Sleep Disorders

Updated 24 April 2015

Depression, insomnia and fatigue are the stuff of nightmares

Depression, insomnia and fatigue appear to be linked to a raised risk of bad dreams, new research suggests.


Depression, insomnia and exhaustion may be major risk factors for frequent nightmares, new research suggests.

Connection between well-being and nightmares

"Our study shows a clear connection between well-being and nightmares," lead author Nils Sandman, a researcher in the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Turku in Finland, said in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.

However, the study did not prove that depression, insomnia and fatigue caused nightmares.

Read: What are sleep disorders?

The study included nearly 14,000 adults, aged 25 to 74, in Finland who were surveyed in 2007 and 2012. Fifty-three percent were women.

About 45 percent of the participants said they had occasional nightmares in the past 30 days, while just over 50 percent said they had no nightmares.

Frequent nightmares

Nearly 4 percent said they had frequent nightmares in the past 30 days, including nearly 5 percent of women and about 3 percent of men, the findings showed.

Frequent nightmares were reported by about 28 percent of people with severe depression and about 17 percent of those with frequent insomnia, the researchers reported.

Read: Treating sleep disorders

After further analysis, the study authors concluded that insomnia, exhaustion and the depression symptom of "negative attitude toward self" were the strongest independent risk factors for nightmares.

"This is most evident in the connection between nightmares and depression, but also apparent in many other analyses involving nightmares and questions measuring life satisfaction and health," Sandman said in the news release.

Nightmares as early indicators of depression

"It might be possible that nightmares could function as early indicators of onset of depression and therefore have previously untapped diagnostic value," Sandman added.

The study is published in the April issue of the journal Sleep.

Read More:

Not all kids need to nap during the day

Sleep deprived? Naps might help your immune system

Night owls run higher risk of health problems

Image: Nightmare from Shutterstock


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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