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:
Aug. 12, 2011
- Occur frequently and persist over time
- Routinely disrupt sleep
- Cause fear of going to sleep
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- Overnight sleep study. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://yoursleep.aasmnet.org/Topic.aspx?id=12. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- National sleep disorders research plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/res_plan/section5/section5a.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
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- Avidan AY, et al. The parasomnias: Epidemiology, clinical features, and diagnostic approach. Clinics in Chest Medicine. 2010;31:353.
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- Shredl M, et al. Gender differences in nightmare frequency: A meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2011;15:115.
- Crenshaw T. Nightmares and PTSD: Research review. National Center for PTSD. www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/nightmares_and_ptsd_research_review.asp. Accessed June 17, 2011.
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