Frequent Childhood Nightmares and Risk of Psychotic Experiences

nightmaresAccording to a new study, children who suffer from frequent nightmares or night terrors are at an increased risk of psychotic experiences in adolescence.[1] In fact, children who experienced frequent nightmares before the age of 12 were three-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from psychotic experiences.1 Additionally, experiencing night terrors doubled the risk of hallucinations, interrupted thoughts, and delusions.1

As nightmares are common in young children, researchers from the University of Warwick write, “We certainly don’t want to worry parents with this news—three in every four children experience nightmares at this young age. However, nightmares over a prolonged period or bouts of night terrors that persist into adolescence can be an early indicator of something more significant in later life.”1

On the other hand, night terrors, a sleep disorder, differs from nightmares.1 They occur during deep sleep cycles during the first half of the night.1 Oftentimes, the child will scream, sit upright in a panicked state, and are unaware of any involuntary action.1 They often wake up in the morning unaware of their activity throughout the night.1

University of Warwick researchers used data collected in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children that was based in southwest England.1 The children were assessed six times between the ages of two and nine, and the likelihood of experiencing psychotic experiences in adolescence increased with the incidence of nightmares.1

“Those who reported just one period of recurrent nightmares saw a 16 percent rise, while those who reported three or more sustained periods of nightmares throughout the study saw a 56 percent increase in risk,” researchers said.1

To decrease this risk, parents can try and maintain a lifestyle that promotes healthy sleeping habits, as well as creating an environment that allows for the best possible quality of sleep.1 This means removing any stimuli from the bedroom—television, video games, telephones, etc.1 Diet is also an important factor. Avoiding sugary drinks before bed can also help promote relaxation.1

Researchers note that the data is based on the children’s own reports—to be interpreted with caution.1

[1] Wood, J. (2014). Frequent Childhood Nightmares Linked to Increased Risk of Psychotic Experiences. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 4, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/03/02/frequent-childhood-nightmares-linked-to-increased-risk-of-psychotic-experiences/66556.html

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