Kids who have frequent nightmares or night terrors may be at a higher risk for experiencing delusions and hallucinations in adolescence, a new study suggests.
The study, published in the journal SLEEP, shows an association between having frequent nightmares before age 12, and having a 3.5-times higher risk of psychotic experiences in adolescence.
An association was also found between having night terrors in childhood and having a doubled risk of psychotic experiences in adolescence.
"We certainly don't want to worry parents with this news; three in every four children experience nightmares at this young age," study researcher Dieter Wolke, Ph.D., of the University of Warwick, said in a statement. "However, 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."
Therefore, researchers noted, parents should try to promote optimal sleep hygiene for their kids.
"Diet is a key part of this, such as avoiding sugary drinks before bed, but at that young age we'd always recommend removing any affecting stimuli from the bedroom -- be it television, video games or otherwise," study researcher Helen Fisher, Ph.D., of King's College London, added in the statement. "That's the most practical change you can make."
For the study, researchers examined 6,796 children, about half of whom were girls. They gathered information on the frequency of the children's nightmares from their mothers when the kids were between ages 2.5 and 9. The researchers also interviewed the children themselves when they were age 12 about any nightmares, night terrors sleepwalking and psychotic experiences that may have occurred in the last six months.
Even after taking into account sex, emotional or behavioral problems, IQ, neurological problems and family adversity, they found an association between experiencing frequent nightmares and having a higher risk of reporting psychotic experiences at age 12.
However, researchers did not find an association between waking up at night and difficulty falling asleep and psychotic experiences.
"These findings tentatively suggest that arousal and rapid eye movement forms of sleep disorder might be early indicators of susceptibility to psychotic experiences," they wrote in the study.