Nightmare disorder common among U.S. military personnel, but few report symptoms

DARIEN, III — A recent study found that a high percentage of United States military personnel suffers from nightmare disorder, but only a small portion of them reported their symptoms.

The study, conducted by a group of doctors and researchers who specialize in sleep medicine and disorders, showed that 31 percent of U.S. military personnel experience clinically significant nightmares, with trauma-related nightmares accounting for 60 percent of those bad dreams. Despite the commonality of nightmares, they were only reported as a sleep concern by slightly less than four percent of military personnel.

The concern over the underreported condition is understandable. Researchers say those who met criteria for nightmare disorder were five times more likely to also be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), four times more likely to suffer from depression, three times more likely to suffer from acute anxiety, and twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than their fellow soldiers.

“This research provides a basis for furthering the study and knowledge of nightmares in survivors of traumatic experiences,” says lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Creamer, medical director at the Sleep Medicine Center at Martin Army Medical Center in Fort Benning, Georgia, in a news release. “Treatment of nightmares can lead to improvement in sleep, quality of life, and other disorders such as suicidality.”

A nightmare disorder is defined as repeated nightmares causing distress or impairment in social or occupational function.

The study was the largest to examine nightmares among active-duty personnel, according to the researchers, with 493 active-duty military personnel monitored. Most (78.5 percent) of the participants were men, with the average age of the participants about 39 years.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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