Children who are bullied between the ages of 8-10 are more likely to experience night terrors, nightmares or sleepwalking at age 12, a new study suggests.
Prof. Dieter Wolke and Dr. Suzet Tanya Lereya, of the University of Warwick in the UK, recently published their findings in the journal Pediatrics.
"Being bullied can be very distressing for children, and victims display long-term social, psychological, and health consequences," the researchers say. Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study - also published in Pediatrics - claiming bullying can have a severe impact on children's long-term health, while another study suggests victims of bullying are at increased risk of anxiety and depression later in life.
According to the researchers, previous studies have found that sleepwalking, nightmares and night terrors - episodes of intense fear, screaming and thrashing around during sleep - can be triggered by stress, trauma or abuse.
But they note that there are limited studies investigating whether bullying in childhood - an issue that affects approximately 1 in 4 children in the US - can also be a cause of such sleep disorders, known as parasomnias.
Increased anxiety among bullying victims may explain higher risk of parasomnias
To find out, the researchers assessed 6,796 children aged 8-10 years who were a part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
All children were interviewed about their experiences of bullying, and at age 12, were interviewed by trained psychologists about their experiences of parasomnias.
The researchers found that children who were bullied aged 8-10 were more likely to experience sleepwalking, nightmares or night terrors at the age of 12 than those who were not bullied. Children who were severely bullied aged 8-10 were more likely to have both nightmares and night terrors at age 12, while those who were bullied and bullied others were most likely to have any parasomnias.
Children who bullied others at age 8-10 but who were not victims of bullying had no increased risk of any parasomnias.
According to Dr. Lereya, the association between being bullied and parasomnias may be explained by increased levels of anxiety among these children:
"Nightmares may occur when anxiety exceeds a threshold level, and several studies have suggested that trait anxiety may be related to the frequency of parasomnias. However, even after controlling for pre-existing anxiety problems, our results showed that being bullied may increase the risk for parasomnias."
Parasomnias are most common among children. The researchers say that if a child is experiencing any form of parasomnia on a regular basis, parents, teachers, school counselors and pediatricians should consider asking them about bullying.
"This would allow detecting bullied children and providing the help they need at an early time to reduce the negative effects of being bullied," they add.
In March, Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting cyberbullying causes suicidal thoughts in children more than traditional bullying.