Half of UK children have regular nightmares that can leave them scared, upset, and disrupted from a good night’s sleep which is essential for cognitive brain function.
However, did you know your child’s likelihood of having a nightmare increases during the school holidays?
So given that many schools have broken up for half–term this week, Happy Beds have highlighted why children are more susceptible to night terrors during the school holidays before sharing their top tips for encouraging more positive dreaming.
Top 10 tips for preventing night terrors this half–term
Nightmares and night-time fears are common in children. Their imagination constantly evolves as they grow, meaning even small things in their bedroom can transform into super scary shadows or monster hideaways.
However, the interior experts at Happy Beds have shared their top tips for designing your child’s bedroom for better sleep before enlisting the expertise of Dr Katherine Hall, a psychologist in sleep from Somnus Therapy, to provide some of her sleep tips, too:
Brainstorm good dream ideas before they go to sleep
A way to ward off negative thoughts and dreams is to discuss happy thoughts before your child falls asleep. As part of your sleep routine and schedule, take a few moments to discuss the types of good dreams your child wishes to have. For example, if you have a fun holiday or event in the near future, have your child imagine what it will be like. What will you pack or wear? What kind of activities will you do? Who will be there? Encourage your child to daydream about these positive thoughts. Avoid generating too much excitement before bed, which may cause your little one to become hyper-aroused.
Discuss their fears in more detail
The more you avoid your fears, the bigger and scarier they become. Instead of completely shielding your child from their greatest fears, you should gradually expose them to whatever is triggering their nightmares. Over time, these triggers will have less control over your child’s mood, thoughts, and dreams.
For example, if your child has nightmares about clowns, the dolls in their bedroom, or the neighbour’s dog, you must show them that these things aren’t a threat. Try discussing their specific fears for 10 to 15 minutes a day. The more comfortable your child becomes with these ideas and images, the less scary they’ll be and the less likely to cause disturbing nightmares.
Pick their snacks and drinks wisely
Did you know that cheese, spicy foods, sweets, chocolate, pizza, pasta and milk are all linked to a bigger likelihood of a nightmare? Take note of what your child ate the night before a particularly bad bout of nightmares. Swap the above-mentioned foods with healthy, low-sugar alternatives like yoghurt, fresh fruit, granola, or toast. A light snack prevents stomach discomfort, including gas or acid reflux. Have your child eat their snack about 60 minutes before bed to allow plenty of time for digestion.
Perform relaxing activities before bed
Your child needs to wind down for at least 60 minutes before bed. Turn off the TV and all other digital devices at least 60 minutes before bed (if not longer). The blue light from electronic devices prevents your child’s brain from releasing the sleep hormone melatonin, which induces relaxation and calm. Turning off electronics will also prevent your little one from seeing a frightening image or idea too late.
Help your child calm their mind and body by breathing or mindfulness exercises. Children’s yoga and meditation are becoming popular to reduce stress and anxiety and promote positivity and confidence.
Move any mirrors away from their bed
Kids have overactive imaginations, so having a mirror in the eye line of their bed can increase the chance of them thinking they’ve caught a glimpse of something scary. If there are mirrors in a child’s room, position them so they aren’t visible from the bed to allow their imagination to rest easy while trying to drift off.
Declutter their room to prevent their mind from wandering
It’s also important to keep clutter to a minimum: a pile of clothes may not look too scary during the day but can transform into something much more sinister under the veil of darkness. Don’t give overactive imaginations anything to feast on, and make sure everything is neat and tidy when they go to bed.
Keep the curtains in your child’s bedroom short
Curtains are often a source of fear in their children’s rooms. Tall curtains allow little imaginations to run wild, conjuring up images of someone, or something, hiding behind them. Switching to shorter, half-size curtains can help. Better yet, remove the curtain fear altogether by replacing them with nonthreatening blinds.
Rethink your child’s wall art
Your little one may adore superheroes, but did you know action-themed wallpaper, décor, or artwork could give them bad dreams? Avoid anything with violent or hostile imagery showing weapons, fight scenes or aggressive action, such as superheroes fighting, ninjas, or sharks. Calm artwork, family photos, or children’s own framed drawings are much more tranquil options to help children settle down to sleep peacefully.
Make sure your child’s night light is warm toned
Many kids are scared of the dark. At a young age, imaginations run wild, and shapes and shadows in dark rooms can transform in kids‘ minds, becoming something much more threatening. A warm-toned night light is a great fix to ensure children don’t feel scared throughout the night.
Consider moving their bed to a more positive place
As previously mentioned, blinds can make a huge difference in making kids feel safer, but window and bed positioning is also important. You should ensure their bed isn’t directly next to or underneath a window, as this can make children feel unsafe and increase the feeling that something might sneak up on them. Instead, place the bed against a solid wall, ideally on the other side of the room from the window.
Positioning about the door should also be considered. To follow feng shui guidelines, you can place the bed in the ‘command’ position, diagonally across the room from the door. This allows the child a clear line of sight to the door when they’re drifting off to sleep, which can help them feel more secure.
Why are children more suspectable to nightmares during the school holidays?
The most obvious reason is that children often stay up later because it can be harder for parents to enforce a consistent bedtime routine when there are no set school days and times.
In addition, this lack of structure can potentially lead to children being bored enough to let their minds wander to scary things to keep themselves entertained.
Children are also likely to spend more time watching TV and/or playing games when off school. However, these devices can hurt sleep, especially if they’re used before bedtime.
Many studies show that children who spent at least an hour on screens before bedtime had more nightmares than those who didn’t use them or just had some light reading time before bed. This is because exposure to blue light from phones, tablets, and laptops can suppress melatonin production, making it harder for a person to fall asleep at night.
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