Nightmares May Be More Common for Bullied Kids

By Janice Wood
January 23rd, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

Nightmares May Be More Common for Bullied KidsA new study has found that nightmares or night terrors were more common in 12-year-olds who reported being bullied when they were eight and 10 years old.

“Nightmares are relatively common in childhood, while night terrors occur in up to 10 percent of children,” said Suzet Tanya Lereya, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

“If either occurs frequently or over a prolonged time period, they may indicate that a child/adolescent has or is being bullied by peers. These arousals in sleep may indicate significant distress for the child.”

For the study, Lereya and Dieter Wolke, Ph.D., analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Children were enrolled at birth, and 6,438 were interviewed at ages 8 and 10 about bullying and at age 12 about parasomnias, including nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking.

The survey found that at age 12, 1,555 (24.2 percent) of children had nightmares, 598 (9.3 percent) had night terrors, 814 (12.6 percent) reported sleep walking, and 2,315 (36 percent) had at least one type of parasomnia (nightmares, night terrors and sleep walking), the researchers report.

After adjusting for other factors, such as any psychiatric diagnosis, family adversity, IQ, internalizing and externalizing problems, sexual or physical abuse, domestic violence, and nightmares before 8 years, children who were bullied at the ages of eight or 10 were significantly more likely to have nightmares, night terrors, or sleep walking at age 12, according to the researchers.

The researchers also found that children who were both a victim and a bully were much more likely to have any parasomnia, while bullies were not at an increased risk of a sleep disturbance.

“Our findings indicate that being bullied is a significant stress/trauma that leads to increased risk of sleep arousal problems, such as nightmares or night terrors,” said Wolke, a professor of developmental psychology and individual differences at the University of Warwick. “It is an easily identifiable indicator that something scary is being processed during the night.

“Parents should be aware that this may be related to experiences of being bullied by peers, and it provides them with an opportunity to talk with their child about it. General practitioners also should consider peer bullying as a potential precursor of nightmares or night terrors in children.”

The study, supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom, was presented at the 2014 Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Scared boy sitting on his bed photo by shutterstock.

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.