A study spanning 3 decades has identified an increase in sleep disorders over time.
Researchers at Turku University, Finland have linked frequent nightmares to a higher risk of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and suicide. The study also unveiled an increase in nightmare frequency particularly in women and war veterans. This is thought to occur with lower levels of sex steroid hormones-androgens, which decrease in production over time. This may explain why those of advancing age experienced more nightmares. Women also have lower androgen levels than men which drop further during the menopause. In addition, women have increased dream recall and emotional processing. Increased use of psychoactive medications and shorter sleep cycles is also thought to have a contributing effect.
Effects of Post Traumatic Stress
The study took the form of a lifestyle survey was carried out 8 times in over 30 years with nearly 70,000 participants. Many of these participants were directly involved in World War II or had experiences from the period. This might account for a high number of participants with post traumatic dreams triggered by real life events. This contributes to post-traumatic stress disorder and recurrent dreams which can be very distressing.
The level of distress caused by the dreams was not measured in the study nor was there a definition of what a nightmare means to the participants. These limitations are mentioned by the researchers however they state that previous studies have found comparable results.
This series of long-term studies raises a link between nightmares and mental disorders. In particular, those experiencing PTSD, female, those using drugs, sleeping poorly or older were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and were at a higher risk of suicide.
A note from the Editor
Long have dreams been a cultural and medical fascination. Dream analysis has formed the foundation of the older schools of psychodynamic therapy, as well as influenced dogmatic empires and religious causes. The mysterious workings of our subconscious, manifest in the early hours, have toppled kings, built empires and carved our history. This work is an interesting development, but perhaps not overly surprising. The link between nightmares and unhappiness is well accepted on a historic level, but hard data brings a new element to our collective psychology.
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice
Sources and Further Reading
- Sandman, N et al (2017) Nightmares as predict suicide sucide: an extension study including war veterans Scientific Reports 7,44756 (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep44756)
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