Nightmares Linked to Psychotic Behavior


Nightmares endured in childhood may be predictors of behavior linked to adult psychosis.  Frequent night terrors and nightmares are associated with developing psychotic experiences.  Research performed at the University of Warwick reported nightmares that persist into adolescence can lead to psychotic behavior.  The Journal of Sleep documents that children under the age of 12 suffering from re-occurring nightmares are three and a half times more likely to undergo psychotic experiences in adolescence.  Sustaining night terrors doubled the risk of problems such as hallucinations, delusions, or interrupted thoughts.

Children in the age range of two to nine were one and half times more likely to exhibit psychotic behaviors.  When the nightmares continuously attack the sleep of children, the probability of  experiencing psychotic traits increases.  Professor Dieter Wolke reiterates three out of four children endure nightmares at a young age.  However, when nightmares and night terrors begin to steadily occur over prolonged periods of time, they may be precursors or indicators of larger issues later in life.

Although, night terrors and nightmares contain a similar premise they are not one and the same.  A night terror is an emotional episode whereby a person awakens with fear and anxiety, but is unable to recall the incident that triggered the emotion.  Night terrors take place during the first half of the night during non-rem sleep.  Nightmares, on the other hand, are simply dreams that are alarmingly terrorizing.  These particular dreams take place during rem sleep and are commonplace in young children.

Will the new-found link between nightmares and psychotic behavior foreshadow new criminal defenses?  Is this is another element to add to the storehouse of scientific knowledge about deviance? This data may become a tool for defense lawyers to utilize when defending any type of case concerning violence.  Could this slam the door on individuals taking ownership of their actions and accepting the consequences?

The emergence of this study does not seem to explain the commencement of mental health issues.  It is just adding another layer of indicators to sort through when analyzing psychosis.  Individuals suffering from psychosis have a severe mental disorder in which reality is non-existent or completely distorted.  Nightmares in young children for the most part were attributed to a vivid imagination.  It is this vivid imagination that morphs into a much larger problem in adulthood.  Instead of the nightmares existing only in sleep they begin to manifest in waking hours.  Is it the constant fear plaguing the brain year after year or is there a chemical imbalance that is being antagonized?  Is it possible that when the nightmares continue to plague the mind throughout adulthood an imbalanced mind has trouble coping, whereas a mind functioning without mental defect has a better chance of distinguishing fiction from reality?

Repeated nightmares may also contribute to insomnia which is also linked to hallucinations and delusions.  When young children are unable to adhere to a regular sleeping regimen they are susceptible to these ailments, even if a mental illness does not exist.   Health professionals cognizant of the link between nightmares and psychosis will explore this knowledge as a means for assisting in possible early diagnosis of possible mental health and behavioral issues.

Opinion By Ebony Waller


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