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When things go bump in the night

For some kids, getting to sleep and staying asleep is a nightly ordeal. For their parents, helping these problem sleepers (and themselves) rest easy is a challenge. Here’s a look at three sleep disturbances and how to help a child conquer them.

Nightmares

Most children experience an occasional nightmare. Frightening dreams usually occur during light sleep, typically waking your child up. Before you know it, your teary-eyed tot is calling for you. Getting him or her to settle back down to sleep is the next step—but how?

Solution: Reassure your child that the bad dream is over. Let him or her cling to you, keep the lights low and speak softly as you lull your child back to sleep. He or she will probably remember the dream in the morning. Explain to your little one that nightmares are like fears turned into scary stories. Remind your child that his or her room is safe and that you are there to make sure it stays that way.

Night terrors

Unlike a nightmare, you will observe the terror as it unfolds. Your child will partially rouse from deep sleep, seem confused, stare in terror at some invisible object, sweat, cry out, talk or moan. Your child may seem oblivious to your presence and unresponsive to consoling. The youngster will settle quickly back into a deep, calm sleep once the episode passes (usually within five to 10 minutes). He or she will not remember the event but may seem anxious the next day.

Solution: While night terrors are frightening to witness, children are consciously unaware of them because they never fully awaken. For this same reason, your child will not be sleep deprived. Remember this as you ride out the experience and make sure he or she is safely tucked back in bed after it is over.

Sleepwalking

About 15 percent of children sleepwalk between the ages of 4 and 15. Sleepwalking usually occurs within two hours of bedtime, and may last from five to 20 minutes. While your little one walks, his or her eyes are open but blank. Your child may clumsily try to get dressed or turn on lights. It is impossible to wake your child.

Solution: Before you lead your child back to bed, direct him or her toward the bathroom (he or she may instinctively be trying to go). Don’t try to awaken your child. Protect him or her from accidents by putting gates on stairways and locks on doors. If your child sleepwalks frequently, awaken him or her 15 minutes before the usual onset of the episode. Keep your child fully awake for five minutes. Continue this for a week. If sleepwalking returns, repeat the program.