Childhood nightmares may lead to mental illness in adulthood

Childhood nightmares occur from time to time in young children. Frightening dreams can be upsetting but they are not real and cannot harm the kids in real-time, but a new study suggests otherwise. The recent study findings show that frequent nightmares or bouts of night terrors may significantly increase a child’s risk of psychotic experiences in adolescence.

The findings explained in a report published Friday in the U.S. journal SLEEP reveal that kids who suffer from frequent nightmares or bad dreams before the age of 12 are nearly four times more likely to suffer from psychotic traits in adolescence.

More precisely, the children who experience persistent nightmares before the age of 12 are 3.5 times more vulnerable to suffer from mental illness in early adolescence, and these childhood nightmares double the risk of such psychotic problems, including hallucinations, interrupted thoughts or delusions, by the time they reach teenage the study shows.

To reach their findings, a team of British researchers looked at a group of children in South West England and evaluated them six times between the ages of 2 and 9. The researchers found that the probability of suffering from mental illness during adolescence increased with the frequency of nightmare.

The researchers saw a 16 percent rise in the likelihood of childhood nightmares among the kids who reported only one period of recurrent nightmare, while those with three or more sustained periods of nightmares witnessed a 56 percent rise in their risk.

“We certainly don”t want to worry parents with this news; three in every four children experience nightmares at this young age,” lead author Dr. Dieter Wolke, from the University of Warwick in England, said in a university news release. “However, childhood 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.”

“This is a very important study because anything that we can do to promote early identification of signs of mental illness is vital to help the thousands of children that suffer,” quoted Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, a British charity devoted to children”s mental health, as saying in the news release. “Early intervention is crucial to help avoid children suffering entrenched mental illness when they reach adulthood,” she added.

A word of advice
According to Dr Helen Fisher, of King”s College London, parents should maintain a healthy lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep habits for their kids and create an environment where they can have best possible quality of sleep. For instance, parents should make sure that their kids do not consume sugary drinks before bed, and that there is no affecting stimulus in the kids’ bedroom like television, computer or video games.

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