New research from the University of Warwick found a correlation between the frequency during childhood and psychotic problems later in life. Night terrors – where the individual is screaming and thrashing limbs while asleep—also increased the risk.
Published in the journal Sleep, the researchers evaluated more than 6,800 children up to the age of 12 from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). They concluded that children, who reported experiencing nightmares at age 12 had a three times higher risk of suffering from psychotic problems during teenage years. Also, night terrors doubled the risk of hallucinations and delusions.
The parents were frequently asked about any sleep difficulties in their children. At the end of the study, the children were assessed for psychotic experiences such as hallucinations, delusions and thinking their thoughts were being controlled.
Children reporting problems one period of nightmares had a 16 percent higher risk of psychotic problems while children reporting three or more periods of nightmares had a risk of 56 percent.
Sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep had no association with psychotic problems later in life.
A major limitation of the study was that the data was based on the children's own reports.
Researchers say that parents can help reduce nightmares and night terror risk by adopting sleep hygiene.
“Sleep hygiene is very important, they should have more regular sleep, avoid anxiety-promoting films before bed and not have a computer at night,” says Professor Dieter Wolke.
The charity YoungMinds believe this is an important study to help detect early signs of mental illness.