Individuals who experience frightening and unpleasant dreams are at high risk for suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts, revealed a new study.
Researchers claim this study to be the first to report the relationship between nightmares and suicidal behaviors that are partially mediated by a multi-step pathway via defeat, entrapment and hopelessness.
‘Frightening dreams may trigger negative cognitive thoughts such as defeat and hopelessness which reinforce suicidal thoughts and behaviors.’
Multiple analyses suggest that nightmares may act as a stressor in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"PTSD increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior and our study shows that nightmares -- a hallmark symptom of PTSD -- may be an important treatment target to reduce suicide risk," said principal investigator Donna L. Littlewood from the University of Manchester in Britain.
"In addition, monitoring and targeting levels of negative cognitive appraisals such as defeat, entrapment and hopelessness, may reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors," Littlewood added in the paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
The nightmares may trigger specific types of negative cognitive thoughts -- such as defeat, entrapment and hopelessness -- which reinforce suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The pathways between nightmares and suicidal behaviors appear to operate independent of co-morbid insomnia and depression.
For the study, data was collected from 91 participants who had experienced traumatic events, 51 of whom met criteria for PTSD currently and an additional 24 of whom reported a prior diagnosis of PTSD.
Nightmares were measured by summing the frequency and intensity ratings of relevant items on the clinician-administered PTSD scale.
Participants also completed questionnaire measures of suicidal behavior, hopelessness, defeat and entrapment.
The results show that suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts were present in 62 percent of participants who experienced nightmares and only 20 percent of those without nightmares.
The authors suggest there are additional pathways underpinning the relationship between nightmares and suicide that should be identified through further research.