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Persistent childhood nightmares in childhood may be linked to later psychotic experiences

Persistent nightmares in children could be a potential risk indicator for the development of psychotic experiences in later teenage years, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Warwick.

University of Warwick led this research with colleagues from University College London, Cardiff University, University of Bristol and Kings College London. This study involves studying a sample of 4,060 individuals from a U.K. birth cohort, parental reports of regular nightmares between ages of 2 and 9, and interviews to assess experiences of nightmares at age 12 and psychotic experiences at age 18. They found that chronic nightmares in childhood were associated with new episodes of psychotic experiences by the age of 18. For example, at age 12, 24.9% of children reported having nightmares and 7.9% were found to experience psychotic symptoms.

Dr Andrew Thompson from University of Warwick suggests that although anxiety and depression may be influential factors in the sleep disturbance, stressful events, which may be causing this anxiety or depression, have been related to the development of both nightmares and psychotic symptoms.

It may be that nightmares have little significance to later psychopathology. However, individuals with additional risks, e.g. family history of mental illness or past trauma, these sleep problems have more significance and may highlight other potential psychological difficulties which would otherwise go unnoticed.

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By: Abigail Christine Wright
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 June 2015