SATURDAY, May 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests
that kids who are bullied when they're younger may be more likely
to suffer from nightmares and night terrors a few years later.
However, bullies themselves don't appear to face any higher risk
of disturbed sleep.
"They sleep solidly," said study author Dieter Wolke, a professor of developmental psychology and individual differences at the University of Warwick in England. "That is clearly different than what most people think. They are not disturbed thugs, but calculated manipulators."
The study has weaknesses. Its design doesn't allow researchers
to compare the percentages of children -- bullied or not-bullied --
who have bad dreams. And researchers can't be certain that being
bullied at a younger age directly causes nightmares a few years
later. It's possible that some other factor is responsible.
Still, "there is a clear association" between being bullied and
having nightmares and night terrors, the researchers found.
What's a night terror? It's when a child gets "stuck" between
stages of sleep and may scream and thrash around. "They're nearly
impossible to wake and won't remember the episode the next
morning," Wolke said.
For the study, the researchers examined surveys of over 6,400
children in the United Kingdom. The children answered questions
about bullying at ages 8 and 10, and about sleep problems at age
Overall, 24 percent of the kids had nightmares and 9 percent had
night terrors. Even after the investigators adjusted the statistics
in the study so they wouldn't be thrown off by high or low numbers
of children who had issues such as psychiatric problems, those
who'd been bullied when they were younger were still more likely to
have these kinds of sleep problems at age 12.
Not all kids who have nightmares or other sleep problems are
being bullied. However, among those who do, the level of extra risk
of bullying is "moderate," Wolke said.
Could the nightmares be the problem that contributes to bullying
by, say, causing kids to be more anxious and seen as vulnerable?
Wolke said the study findings don't suggest that possibility.
Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the
University of California, Davis, said the study appears to be valid
and fits in with previous research that has linked bullying to
stress, anxiety and depression. "It does seem likely that anxiety
would play a role in nightmares," he said.
What to do? "It is important for pediatricians and doctors to be
aware of this relationship," study author Wolke said, and ask about
bullying when kids have sleep problems. "Identifying and helping
children who are being bullied would eliminate potential mental
health problems in the future," he said.
But Faris pointed out that many victims of bullying -- perhaps
more than half -- don't feel comfortable telling their parents
about what's going on, often because they feel their parents can't
do anything about it.
That may indeed be the case, he said. Still, this study suggests
that parents of kids who have chronic nightmares should be aware
that this behavior may be a sign that their child is being bullied,
What if a parent doesn't think their child will open up? "Don't
ask directly about whether they're being bullied, but engage in
some more subtle conversations instead," Faris suggested. "And pay
attention to what's going on with their interactions with
The findings are to be presented Saturday at the annual meeting
of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver. Research
presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more about
bullying, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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