The scary truth about nightmares: Frequent bad dreams increase suicide risk, study finds


The nightmare of a bad dream may not end when we wake up.

In 2001, a study found that more frequent nightmares increase the risk of suicide, but this particular study included war veterans, so the findings weren't as generally applicable. Recently, researchers looked at the correlation between nightmares and suicide in both war veterans and the general population and found that the link was not stronger for the former group.

"These results support the role of nightmares as an independent risk factor for suicide instead of just being proxy for history of traumatic experiences," according to the report abstract.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, defines nightmares as "intensive dreams with negative emotional tone." The researchers examined 71,068 participants; 3,139 were war veterans.

The study's author, the aptly named Nils Sandman of the University of Turku, told PsyPost, "There is mounting evidence that nightmares are related to many problems of well-being. In the future they should receive more clinical attention as they might have value as an early warning sign of more serious problems."

It's important to note that the researchers can't conclude whether nightmares directly cause a higher risk of suicide, or if they are an indicator of another underlying issue. What they can conclude, as Sandman noted above, is that nightmares can serve as a cautionary signal, and that individuals experiencing them should be treated with preventative measures.

Editor's note: For information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Both provide free, anonymous support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.