Bad dreams happen occasionally, and they happen to people of all ages.
No one really knows what exactly causes nightmares, but experts say that stress and anxiety play a big part in triggering it.
Children also have nightmares, and it’s actually more common for young children to have one compared to other age groups, and that might make you wonder whether they experience stress and anxiety so bad that they trigger nightmares.
The Sleep Foundation said that nightmares for children often include elements like monsters, ghosts, or people who pose a threat to their safety. Some bad dreams may also involve the child being bullied or scolded.
With a child’s growth, they tend to absorb information or watch a variety of things that they can’t understand yet, and this might cause them to get upset and anxious; these factors can also trigger nightmares.
In a study published in the eClinicalMedicine journal, a researcher discovered that bad dreams are associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease (PD).
The study’s author, Abidemi Otaiku, said that he discovered that middle-aged and older adults who experience frequent bad dreams could be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or Parkinson’s in the future.
“Given that a large proportion of people who experience regular nightmares as adults also report having had regular nightmares when they were children, this made me wonder whether having lots of bad dreams during childhood might predict the development of dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life,” the researcher said.
Using data from a 1958 birth cohort study, the researcher grouped 6,991 children based on how regularly they experienced bad dreams at ages 7 and 11, he then used statistical software to determine whether the children who regularly experience bad dreams were more likely to suffer future diseases by the time they turned 50.
He found that the more regularly the children experienced bad dreams, the more likely they were to develop cognitive impairment or be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“Having more regular distressing dreams during childhood was linearly and statistically significantly associated with higher risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD by age 50,” the study’s findings said. “Children who had persistent distressing dreams had an 85% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD by age 50.”
According to the researchers, the results of his study pose an intriguing possibility that reducing the frequency of bad dreams during childhood could be an opportunity to prevent the development of cognitive impairment of PD.
The study may be considered incomplete, as further studies are still needed to determine whether nightmares actually cause diseases.
“My hunch is that both theories could be true. That is, nightmares and progressive brain diseases are linked by shared genetics, as well as through nightmares directly causing brain diseases by disrupting the brain-restoring elements of sleep,” Otaiku said.
The researcher reassures those who read his study by saying that even though the results sound alarming, they shouldn’t be.
“Of the roughly 7,000 children included in my study, only 268 (4%) had persistent bad dreams, according to their mothers. Among these children, only 17 had developed cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease by age 50 (6%).”
“In the longer term, the aim will be to use this knowledge to develop new treatments for all people troubled by bad dreams and nightmares. The ultimate goal is to improve their sleep quality and mental health and reduce their chance of developing dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life,” the researcher said.