Nightmares in traumatized children: Does disturbed emotion regulation play a mediating role?


  • Anna Katharina Selter german


This review paper discusses to what extent a disturbed emotion regulation acts as a mediator in the relationship between trauma in children and the experience of nightmares. Evidence has been established for an association between trauma and the experience of nightmares. The role played by an emotion dysregulation is discussed both from a neurological and from a psychosocial perspective. The neurological dimension describes the key role played by the amygdala, which is hyperactive during nightmares and chronically hyperactive after trauma. The psychosocial dimension describes the role of attachment style for the development of emotion regulation and presents theories of dream function in order to portray the role of an emotion dysregulation for post-traumatic nightmares in children. An evaluation of the literature suggests that - from both the neurological and the psychosocial perspective - emotion dysregulation plays the role of a mediator in the relationship between child trauma and nightmares and a model showing this interplay is hypothesized and explained. Empirical research should be conducted in order to empirically validate the hypothesized model and to further support the assumption that an emotion regulation therapy should be part of the treatment for child trauma patients frequently experiencing post-traumatic nightmares. Keywords: nightmares, childhood trauma, emotion dysregulation, triangular model