A nightmare is a type of Parasomnia. Parasomnia, which means “Around sleep”, also includes sleepwalking, night terrors, bedwetting, and narcolepsy (tendency to fall asleep). All of these could create confusion in your home, and be harmful to your child. There are three categories of parasomnia–rhythmic, paroxysmal, and static disorders.
The cause of rhythmic disorder is unknown, but it is rarely associated with medical or psychological problems. The child may suffer from morning headaches, nasal problems and even ear infections. Rhythmic disorders, include head–banging, head–rocking, and body–rocking. This involves movements that range from mild to seizure–like thrashing. Other rhythmic disorders include shuttling (rocking back and forth on hands and knees) and folding (raising the upper body and knees simultaneously).
During this period the child may moan or hum. These movements seem to occur during the transition between wakefulness and sleep or from one stage of sleep to another. Another rhythmic disorder is restless legs syndrome (RLS), a sensory and motor abnormality that seems to have a genetic origin. In RLS, the child’s legs move repeatedly. Many children show signs of periodic leg movement syndrome (PLMS). This occurs during sleep when their legs move involuntarily.
Treatment for RLS (Rhythmic Leg Syndrome)
- Music therapy (rhythmic sounds, helps inducing and regulating sleep).
- Motion–sickness medications.
Paroxysmal disorders are those that recur suddenly.
Nightmares are usually psychologically based, more often remembered, and aren’t usually dangerous. They occur only during REM (rapid eye movements) sleep. During REM sleep, the person’s eyes move quickly, heart rate and breathing may be irregular, and bad dreams may occur.
Night Terrors (Pavor Nocturnus)
Night terrors are characterized by a sudden arousal from sleep with a agonizing scream or cry leaving the child in a terrified state. During this period, the heart rate and breathing rate may increase, and the child’s eyes may be open, but he probably won't remember what happened.
Night terrors occur when the child is in deep sleep, and is in the first third of the sleep cycle. The child gets “Stuck” between stages of waking and moving into another stage of sleep. This could occur in many young children and could be caused by being overly tired or having an interrupted sleep cycle. Night terrors are not dangerous. A child may jump out of bed and do something that he might not otherwise do. The cause of night terrors is unknown, but could be associated with physical causes. Apnea (temporary cessation of breathing due to any cause) may also be a causative factor.
Sleepwalking, is usually mild. It could be harmful when it’s frequent or intense. As the child is not awake during an episode, dangerous objects should be removed from the room and windows should be locked.
- Consistent sleep–wake cycle
Bedwetting, also called enuresis, is a common problem that could affect a child’s self–esteem as well as his sleep. Because it occurs at night, and could affect sleep, bedwetting is classified as a parasomnia. It occurs in children who are between the ages of 3 and 8. Bedwetting usually stops on its own, but could continue into adolescence. A child who wets the bed regularly should see a doctor to rule out any physical cause.
Static disorders include sleeping with open eyes. This could be common in infants and young children. Static disorders are not harmful, but children who sleep in odd positions or with their eyes open should be examined by a physician, especially if their behavior continues. Talk with your child’s physician. You may also refer to a sleep specialist. Establish a good sleeping hygiene for your child like:
- Following a fixed bedtime and wake–up time besides napping time.
- Keeping regular play and meal times.
- Making the bedroom quiet, cozy, and encouraging to sleep.
- Use the bed only to sleep–not for homework, play, or watching TV.
- If it is a problem of gastro esophageal reflux (esophageal disorder) or bedwetting, limit food and drinks before bedtime.