sleeping kid
Exposure to too much nightmares or night terrors during the early years of growth is not good for mental health.woodleywonderworks/Flickr

Having a disturbing or scary dream is very common in childhood. However, according to a new study, exposure to too much nightmares or night terrors during the early years of growth is not good for mental health.

Nightmares, as defined by Mayo Clinic in the US, are disturbing dreams that disrupts the sleep, and lead to negative feelings like anxiety or fear. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, nightmares happen during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. Nightmares normally start before age six and vanish after age ten.

Night terrors, on the other hand, are sleep disorders that make one to wake up from the sleep in a horrified or violent way, mostly by screaming. According to the health experts at Medline Plus, night terrors can be prompted by fever, poor sleep or stress. Unlike nightmares, the latter occurs during deep sleep, in the first half of night.

In the study, having nightmares on a frequent basis, between age two and nine, was associated with an increased risk of various types of psychotic problems in early adolescence or age 12.

The study looked at 6,796 children, of which 3,463 were girls. Mothers provided prevalence of nightmares among their children in the early years of growth, i.e. ages two and nine. At age 12, children revealed their dreaming habits, sleeping habits and psychotic experiences like delusions and hallucinations.

Researchers from the University of Warwick found a direct link between regular childhood nightmares and psychotic problems during teenage years. While nightmare at age 12 increased the risk of psychotic problems by three and a half times, night terrors doubled the risk of experiencing delusions, hallucinations and interrupted thoughts. Nightmares during early childhood were associated with one and half times increased risk of psychotic experiences in early adolescence.

"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 in a news release.

Researchers said that following a healthy sleeping habit is the best way to avoid this occurrence. "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. Diet is a key part of this, such as avoiding sugary drinks before bed, but at that young age we'd always recommend removing any affecting stimuli from the bedroom - be it television, video games or otherwise. That's the most practical change you can make," Dr Helen Fisher, of King's College London, explained.

The study has been reported in the journal Sleep.