Do you often experience frightening or repulsive dreams? A new study has revealed that nightmares have been identified as a risk for suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.
Researchers claim this study to be the first to report the relationship between nightmares and suicidal behaviours that is partially mediated by a multi-step pathway via defeat, entrapment and hopelessness.
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 behaviour 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 behaviours,” 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 behaviours.
The pathways between nightmares and suicidal behaviours appear to operate independent of comorbid 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 behaviour, 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.