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Nightmares, suicidal tendencies linked

Jan. 2, 2007
Courtesy American Academy of Sleep Medicine 
and World Science staff

A study has found that night­mares are as­so­ci­at­ed with sui­ci­dal­ity, and sleep dis­tur­bances are com­mon among su­i­cide at­tempters.

The re­search, con­ducted by Nisse Sjöström and col­leagues of Sahlgren­ska Uni­ver­si­ty Hos­pi­tal in Göte­borg, Swe­den, fo­cused on 165 pa­tients aged 18 to 68, who came to the hos­pi­tal af­ter su­i­cide at­tempts. 

Star­ry Night by Vin­cent Van Gogh (1889), an im­age of noc­tur­nal tur­bu­lence. The paint­er, who com­plained of night­mares, killed him­self the year af­ter com­plet­ing this work.


The sci­en­tists found that 89 per­cent of sub­jects re­ported some sleep dis­turb­ance. The most com­mon: dif­fi­cul­ties fal­ling asleep (73 per­cent), stay­ing asleep (69 per­cent), night­mares (66 per­cent) and ear­ly morn­ing awak­en­ing (58 per­cent). 

Night­mares were found to be as­so­ci­at­ed with a five-fold in­crease in risk for high sui­ci­dal­ity. This does­n’t im­ply that night­mares cause su­i­cide, said Sjöström. 

But “our find­ings should in­spire clin­i­cians to in­clude ques­tions con­cern­ing sleep dis­turb­ance and es­pe­cial­ly night­mares in the clin­i­cal as­sess­ment of su­i­cid­al pa­tients.”

Night­mares are com­mon and can beg­in at any age. Be­tween 50 and 85 per­cent of adults re­port hav­ing a night­mare at least on oc­ca­sion, the re­search­ers said, though these trou­bling dreams tend to be­come less fre­quent and in­tense with age. 

Teen and adult wom­en re­port night­mares more of­ten than teen and adult men, added Sjöström and col­leagues.

Ex­ces­sive­ly fre­quent night­mares may amount to “night­mare dis­or­der,” the re­search­ers added; this af­fects about two to eight per­cent of peo­ple at any giv­en time, and may have a ge­net­ic com­po­nent and al­so be caused by some med­i­ca­tions. An­y­one af­flicted by fre­quent, dis­rup­tive night­mares should see a sleep spe­cial­ist, ac­cord­ing to Sjöström’s team.

The study ap­peared in the Jan. 1 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Sleep


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A study has found that nightmares are associated with suicidality, and sleep disturbances common among suicide attempters. The research, conducted by Nisse Sjöström and colleagues of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Göteborg, Sweden, focused on 165 patients aged 18 to 68, who came to the hospital after suicide attempts. The scientists found that 89 percent of subjects reported some kind of sleep disturbance. The most common complaints: difficulties initiating sleep (73 percent), maintaining sleep (69 percent), nightmares (66 percent) and early morning awakening (58 percent). Nightmares were found to be associated with a five-fold increase in risk for high suicidality. This doesn’t imply that nightmares cause suicide, said Sjöström. But “our findings should inspire clinicians to include questions concerning sleep disturbance and especially nightmares in the clinical assessment of suicidal patients.” Nightmares are common and can begin at any age. Between 50 and 85 percent of adults report having a nightmare at least on occasion, the researchers said, though these troubling dreams tend to become less frequent and intense with age. Teen and adult women report nightmares more often than teen and adult men, added Sjöström and colleagues. Excessively frequent nightmares are called “nightmare disorder,” the researchers added; this affects about two to eight percent of people at any given time, and may have a genetic component and also be caused by some medications. Anyone afflicted by frequent, disruptive nightmares should see a sleep specialist, according to Sjöström’s team.