Having nightmares is something that every person has experienced yet most commonly they subside after childhood. Nonetheless, the experience of nightmares, for some, can continue into adulthood and can be defined as the experiencing of a dream that has the ability to stimulate intense fear, without the ability to arouse the individual from their sleep. Prolonged experiences of nightmares have been recognised as an indicator of psychiatric illness with this among sleep disorders being associated with disorders such as depression, panic disorders and anxiety. Additionally, there has been research into the frequency of nightmares and suicide ideation and committing suicide, with those with major depression experiencing nightmares being twice as likely to commit suicide than depressed patients who did not have nightmares (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2014; Marinova et al., 2014).

Finnish research investigated this through the use of self-reported measures establishing socioeconomic status, employment status and the use of psychoactive substances alongside the frequency of nightmares (Tanskanen et al, 2001). The study established an association between nightmares and death by suicide within a general population, yet could not establish significance due to the reduced number of suicides among women in comparison to men. This alludes to those who experience nightmares being considered more vulnerable than those who do not as a result of them being more likely to engage in maladaptive coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse (Klink and Quan, 1987). This however can be considered unsurprising as a result of many people finding methods, regardless of the risk, to avoid falling asleep and therefore experiencing nightmares.

Despite acknowledging the association between suffering from nightmares and suicide, there is a substantial amount of research that still needs to be conducted within this area as to the reason why this is the case is still ambiguous. However, current research has established and identified nightmares as a potential risk factor of suicide. In increasing awareness, it offers an educational aspect in identifying those who are struggling.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. International classification of sleep disorders. 3rd ed. Darien, IL: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; 2014.

Klink M, Quan SF. Prevalence of reported sleep disturbances in a general adult population and their relationship to obstructive airways diseases. Chest 1987;91:540-546.

Marinova, P., Koychev, I., Laleva, L., Kancheva, L., Tsvetkov, M., Bilyukov, R., ... & Koychev, G. (2014). Nightmares and suicide: predicting risk in depression. Psychiatria Danubina26(2), 0-164.

Tanskanen, A., Tuomilehto, J., Viinamäki, H., Vartiainen, E., Lehtonen, J., & Puska, P. (2001). Nightmares as predictors of suicide. Sleep24(7), 845-848.

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