fever can lead to a higher-than-normal REM during sleep. This higher temperature causes over activity in the brain, which could result in nightmares, vivid imagery, or even hallucinations. Since children, generally, are more sensitive and have young, developing brains, they may be more susceptible to the sort of nightmares that result from temperature shifts due to fevers (or even spicy foods, and overheating from overdressing).

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As Kohl mentioned, nightmares don't have any medical significance, but that doesn't make them any less stressful or distressing to your child (or you). The vivid images the brain is processing can seem as real as the emotions they might trigger. When kids awaken from a nightmare, its images are still fresh and can seem real, according to Kids Health. So, it's natural for them to feel afraid and upset and to call out to a parent for comfort.

Nightmares aren't preventable, but there are things you can do to encourage good sleep and sweet dreams. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it's most important to listen to your child, and try to understand how they're feeling or what they're afraid of. Don't dismiss their fears as silly, but instead reassure them that they are safe and taken care of. Teaching kids how to cope and be brave is also important, as they will then be able to translate these skills to other fearful experiences later in their lives.

Being creative (like using "monster spray" to ward away monsters before bed), discouraging darkness as a thing to be afraid of, using security blankets or loveys, and using a night light or leaving the bedroom door open can help children feel more secure and comfortable at night, too.

Having a predictable and relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring that child are adequately rested and not overtired at bedtime is key in minimizing nightmares and their overall intensity, according to the Mayo Clinic. Of course, this is harder to do when kids are sick, as their overall fatigue becomes harder to measure, but allowing them naps or earlier bedtimes could result in fewer nightmares.

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If you notice your child regularly has nightmares with fevers, getting the fever down may be a first step. A cold washcloth, lukewarm bath, and cold drinks or popsicles might help bring your little one's temperature down. If their fever seems high, or they are clearly uncomfortable, talk to your doctor about the best fever-reducer and appropriate dosage to ease their pain.

Getting sick is an inevitable part of our kids' lives, and having fevers goes along with that. Unfortunately, those fevers can have effects on their little bodies outside of the actual illness. If your little one suffers from nightmares due to their increased body temperature, you're sure to feel helpless and overwhelmed. Reassuring your child, and continuing healthy and safe sleeping routines and practices, can ease both of your minds. And extra hugs, kisses, and cuddles can surely help, too.  

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