New research suggests those bad dreams are about more than ghosts and monsters.

By Abigail Wise
Updated April 02, 2015
Woman walking through dark trees
Credit: Christoph Hetzmannseder/Getty Images

Unfortunately, nightmares don't always go away when you stop believing in the Bogeyman. Between 80 and 90 percent of people experience nightmares in their lives, according to the American Sleep Association, and those scary dreams even cause chronic sleep problems in five percent of the population. Now, a new study suggests that depression and insomnia are the strongest risk factors for frequent nightmares in adults.

For the study, published in the journal Sleep, researchers surveyed nearly 14,000 Finnish adults between the ages of 25 and 74 about depression, insomnia, and whether or not they suffered from nightmares over a 30-day period. Fewer than four percent of the participants reported having had a nightmare in the past month, but 28 percent of participants with severe depression and 17 percent of those with insomnia did. Plus, according to the survey results, women were slightly more likely to report nightmares than men. Researchers concluded that the largest risk factors for nightmares were exhaustion, insomnia, and a “negative attitude toward self," according to a statement.

This is yet another paper in the long list of research connecting health with sleep. “Our study shows a clear connection between well-being and nightmares,” lead author Nils Sandman said in a statement. “This is most evident in the connection between nightmares and depression, but also apparent in many other analyses involving nightmares and questions measuring life satisfaction and health.”

If you're experiencing frequent nightmares, it could be a good idea to speak with your doctor. "It might be possible that nightmares could function as early indicators of onset of depression and therefore have previously untapped diagnostic value," Sandman said.