It is not known exactly why or how nightmares occur. It is thought however that being too tired, not getting enough sleep, having an irregular routine for sleep and/ or having stress and anxiety may all increase the risk of having nightmares.
Nightmares can also be related to the child’s stage of development. Most nightmares are a normal part of coping with changes in our lives. For children, nightmares could be related to events such as starting school, moving to a new neighbourhood or living through a divorce.
There are genetic and psychological factors which can lead to nightmares. About 7% of children who have nightmares have a family history, where their older siblings or parents also had nightmares.
Nightmares are more common in some children, including those with developmental disability, depression and certain diseases that affect the brain.
Nightmares may be associated with fevers. Some medicines can cause frightening dreams; either during treatment or after the treatment has stopped.
Stress and conflicts that occur during the day can affect a child’s sleep can lead to nightmares. They can also occur after a trauma and may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder.