Deirdre Budd’s Blog

Archive for July 2009

Night fears are common and are a typical experience for most children at some point in childhood. Night fears parallel cognitive development. They are usually short lived but must be differentiated from pathological fears, nightmares, and anxiety disorders. They are most common in the 3-6 year old age group and are worse in children who are also anxious during the day.

Toddlers have fears of strangers, separation from parents, strange places and heights. Pre school children may fear being alone in the dark, imaginary creatures, bodily injury and blood/needles. School aged children may fear social or testing situations,natural disasters and supernatural phenomenon while adolescents may have fears of the future, performance fears and fear of the unkown.

Anxiety, stress and fears linked to night time or to traumatic events may play a role in exacerbating night time fears because they increase the level of emotional arousal. For parents it can be difficult to respond to these fears and to maintain a balance between reassuring the child and reinforcing the fear. Some children see their parents concerns about their fears as proof that these fears are justified.

Reassuring your child and communicating the idea of safety while teaching your child appropriate coping skills can be very useful in resolving this difficult challenge. Relaxation strategies are often helpful and being prepared to discuss your child’s fears in an open  way during the day can also help your child to resolve the fear for themselves.

Most children manage to resolve these fears by age 5-6. If this remains a problem for them then the fears may well become chronic and result in a child or adolescent developing an anxiety disorder.

If you need help to resolve your child’s night fears, Contact


Children dream from very early life but they become more aware of these dreams as they grow and develop. Between the ages of 2 and 8 years children’s dreams are very vivid and some have difficulty distinguishing between their dreams and reality.  At this stage children believe in Big Bird, Santa Clause and the tooth fairy so it is unreasonable to think that dream characters are any less real.

Nightmares are a normal part of a child’s development but they can be distressing and if they become a regular part of the child’s sleep pattern they can result in a child who is too afraid to go to bed, who becomes “bed time resistant” or having got to bed delays falling asleep for as long as possible.

Nightmares need to be distinguished from Night Terrors and this can prove difficult for parents who see a distressed child and want to provide reassurance and comfort. Night Terrors almost always occur within 1-2 hours of falling asleep.

After a nightmare children are often afraid to return to sleep. They may keep insisting that something scary is about to happen. They may not understand the concept of dreaming and may not believe that this was a bad dream and now it is over. Young children may have a nightmare following a scary experience, a big dog barking, getting an immunisation at the doctors, getting separated and lost from a parent. By 2 years of age nightmares often include monsters and scary things that would hurt a child. Older children may have nightmares following a scary story or film, or may be resolving their concerns about a recent event which has upset them. Nightmares are increased in number and regularity when the amount or quality of sleep is less than optimum. Of course nightmares occurring regularly can  also be the cause of poor sleep quality and sleep deficit so it is an important sleep disorder which should be addressed.

Has your child’s bed time been postponed because it’s summer? Is the child overtired when put to bed? First look at the simple things. For most children nightmares are a short lived disturbance but where they continue and become regular further help should be sought. Ensure that the affected child has and maintains a good bedtime routine and is getting a regular and sound sleep every night. Reassure your child that this is normal and although frightening it cannot hurt them.

If your child continues to have frequent nightmares contact We can help you to help your child sleep better.

The greatest brain growth occurs in the first year of life. It is estimated that as much as 60% of an infant’s intake is expended on rapid brain growth. Fats are a major component of this growth and nature ensures that 50% of the calories in breast milk is fat. One of the most important fats is known as DHA. DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid. It is important because it is the main structural component of brain tissue.

Research shows that infants with a reduced DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity. Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (The Inuit/Eskimo who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system. They have fewer cases of multiple sclerosis for example. Children with insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet exhibit poor school performance.

In adolescence the brain has completed most of it’s growth but there are still vital nerve connections to be completed. Although at this time essential fatty acids are still very important the average adolescents diet tends to be higher in saturated fats. At this stage body image is important and some adolescents inappropriately reduce their fat intake despite expending calories on sporting activities. Most teens are over fed but under nourished.

In Asian cultures the brain building effects of essential fatty acids have long been recognised and some students take suppliments of DHA particularly before exams.

Experience, as well as recent research, prove beyond doubt that we are what we eat. The relaying of thought and mood is directly affected by our diet. Foods which contain tyrosine wake up our brain while foods containing troptophan calm them. Complex carbohydrates ( those with a low Glycemic Index or GI) ensure a blood sugar level which is fairly constant. Simple carbohydrates are found in soft drinks and sweets, they raise the blood sugar level quickly but have a short term effect. We need to teach our children to enjoy a healthy diet. One which supports their brain’s growth and development and which does not result in behaviour issues, mood swings and sleep disturbances.

Recent studies have confirmed the long held belief that sleep is important for consolidation of memory.  Findings suggest that there is a competetive consolidation process, and that the fate of the memory, depends on the strength of the memory at the onset of sleep. Weaker memories are further eroded but strong memories are preserved.  These findings suggest that the removal of “memory debris”  and forgetting the less important things may assist the brain in holding onto the memories that are important.

For many years it has been thought that a short nap after some intensive study consolidates the learning process. The data from this study certainly confirms this. When sleep directly follows a period of learning, rather than after a day of  waking, retention of that learning is much improved.  It follows that our children, experiencing an intense day at school and returning home tired, would benefit from a short nap which may improve their grasp of learning. This has to be balanced with a good night sleep to ensure that all the other functions requiring completed sleep cycles are not disturbed.


Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


July 2009
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