Environmental factors such as serious trauma or abuse and related stress can lead to nightmares or night terrors. Being bullied can be very distressing for children, and victims display long-term social, psychological, and health consequences. Unknown is whether being bullied by peers may increase the risk for experiencing parasomnias such as nightmares, night terrors, or sleepwalking.
A total of 6796 children of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort were interviewed at elementary school age (8 and 10 years) about bullying experiences with a previously validated bullying interview and at secondary school age (12.9 years) about parasomnias such as nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking by trained postgraduate psychologists.
Even after adjusting for pre-existing factors related to bullying and parasomnias, being bullied predicted having nightmares (8 years odds ratio [OR], 1.23; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05–1.44; 10 years OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.35–1.94) or night terrors (8 years OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.10–1.75; 10 years OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.18–1.98) at age 12 to 13 years. Especially being a chronic victim was associated with both nightmares (OR, 1.82; 95% CI, 1.46–2.27) and night terrors (OR, 2.01; 95% CI, 1.48–2.74). Being a bully/victim also increased the risk for any parasomnia at ages 8 or 10 years (8 years OR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.08–1.88; 10 years OR, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.30–2.36). In contrast, bullies had no increased risk for any parasomnias.
Being bullied increases the risk for having parasomnias. Hence, parents, teachers, school counselors, and clinicians may consider asking about bullying experiences if a child is having parasomnias.