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Nightmares


What Is a Nightmare?

A nightmare is a bad dream. Almost everyone gets them once in a while — adults and kids. It can may make you feel scared, anxious, or upset. But nightmares are not real and can't harm you.

Why Do I Get Nightmares?

Stressful things that happen during the day can turn dreams into nightmares. Nightmares may be a way to relieve the pressures of the day. This usually means dealing with things most kids have to face at one time or another: problems at home, problems at school, and stress from sports or schoolwork. Sometimes major changes, such as moving or the illness or death of a loved one, can cause stress that leads to nightmares.

Another thing that may cause nightmares is watching scary movies or reading scary books, especially before you go to bed.

Sometimes if you are sick, especially with a high fever, you may have nightmares. Some medicines also can cause nightmares. Let your parents and doctor know if you notice you are having more nightmares around the time you started a new medicine.

But sometimes you might have a nightmare for no reason at all.

How Can I Prevent Nightmares?

Here are some tips you can try to get nightmares under control.

Get into a healthy sleep routine. Try to go to bed about the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Unless you're sick or didn't get enough sleep the night before, avoid naps during the day. Avoid eating or exercising just before bedtime. Avoid scary books or movies before bedtime.

Sleep with a stuffed toy or favorite blanket. This helps some kids feel more secure.

Use a nightlight. Even if you gave up yours up years ago, you might want to turn it back on. With a nightlight, if you awake from a nightmare, you'll be able to see familiar things and remember where you are.

Keep your door open. This will help you remember that your family is close by. If you are scared, get up and find someone for reassurance. You're never too old for a hug!

What if the Nightmares Don't Go Away?

Most of the time, nightmares are not a big problem. It often helps to tell a trusted adult about your bad dreams. Just talking about what happened might make you feel better. If something has been troubling you during the day, talking about those feelings also may help.

Some kids "rewrite" their nightmares by giving them happier outcomes. Another trick is to draw a picture of the bad dream and then rip it up!

Sometimes it helps to keep a dream journal, a notebook in which you describe the dreams you can recall. Tracking your dreams — good and bad — and how you felt before you went to sleep can give you a better sense of how your mind works at night.

If you have nightmares a lot, you and your parent might want to see a counselor or a psychologist to help you deal with your bad dreams. It will give you a chance to talk about some of the things bothering you that may be related to your nightmares.

Rarely, kids with frequent nightmares may need to visit a doctor who can see if the nightmares are because of a physical condition.

Remember, nightmares are not real and they can't hurt you. Dreaming about something scary does not mean it will happen in real life. And it doesn't mean you're a bad person who wants to do mean or scary things. Everyone has nightmares now and then.

You aren't a baby if you feel afraid after a nightmare. If you need to snuggle with a parent or even a sister or brother, that's all right. Sometimes just talking to a parent or grabbing a quick hug may be all you need.

Nightmares may be scary for a little bit, but now you know what to do. Sweet dreams!

Date reviewed: May 2018

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