A new study has shown that children who experience a lot of nightmares and bad dreams are at a higher risk of suffering psychosis. The study has indicated that the occurrence of symptoms like delusions and hallucinations are trebled in 12-year olds who experience regular nightmares. Children between the ages of two and nine who experience regular bad dreams are more prone to psychotic episodes than those who have undisturbed sleeping patterns.
The study consisted of 6700 children. Around 25% of this group reported that by the age of 12 they had experienced nightmares within the six months prior to the commencement of the study. Less than 10 of the participants had experienced night terror. Night terrors are often indicated by loud screams and the person sitting up in bed in a state of panic. They are normally unaware of this involuntary action.
Night terrors and nightmares are different forms of disturbance during sleep. Nightmares usually happen during the rapid eye movement section of the sleep pattern. This is the time when most dreams occur. Night terrors occur during deep sleep.
The participants underwent assessment six times when they were between the ages of two and nine. It was found that there was more chance of psychosis if the rates of nightmares were higher during this period.
Children who had had persistent nightmares during a single assessment point were found to be 16% more likely to have psychotic episodes during adolescence than those who had not experienced nightmares. Children who experienced three or more period of nightmares were found to be at a much higher risk of 56%.
The charity, Young Minds, has stated that this was an extremely important study in the identification of mental health as it is critical that children are able to undergo intervention methods to avoid mental illness during adulthood.
Scientists have however issued reassurance to parents that nightmares are actually quite common in youngsters and they would normally grow out of them. Around three in four children have nightmares at this age, but persistent nightmares which extend into adolescence may be an early sign of what could happen in later life.
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