Last week I explored the question, “Why do nightmares happen?” People who suffer regular nightmares, or parents whose children have trouble with recurring nightmares, can feel helpless. Today, I want to continue that discussion with a look at some of the things you or your child can do to stop the sleep disturbances and get back to enjoying a night in your own bed.
Remember: Nightmares Can Be Normal.
Occasional nightmares are a normal part of the brain’s job – it works through complex or disturbing information during REM sleep, integrating that knowledge into your memory while you’re safe in bed. If someone in your family is dealing with nightmares several times a week, or recurring nightmares about the same thing over and over, then it’s time to take action. Here are a few things you can do to help.
Things you can both do:
- Visualization techniques. Children and adults alike can benefit from Image Rehearsal Therapy, or IRT. In this technique, the dreamer remembers all the events of the dream, in order, in as vivid detail as possible. Then the dreamer creates a new ending for the dream that’s positive instead of negative, generating comfort or contentment instead of fear. During the day after the dream, the dreamer repeats the visualization several times – on subsequent days, too, if necessary. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, research has found IRT to reduce the number of recurring nightmares a person has in a week.
- Drawing the dream. Draw out the events in the dream (your artistic talent doesn’t really matter here), then burn the paper, throw it away, or flush it down the toilet – in some way, literally separate yourself from the dream. For kids who love to draw, this may be a particularly enjoyable way to put some space between themselves and the content of a disturbing dream.
- Just talking. No matter your age, talking about a disturbing dream can release the fear and emotion related to the dream. Tell someone else what you’re going through. If your child is having nightmares, it’s important for you as a parent to have a support system yourself, so find someone to talk with about the worry you may be feeling about your little one.
Whether you or your child is having trouble with bad dreams, there are things you can do to make things better. You’re not alone. If all else fails, consult a specialist about the possibilities for getting a good night’s sleep again.