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It’s a nightmare!

night; mares; nightmares; dreams;


It’s a nightmare! Have you heard people say this?

Maybe you have said it yourself when bad things happen to you or those you care about and you feel helpless to do anything to make things better. But saying these are ‘nightmares’ is not the correct way of talking about nightmares.

What is a nightmare?

Nightmares are bad dreams that can upset or frighten the person who is having them.

They happen during R.E.M [Rapid Eye movement] sleep, when you are dreaming. This is usually towards the end of the night.

They can be about monsters and other scary creatures or about bad things happening to yourself or to someone/something that you care about. 
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You may know that you are having a nightmare and be trying to wake up to escape from it. When you do wake up you may be hot and sweaty and still feel afraid for a while until you slowly start to feel better.

You may be able to remember what the nightmare was about.

What seems to trigger nightmares?

fire  There are many things that seem to trigger nightmares. We actually don’t know what ‘causes’ nightmares – but there seem to be some things that make it more likely someone will have a nightmare 

  • Maybe something bad has happened to someone in your family e.g. car accident.
  • Maybe you have had a bad day and did something stupid and can’t stop worrying about what might happen.
  • Maybe you are worried about a test, having to give a talk, being bullied, getting into trouble at school or home.
  • Maybe you have been watching a scary film, been chased by a dog or have heard stories about ghosts.
  • Maybe something in the “News” that day has made you afraid of what might happen.
  • Maybe you have had a fever or have taken some medicine which is causing nightmares.
  • Maybe there is nothing that you can think of that could have triggered your nightmare.

What can help?

  • Think about things that are worrying you and see if you can do something which helps you stop worrying. (Finish your homework before you go to bed, etc.)
  • Talk with your parents or carers about things that are worrying you and see if they can help you sort them out.
  • If your nightmare is about someone breaking into your home – check the things that have been done to make sure this does not happen.
  • Talk with carers, your teacher or school counsellor if you are being bullied at school.
  • Do you have a nightlight in your room?
  • Maybe leave your door open so that mum, dad or whoever cares for you can hear that you are upset and come to sit with you until you feel better.
  • Maybe have a cuddly toy in your bed.
  • Maybe your pet could be in the room with you. [Pets have dreams too.]
  • Read a chapter of a book before going to sleep may help. [Stay away from scary stories!]
  • Have a regular ‘going to bed’ routine and go to bed about the same time each night. 

Talking about the nightmare with your parent or carer and thinking about how you could change what seems to be happening in the dream can sometimes help you to go back to sleep.

What to avoid

  • Don’t play computer games, or listen to loud music or watch tv just before bed time, especially don’t watch scary stuff,  as your mind may be too excited to settle down to sleep.
  • Don’t watch the ‘news’ as it mostly reports the bad things that are happening in the world. 
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    • Do not take your mobile phone to bed with you – and don’t use any ‘technology’ for at least half an hour before you go to bed.
    • Don’t eat or exercise just before bedtime. Exercising earlier in the day – maybe soon after school can help you get a good night’s sleep.
    • Strange shadows on your wall or windows or trees tapping your windows can be fairly scary. Ask you parent to cut the tree branch back.
    • Keeping your room tidy with everything in its place can help.

    My brother woke up many times shouting, “The pigs are poking me!” before we realised that the shadow of a table in his room looked like a particularly scary pig. Once my dad moved it his nightmares stopped.

    Night terrors

    Night terrors are different to nightmares.They do not happen during dreams and they usually happen during the first half of the night or during naps in the daytime.

    Do you have a little brother or sister? Very young children sometimes wake up screaming and not able to say what is frightening them. They may not know where they are or who you are. So, if you share a room  and you’ve been wakened up, maybe you could just cuddle him or her and speak softly until they settle back to sleep or until an adult takes over.

    The little one will not remember anything about it in the morning.

    Dr Kate says

    Dr Kate 

    It is natural for people to dream and these dreams may help us to sort through our feelings and fears. Nightmares are also ‘natural’, but they are not nice. Some people have nightmares when something is making them worry a lot, while others seem to have happy dreams even when things at home are not going well.


    Some kids seem to have lots of nightmares. Nightmares happen less often as you grow up and you learn how to deal with problems in your daily life.

    If you are often having nightmares, then talking about them with your trusted adults and planning what you can do to deal with them might make them stop.

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    We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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