Nightmares are referred to by doctors as parasomnias — undesirable experiences that occur during sleep, usually during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). You've had a nightmare if:

  • Your dream wakes you
  • You feel scared, anxious, angry, sad or disgusted as a result of your dream
  • You can think clearly upon awakening, and can recall details of your dream
  • Your dream occurs near the end of your sleep time
  • Your dream keeps you from falling back to sleep easily

Children's nightmare content varies with age, typically becoming more complex. While a young child might dream of monsters, an older child might have nightmares about school or difficulties at home.

When to see a doctor

Occasional nightmares aren't usually a cause for concern. If your child has nightmares, you can simply mention them at a routine well-child exam.

Talk to your doctor earlier if nightmares:

  • Occur frequently and persist over time
  • Routinely disrupt sleep
  • Cause fear of going to sleep
Aug. 12, 2011

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