You can’t change the past or the present, but you can change the future.

Nightmares: Overview

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken a child. Occasional bad dreams are normal at all ages after about 6 months of age. When infants have a nightmare, they cry and scream until someone comes to them. When preschoolers have a nightmare, they usually cry and run into their parents' bedroom. Older children begin to understand what a nightmare is and put themselves back to sleep without waking their parents.

What causes nightmares?

The content of nightmares usually relates to the developmental challenges of growing up: toddlers have nightmares about separation from their parents; preschoolers, about monsters or the dark; and school-age children, about death or real dangers. Frequent nightmares may be caused by violent TV shows or movies.

Who gets nightmares?

Everyone has the occasional bad dream because everyone dreams four or five times each night. Some dreams are good, some are bad. Dreams help the mind process complicated events or information. Dream sleep typically happens in the early morning hours, so this is when children are most likely to experience nightmares.

Helpful resources