When Bad Dreams Strike

Though nightmares usually don't start until around age 3, your child may occasionally awaken during the night from a bad dream. Here's how to help your youngster settle back to sleep.

All of us go through different stages during sleep, from drowsiness to light sleep and from there into a deeper sleep. In REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, we dream. If you watch your 1-year-old as she sleeps, you may be able to see the movement of her eyes under her closed lids as she dreams. By age 1, your little one has been dreaming for a long time and probably has four or five dreams each night. Most children do not have trouble with nightmares until about age 3, but you may find that your child wakes at night from time to time from what seems to have been a bad dream.

What happens during a child's waking hours affects his sleep, making him more or less tired or stimulated and giving him material for dreams in the night that lies ahead. The separation fears that normally accompany advances in gross motor development may trigger some problems at night. You may find that your child has trouble letting you go at bedtime or that he calls you in the middle of the night more often than he used to. One-year-olds often develop new fears -- of animals, for instance, or loud noises -- and these can affect his sleeping habits, as can the overstimulation that often accompanies a 1-year-old's new experiences. At times like these, a little reassurance that you love him and that you are nearby is usually all your child really needs to calm himself down and go back to sleep on his own.

Your child will spend approximately one-third of her life asleep. With all of that sack time ahead of her, it is important to teach her to be a self-reliant, even confident, sleeper. Trusting her to go to sleep on her own without having you there every minute, while being nearby to provide comfort, reassurance, and support when she wakes up in the middle of the night and needs it, should help your child-and you-to make it through the night peacefully.

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