Half of UK children have regular nightmares that can leave them scared, upset, and disturbing their much-needed sleep. To tackle this, we've worked with a sleep expert who is offering unique tricks to make scary nights a thing of the past, as well as which foods and drinks can be a trigger.
All children deserve a good night's sleep and there are many ways that we can help to support them to drift off comfortably.
Katherine Hall, a psychologist in sleep from Somnus Therapy has collaborated with Happy Beds to provide her top tips to eliminate kids’ nightmares and help children and parents get a peaceful night’s sleep. Here are her top tips:
Make night terrors a thing of the past
1. Brainstorm “good” dream ideas
A way to ward off negative thoughts and dreams is to discuss happy thoughts before your child falls asleep. As part of your sleep routine and schedule, take a few moments to discuss the types of good dreams your child wishes to have. For example, if you have a fun holiday or event in the near future, have your child imagine what it will be like.
What will they pack or wear? What types of activities will they do and who will be there? Encourage your child to daydream about these pleasant thoughts. Not only will this decrease their chances of having a nightmare but they may fall asleep faster by focusing on these exciting ideas. Just avoid generating too much excitement right before bed, which may cause your little one to become hyper-aroused.
2. Discuss their fears
The more you avoid your fears, the bigger and scarier they become. Instead of completely shielding your child from their greatest fears, some experts suggest you gradually expose them to whatever is triggering their nightmares. Over time, these triggers will have less control over your child’s mood, thoughts, and dreams.
For example, if your child is having nightmares about clowns, the dolls in their bedroom, or the neighbour's dog, you need to show them that these things aren’t a threat. Try discussing their specific fears for 10 to 15 minutes a day. The more comfortable your child becomes with these ideas and images, the less scary they’ll be and the less likely to cause disturbing nightmares.
3. Choose snacks and drinks wisely
Speaking of a nighttime snack, what your child eats before bed can directly affect the types of dreams they have. Foods including cheese, spicy foods, sugar and sweets (particularly chocolate), pizza, fast food, noodles or pasta, milk, and even meat have all been linked to nightmares. Drinks containing caffeine are also a major trigger for nightmares, including sports drinks, fizzy drinks, iced tea, and certain types of juice.
Take note of what your child ate the night before a particularly bad bout of nightmares. Swap the above-mentioned foods with healthy, low-sugar alternatives like yoghurt, fresh fruit, granola, or toast. A light snack will also prevent stomach discomfort, including gas or acid reflux. Have your child eat their snack about 60 minutes before bed to allow plenty of time for digestion.
4. Perform relaxing activities before bed
Your child needs to wind down for at least 60 minutes before bed. Turn off the TV and all other digital devices at least 60 minutes before bed (if not, longer). The blue light from electronic devices prevents your child’s brain from releasing the sleep hormone melatonin, which induces relaxation and calm. Turning off electronics will also prevent your little one from seeing a frightening image or idea too close to bedtime.
Help your child calm their mind and body by performing breathing or mindfulness exercises. Children’s yoga and meditation are becoming a popular way to reduce stress and anxiety and promote positivity and confidence.
How do you cope with a child's night terrors?
Nightmares are a scary thing, so it's no surprise that they can be particularly frightening to children. But do you know some of the most common nightmares that even adults have? To find out more about common nightmares and their meanings, take a look at our common nightmares blog to find out more!
How do your children feel at bed time? Why not let us know if you tested any of these tips or if these are already working for you already on our social pages. Head to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!