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Nightmares and Other Sleep Problems in Children

Table of Contents

Topic Overview

Why is sleep important to your child?

A good night's sleep helps your child to grow, to form memories, and to learn. Sleep helps your child stay alert and focused at school and play.

Children who don't get enough sleep over time can have behavior problems and trouble learning. They may become moody, sad, or angry.

What kinds of sleep problems can children have?

Most sleep problems occur when the child is only partly asleep. Problems may include:

Children spend more time than teens and adults in a deep stage of sleep that happens early in the night. Sleep problems such as night terrors often happen during the change from this phase of sleep into lighter sleep. Nightmares tend to occur later in sleep, in the early morning hours when children are dreaming.

It may take some time for your child to go back to sleep. Children usually remember a nightmare, but they don't tend to remember night terrors, confusional arousals, or sleepwalking.

What can you do to help your child?

Sleep talking


Night terrors and confusional arousals


When should your child see a doctor for sleep problems?

Children outgrow most sleep problems. But you may want to take your child to the doctor if:

The doctor may look for health problems that could cause sleep problems. For example, children who are under stress because of problems at home or at school may be more likely to have nightmares.

Your doctor may suggest counseling if your child has a lot of stress and often has nightmares.

Most children don't need medicine. In rare cases, a child may take medicine to help control the phase of sleep in which sleepwalking occurs.

Credits for Nightmares and Other Sleep Problems in Children

Current as of: September 20, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics

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