Nightmares may signal a child is being bullied

Many children who are bullied suffer in silence. The trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes and even suicide.

There may be a way to identify victims of bullying before they experience serious mental health problems, according to a study to be presented Saturday, May 3, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found that nightmares or night terrors were more common in 12-year-olds who had reported being bullied when they were 8 and 10 years old.

“Nightmares are relatively common in childhood, while night terrors occur in up to 10 percent of children,” said lead author Suzet Tanya Lereya, PhD, research fellow at University of Warwick. “If either occurs frequently or over a prolonged time period, they may indicate that a child/adolescent has or is being bullied by peers. These arousals in sleep may indicate significant distress for the child.”

Dr. Lereya and Dieter Wolke, PhD, analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which examined the determinants of development, health and disease during childhood and beyond. Children were enrolled at birth, and 6,438 were interviewed at ages 8 and 10 years about bullying and at age 12 about parasomnias, including nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking.

Survey results showed that at age 12 years, 1,555 (24.2 percent) of children had nightmares, 598 (9.3 percent) had night terrors, 814 (12.6 percent) reported sleep walking and 2,315 (36 percent) had at least one type of parasomnia (nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking).

After adjusting for confounders (e.g., any psychiatric diagnosis, family adversity, IQ, internalizing and externalizing problems, sexual or physical abuse, domestic violence, and nightmares before 8 years), children who were victimized at 8 or 10 years were significantly more likely to have nightmares, night terrors or sleep walking at age 12. Moreover, those who were both a victim and a bully were much more likely to have any parasomnia, but bullies were not at increased risk of a sleep disturbance.

“Our findings indicate that being bullied is a significant stress/trauma that leads to increased risk of sleep arousal problems, such as nightmares or night terrors,” said Dr. Wolke, professor of developmental psychology and individual differences at University of Warwick. “It is an easily identifiable indicator that something scary is being processed during the night. Parents should be aware that this may be related to experiences of being bullied by peers, and it provides them with an opportunity to talk with their child about it.

“General practitioners also should consider peer bullying as a potential precursor of nightmares or night terrors in children,” Dr. Wolke added.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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6 thoughts on “Nightmares may signal a child is being bullied”

  1. I disagree with his article in terms of the concept of nightmares are caused by being bullied.Past experiences are there to mould you and build but for nightmares its all in the mind of a human being also the television programmes contribute to nightmares.There are many things that trigger a person into having nightmares its not only bulling but also ancestor problems.

  2. I am of the opinion that although in some cases, this may be proven to be true, but there will, without doubt, be so many occasions where this hypothesis will be proven untrue that it cannot be considered plausible. Surely scientific method demands that more research be done in this regard before any conclusion can be found?

  3. As weird as this might sound,but i have to say that it is quiet true.I honestly say this because as a child when i was growing up,i too was a victim of being bullied.During the day,the mind records each and every event and every incident that might capture your eye,it then brings this record out when when you are asleep and starts playing it back with a lot of ‘what if’s” i.e the worst things you thought would happen.Experiencing rape,trauma,being bullied or any form of abuse is like having a stain in your mind that will never ever go away,because it is likely that even when you are awake you may have flashbacks,each and every day you relive that tragedy.

  4. 14034027

    A nightmare tends to happen in the later part of the night and most times awakens the sleeper, who is possible to remember the dream. Nightmares like being naked in public and teeth falling out are often experienced by people that suffer from self-image matters and low self-esteem problems. Fear of being judged by other people on his or her physical appearance. Dreaming about injuries can be your brain’s way of warning you that you are feeling weakness or vulnerability in your life. Nightmares about falling are often a symbol of a person that feels that they are unable to control a situation in their life. The nightmare of being chased is most times a sign of not being able to face difficult scenarios. Likewise, your actions within the dream to get away from the enemy may also be influenced by your real life. For example, if you are hiding in fear in your dream, this points out that, that is how you are handling with your problems in the real world.

  5. Dreams are known to be an outlet of the subconscious mind. Whatever is troubling your thoughts most is what you will dream, hence making it very possible for nightmares to be a result of bullying.


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