The research from the University of Warwick, shows that children reporting frequent nightmares at the age of 12 were three and a half times more likely to suffer from psychotic experiences in early adolescence.

Similarly, experiencing night terrors doubled the risk of such problems, including hallucinations, interrupted thoughts or delusions, researchers said.
    
Younger children, between two and nine years old, who had persistent nightmares reported by parents had up to one and a half times increased risk of developing psychotic experiences.

Nightmares are considered to be commonplace in young children with incidence reducing as they grow older. They occur in the second half of sleep during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

Those who have experienced them will be familiar with the sensation of waking suddenly with a sense of fear, worry and possible palpitations, researchers said.

Night terrors, a sleep disorder, differ from nightmares and occur during deep sleep (non-REM) cycles in the first half of the night.

A night terror bout is often signified by a loud scream and the individual sitting upright in a panicked state, though unaware of any of the involuntary action.
    
"We certainly don't want to worry parents with this news; three in every four children experience nightmares at this young age. However, nightmares over a prolonged period or bouts of night terrors that persist into adolescence can be an early indicator of something more significant in later life," Professor Dieter Wolke said.
    
The cohort was assessed six times between the ages of two and nine. The likelihood of experiencing psychotic experiences in adolescence increased with the incidence of nightmares.     

Those who only reported one period of recurrent nightmares saw a 16 percent rise, whereas those who reported three or more sustained periods of nightmares throughout the study saw a 56 percent increase in risk.

In contrast, problems with falling asleep or night waking (insomnia) had no relationship to later psychotic experiences.

"The best advice is to try to maintain a lifestyle that promotes healthy sleep hygiene for your child, by creating an environment that allows for the best possible quality of sleep," Dr Helen Fisher, of King's College London, added.

(Agencies)

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