Nightmares Change Your Kid's Brain. Here's How.

By
Share
Ad failed to load

Ensuring your child gets enough sleep is one thing, but quality matters just as much. Unless you're hovering over the better part of the night, or your child comes to your bedside to wake you, it's difficult to know if they're getting the rest their brain requires or if, instead, nightmares are interfering. Nightmares do a real number on emotional and physical health and if yours has them, you might wonder how nightmares affect your kid's brain.

First of all, it's worth noting that, according to the Cleveland Clinic, nightmares happen "in the second half of the night and are associated with full awareness and clear recall." The clinic adds that an estimated 10 to 50 percent of children ages 3-6 have nightmares, and that girls are affected more than boys. Around this time in their lives, they're typically going through different developmental stages. As a result of those changes, the way the brain interprets that stress can manifest into a nightmare. Psychologist Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., author of What to Do When You Dread Your Bed, tells Parents that "the function of dreams seems to be to make sense of our experiences during the day." A younger child might dream about getting lost from a parent, whereas an older child would dream about a scary image from television that stuck with them. Most of the time, nightmares aren't anything to worry about.

Ad failed to load

So, how do nightmares affect your kid's brain? Not to be confused with night terrors — which come with obvious physical symptoms, like rapid breathing, sweating, screaming, confusion, and no recollection of the events the next day — nightmares, if happening often enough, can morph into a full-blow sleep disorder. Psychology Today says reports that nightmares become a problem if they regularly impair "social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning," or if they "interfere with sleep, development, or psychosocial development." The same site goes on to add that if signals from the cerebral cortex to the neurons that aid in paralysis of limbs get mixed or are somehow shut off, you might have a child who physically acts their nightmare out — a dangerous situation for all.

A 2014 study in Sleep reported that persistent nightmares could be an indicator of something more serious. The objective of the study, which used over 6,000 child participants, was to point out specific parasomnias and psychotic experiences in childhood. After following the children, ages 2 to 9 through the age of 12, researchers determined persistent nightmares are, in fact, correlated with those psychotic experiences years later. This means with frequent nightmare wakings, and accompanying symptoms, doctors might be able to identify mental health disorders in children earlier than previously believed. A 2015 study in British Journal of Psychiatry backs this research up. This time, 4,270 children between the ages of 2 and 9 had follow-up assessments at ages 12 and 18. There's connection between consistent nightmares at age 12 and psychotic experiences around 18. The study's findings concluded that "nightmares might be an early risk indicator for psychosis."

Harvard Medical School reports that if nightmares are a regular occurrence, it's important to rule out excess stress, anxiety, or any related traumas or disorders such as PTSD. Deirdre Barrett, PhD, an HMS assistant clinical professor of psychology at Cambridge Health Alliance and editor of “Trauma and Dreams,”  says this is because "the region of the brain involved in fear behaviors, including the amygdala, a structure deep in the brain that works to identify potential threats, may be overactive or overly sensitive." Basically, a lot of nightmares can possibly signal something deeper, so it's important to pay attention as to whether there's any behavioral changes.

Ad failed to load
Deyan Georgiev/Fotolia

Rest assured, most of the time nightmares are a normal part of childhood development. If you're unsure as to whether your child's persistent nightmares are something to worry about, common signs of a nightmare disorder include vivid dreams regarding personal safety or the safety of others that occur in the second half of a sleep state, feeling completely alert after waking, and when your child isn't on medication that might cause nightmares as a side effect. If you suspect your child is having too many nightmares or shows signs of behavioral change, speak to your doctor about a treatment plan that may include ways to reduce stress, setting the stage for a good night's sleep, and ruling out any underlying conditions.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.  

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

21 Moms Share The Most Surprising Part About Having A C-Section

Honestly, I don't think we, as a culture, talk about C-sections nearly enough, especially considering so many mothers experience them. And because of a number of factors, the little we do talk about it always seems to be a familiar narrative: "It's n…
By Jamie Kenney

13 Yummy Instant Pot Recipes To Make Under 30 Minutes

A Instant Pot seems to be the must-have appliance in every kitchen these days. If you are anything like me and never knew the beauty of a Instant Pot, you are about to have your life changed. Basically, you put some ingredients into a pot, set the te…
By Kristin Manna

9 Things The First Six Months Of Motherhood Will Teach You About Your Baby

Personally, the first six months of motherhood was a mixed bag. I learned some harsh lessons about myself that made taking care of my baby seem overwhelming. For example, I was clueless, and no amount of research could help me feel like anything but …
By Steph Montgomery

These Photos Of North West Then & Now Will Take You On A Sweet Trip Down Memory Lane

When Kim Kardashian welcomed her first daughter, North West, with her husband, Kanye West, in 2013, her whole life was changed. The social media and reality TV star became a mom for the first time and her Instagram presence took a very adorable turn.…
By Casey Suglia

11 Photos You *Must* Take During The Last Days Of Your Pregnancy

During my first pregnancy, I took a photo each week to document my growing belly. I stopped around 36 weeks, though. I hated how I looked in those pictures, and didn't think I'd want to relive those moments. I was wrong. My second pregnancy was a dum…
By Steph Montgomery

This Is What It Means If Your Pregnancy Test Changes Overnight

The time between when a woman suspects she might be pregnant and when it is confirmed for sure is the longest of her life. Regardless of whether you are hoping for a positive or a negative result, the odds are good that you are sweating bullets when …
By Shannon Evans

6 Red Flags To Definitely Look Out For After Your Baby Falls

The first time my infant son tried to take a few steps, he tumbled and bumped his head on the coffee table. My blood turned to ice in my veins and I froze. There truly isn't anything quite like the feeling a parent gets when their little one gets hur…
By Sarah Bunton

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

This Woman Thought She Had An Eyelash Stuck In Her Eye. Then It Moved.

I'm not a person who is easily icked out. As a kid, I collected bugs and thought I was going to be an entomologist and asked Santa Claus for ant farms and nets to catch bees. I'm still super curious about anything that flies and crawls, which might s…
By Karen Fratti

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

8 "Mistakes" I'm Glad I Made During My First Pregnancy

As an adult, I've learned you never really stop hating being told what to do. When I was pregnant I was getting instructions at every turn, from doctors, relatives, and complete strangers on the subway. I would nod and smile but then go about making …
By Liza Wyles

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack