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When Your Toddler Suffers From Nightmares

What To Do When Your Toddler Suffers From Nightmares

While nightmares are more common in preschoolers than toddlers, hearing a toddler cry out in the night strikes fear in every parent's heart. When they awaken from a scary nightmare, it's hard not to worry that something's wrong.

But the truth is that sleep disorders are common among children of all ages. Vivid dreams, including nightmares (which happen during REM sleep) become more common as children become more aware and imaginative.

Between 20-30% of American children suffer from sleep disorders at some point in their childhood, according to Barbara True Felt, M.D., a developmental-behaviorial pediatrician who researches children's sleep disorders at the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, These disorders include:

  • night terrors
  • nightmares
  • sleep-disordered breathing (also known as sleep apnea)
  • sleep-onset insomnia
  • sleepwalking

As difficult as a bad dream or nightmare is for a toddler, sleep disorders in children are also very hard on parents.

"The most 'typical reactions' I see among parents are fatigue and frustration," says Dr. Felt. "Parents of children who aren't sleeping well don't sleep well themselves."

What to Do


If your toddler awakens scared from a nightmare:

  • Be understanding and patient.
  • Bring her a glass of water or try wiping a cool washcloth across her brow.
  • Give her lots of hugs, kisses, and reassurance.
  • Let her tell you all about her dream if she wants to talk about it though chances are she might not remember it.
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