Think your child is always sleeping peacefully while visions of sugarplums dance in his head? Monsters and goblins might be invading your child’s sleep more often than you realize. That’s the conclusion drawn from a German study published in 2008. The study involved 4,531 fourth graders ages 8 to 11 and their parents, in all 4,834 adults. Both groups completed questionnaires related to the children’s nightmares, or lack thereof.
Students and parents filled out questionnaires given to them by the students’ teachers. Students completed 28 questions answering “not present,” “sometimes” or “often.” Parental surveys consisted of 33 questions.
Once all the responses were tallied, it turned out students reported having nightmares significantly more often than their parents thought they had them. Approximately 3.5 percent of the children said they often had nightmares. But only 2.3 percent of parents believed their children often had them. Similarly, 40 percent of the children reported sometimes having nightmares while only 26.9 of their parents thought their children did sometimes. In addition, a slightly larger number of girls than boys reported experiencing nightmares.
The study identified sleep disturbances that can come about as a result of a child enduring nightmares. These were: difficulties falling asleep, having irregular sleep patterns, sleepwalking and suffering from night terrors, an extreme fear of the night. One thing that could have influenced the study’s outcome is the simple reality that kids don’t always get their facts straight. Nor do adults for that matter — let alone when trying, during waking hours to remember what they dreamt about at night.
Plus, if participating children had kept sleep diaries and been interviewed one-on-one instead of filling out questionnaire forms, the study would have been a more reliable tool for gauging how often they did or didn’t have nightmares. Even so, the study points to the need for parents to regularly ask their children point-blank, “Are you having bad dreams?” Instead of just assuming the answer would be, “Nope.” You certainly need to question your child in this way if she has sleep disturbances like the ones mentioned here.
Also, children with the mood disorder known as bipolar disorder can experience nightmares. What’s more, parents and doctors often don’t realize the children have the disorder. For more information read “Manic Depression: Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.”