I was recently asked on my facebook account the following questions.

“My 3 year old has recently started waking up once (at least) in the night. Most of the time, I think she is crying in her sleep. Is she having nightmares? She doesn’t seem phased by it in the morning but I would like to sleep through the night again! Any Suggestions?”

Nightmare will usually occur during REM Sleep and most nightmares will occur in the second part of the night when REM periods have lengthened. Nightmares are thought to have many triggers in children. These include:

  • Illness – children can be prone to nightmares when they have fevers. This could also be as simple as they are too warm sleeping.
  • Overtired  

  • Having irregular sleep routines

  • Developmental milestone – when they are conquering a new skill.

  • Stress or Anxiety – something like moving, birth of a new sibling or some outside circumstance.

  • A traumatic event.

Experts say anything can cause nightmares: a new television show or a scary story they overheard. The cause might not jump out at you but the following are a few simple tips to tips to get her back on track. 

  1. Try getting her to bed even 10-15 minutes earlier for a couple of weeks. If she’s overtired she might just benefit from a couple extra minutes of sleep.

  2. Try lighter Pajamas in case she is too warm. I will often go in and pull off my daughter’s heavier blanket once she’s asleep especially when she insists on wearing her warm fussy pj’s for bed

  3. Teach an her an action in case she is waking up. – “Cuddle your pillow and say I know it’s over and I’m safe in my bed.” And go back to sleep.

  4.  If she does wake you respond to her feelings and provide a big hug. Try not to over react to her fear by looking for monsters in her closet. Don’t show your anxiety or unhappiness with her waking.

  5. Try adding something relaxing to your bedtime routine such as meditation, relaxing breathing or a warm bath.

  6. It only takes repeating the same reaction like looking for a monster or a glass of water to create a habit or expectation in small humans so try to minimize the reward for night wakings.

  7. Start a sleep diary for your child. See if you can see a pattern to her night wakings. What might be her trigger? Could it be a later bedtime, heat wave, watching something scary or even more disagreements with siblings?

  8. Try talking about the nightmares when she is calm, relaxed and feeling safe. Asking if something might help her – extra night light or an extra special teddy. Something to make her feel safe at night.
  9. Try ear plugs for yourself or alternate with your husband to allow you a better night's rest.
  10. If your child is waking at approximately the same time each night try gently waking her slightly before her normal dream time to see if she will sleep through them. This is hard if you have to wake yourself but you might be able to get back to sleep more easily knowing she’s okay.
  11. Remember dreaming is a good thing as it helps kids become more confident to deal with their problems. It helps them work through some of their worries.

I will mention Night Terrors. These occur earlier in sleep (1-2 hours after bedtime) with loud screams, eyes wide open and your child appears to look through you. Please get in touch with me - and I can provide additional pointers until I get a blog post up about these.

If she is tired the next day this could be an indication that she is losing too much sleep and it might be medical reason. If that is the case seeking assistance from your doctor would be recommended.

I hope this helps.