Are Nightmares Sign of Mental Health Problems?

Are Nightmares Sign of Mental Health Problems?

Author -  Pooja Shete
Medically Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on December 19, 2020 at 6:35 PM
Highlights :
  • Frequent nightmares are linked with insomnia, anxiety and depression
  • Nightmares can lead to the development and progression of heart disease
  • People having frequent nightmares need extra preventive measures for heart disease

Heart patients who have weekly nightmares are five times more likely to feel anxious or depressed. They are even more likely to have difficulty in sleeping when compared to those who do not have frequent nightmares.

The findings of this study are published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

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The research team has stated that health professionals should ask their patients if they experience any bad dreams as it is a warning sign for depression and anxiety or trouble sleeping.

Link Between Nightmares, Insomnia, Anxiety and Depression

Insomnia and physiological disorders like anxiety and depression, are linked with the development and progression of heart disease.

Nightmares can indicate that patients need extra preventive measures.

Dr. Takashi Kohno of Keio University School of Medicine from Tokyo Japan said, "Our study shows strong associations between depression, anxiety, insomnia, and bad dreams in patients with heart disease. As this was an observational study, it cannot determine the cause-effect relationship, but it may be bidirectional. In other words, depression, anxiety and insomnia may cause nightmares, and nightmares could lead to depression, anxiety and insomnia."

Previous studies conducted among the general population revealed that frequent nightmares are associated with psychological and Sleep Disorder. This was the first study to evaluate the relationship between nightmares and heart disease. Additionally,the research team examined whether the unpleasant dreams relate to heart medications.

Details of the Study

The study included 1,233 patients with an average of 64 years and 25 percent were women admitted to Keio University Hospital with various heart diseases. By using self-reported questionnaires nightmares, sleep and physiological characteristics were assessed. By using overnight pulse oximetry that measures blood oxygen levels, sleep-disordered breathing (when breathing stops and starts during sleep) was measured.

Out of the 1,233 patients enrolled, 15 percent patients had at least one nightmare per month, and 3.6 percent had at least one nightmare per week defined as frequent nightmares. Compared to men, women are more likely to have frequent, unpleasant dreams. 28 percent of the patients had sleep-disordered breathing, 45.9 percent of the patients reported insomnia, 18.5 percent of the patients had depression and 16.9 percent of the patients had anxiety.

Frequent nightmares were associated with insomnia, anxiety, and depression and not with heart medications and sleep-disordered breathing.

Patients who had bad dreams weekly were five times more likely to be depressed and anxious. They were also seven times more likely to have insomnia.

Dr Kohno said, "The prevalence of nightmares and frequent nightmares in the general population, reported by other groups, is similar to the experience of heart patients in our study. We showed that in people with heart disease, women are more likely than men to have persistent bad dreams- this also mirrors findings in the general public. The strong associations among frequent nightmares, insomnia, and psychological disorders we observed reflect prior research in healthy people, suggesting that these relationships could be universal regardless of the presence of heart diseases."

The research team has stated that nightmares can be a warning for an underlying psychological disease or sleep disorder and should be addressed to prevent new or worsening of heart problems.

Reference :
  1. Nightmares linked with anxiety and insomnia in heart patients - (

Source: Medindia
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