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Children's Nightmares Less Common

Nightmares Among Preschoolers Linked to Their Personality
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 3, 2008 -- Nightmares among young children may be less common than thought. A new study suggests most children's nightmares may be linked to the child's personality traits.

Researchers found most parents of preschoolers reported that their children had nightmares "never" or "sometimes," with less than 4% having nightmares "often" or "always."

The survey also showed that children with frequent nightmares were more likely to be considered anxious by their parents or to have a difficult temperament.

Researchers say the results show that young children with frequent nightmares are a lot like adults with frequent nightmares, who generally suffer from distress and other emotional problems.

Nightmares Tied to Personality Traits

In the study, published in the journal Sleep, researchers surveyed parents of 987 children in the Canadian Province of Quebec at ages 29 months, 41 months, 50 months, 5 years, and 6 years. Parents were asked about the frequency of their child's nightmares without having to assess whether the nightmares caused them to wake up during the night.

The results showed that less than 4% had nightmares often or always.

Researchers found children with risk factors for nightmares shared common traits that emerged as early as 5 months of age. For example, children with risk factors for nightmares:

  • Were more likely to have a difficult temperament as rated by their mother at 5 and 17 months old
  • Were more likely to be restless during the day at 5 and 17 months old
  • Were more likely to be anxious and difficult to calm at 17 months old

Protective factors included parents who provided emotional nurturing after children awoke from nightmares.

Researcher Valerie Simard, MSc,of the University of Montreal says the results suggest that carefully targeting early anxiety symptoms in young children may help prevent nightmares and other emotional issues.

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