This Halloween, kids all over the country will be exposed to scary stories, haunted houses, spooks and surprises of all kinds. And they’ll go to bed gorged on late-night sweets… a sure recipe for filling dreams with fright. Some children will be so worn out after their adventures that they’ll slumber soundlessly ‘til morning—but others will probably wake screaming in the middle of the night. Here’s why, and what you can do about it.
What Are Nightmares?
Nightmares are the vivid dreams of scary things or situations that happen during the REM sleep stage and that often startle us from sleep with a full memory of the dream. They can be absolutely terrifying, even to adults, and often leave us wondering what is real and what is only imagination.
What Causes Nightmares?
Nightmares can happen for many reasons; here are a few of the most common.
- Traumatic events. As the brain tries to integrate scary situations that we’ve recently experienced, we can be faced with nightmares. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often report repeated nightmares that plague them for months at a time. Even for those without PTSD, nightmares are often an expected part of the healing process.
- Overeating or late-night snacking. Eating late in the day, or eating so much that the stomach is still working on digestion at bedtime, can upset your normal sleep patterns and trigger nightmares. If the body is using energy for digestion it keeps the resting body temperature higher than it normally is at bedtime, resulting in lighter sleep and potential bad dreams.
- Chemical use/abuse. Everything from sugar to alcohol to drugs can impact the body’s sleep and dreams. What we put into our bodies has a profound effect on our sleep cycles and thus on our dreams. Healthy, whole foods that promote a healthy glycemic response in the body keep our systems in balance and our potential for nightmares down. The opposite is also true—sugar, alcohol, or drugs in, potential for nightmares up.
Nightmares on Halloween
For kids, Halloween can bring together all these potential triggers into one big nightmare factory. But we have to remember, too—getting scared can be fun! As long as your child’s Halloween adventures are age-appropriate, the holiday frights will leave no lasting damage… they’ll just be part of the fun of growing up.
Still, expect the possibility that Halloween night will be a long one. Feed your kid(s) a good meal before they hit the parties or the streets, so that they don’t come home famished and ready to overindulge on the candy. Parcel out how much candy each child can have the first night—don’t just set them loose with the bag. And get your little ones to bed at a reasonable hour, so that exhaustion and a disrupted sleep cycle don’t increase the chances of nightmares. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll improve your chances of waking up on November 1 after a sound night’s sleep.