Nightmares: How We Treat

How are nightmares treated?

Nightmares is one condition addressed in the Breathing Institute

To help your child work through recurring nightmares, try following these steps:

  • Reassure and cuddle your child.
    • Explain to your child that he or she was having a bad dream.
    • Sit on the bed until your child is calm.
    • Offer to leave the bedroom door open (never close the door on a fearful child).
    • Provide a night-light, especially if your child has fears of the dark. Most children return to sleep fairly quickly.
  • Help your child talk about bad dreams during the day.
    • Your child may not remember what the dream was about unless you can remind him of something he said about it when he woke up.
    • If your child was dreaming about falling or being chased, reassure her that lots of children dream about that.
    • If your child has the same bad dream over and over again, help him imagine a good ending to the bad dream.
    • Encourage your child to use a strong person or a magic weapon to help her overcome the bad person or event in the dream.
    • You may want to help your child draw pictures or write stories about the new happier ending for the dream.
    • Working through a fear often takes several conversations about it.
  • Protect your child against frightening movies and TV shows.
    • For many children, violent or horror movies cause bedtime fears and nightmares.
    • These fears can persist for months or years.
    • Strictly avoid these movies before 13 years of age.
    • Between 13 and 17 years, the maturity and sensitivity of your child must be considered carefully in deciding when he is ready to deal with the uncut versions of R-rated movies.
    • Be vigilant about avoiding frightening media at slumber parties or Halloween parties.
    • Tell your child to call you if the family he is visiting is showing scary movies.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s nightmares?

The Children’s Colorado Sleep Team is an excellent resource for treating children and adolescents with sleep disorders. Our providers are known internationally for their expertise in sleep research and sleep treatments. Our team is made up of sleep specialists trained in different aspects of sleep treatments, including sleep physicians who specialize in children’s breathing issues and children’s ear-nose-and throat problems, a sleep-specialized psychologist, two sleep-specialized nurse practitioners, a sleep-specialized respiratory therapist and a dedicated sleep nurse.

Our sleep psychologist is specifically trained in helping families and children who suffer from recurring, disruptive nightmares. Using the techniques listed above, as well as other cognitive behavioral strategies, we help children learn to calm their own fears and get the restive sleep they need to support development.

Sleep specialists at Children’s Colorado often coordinate care with other specialists and primary care physicians involved in each family’s treatment. Most importantly, we have very caring staff members who are willing to listen to families and “go the extra mile” to improve your child’s sleep and optimize development.