+44 (0)800 193 3277
[email protected]

Orchestrate Health is a private pay healthcare company and works outside of the NHS

Frequent Nightmares and Dementia: What’s The Link?

It’s no secret that our sleeping habits fluctuate throughout our lives. As we get older, our sleeping patterns look quite different than they did in our late twenties or early thirties.

Whilst many people find the older they get, the more trouble they have staying asleep, others may experience frustrating conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, or an increase in distressing nightmares.

Having nightmares occasionally is simply a part of our human experience. However, if you are in your middle years and suffer from multiple nightmares per week, you may be at risk of developing dementia.

So, what does the science say? Is there a definitive link between nightmares and dementia? Let’s explore this.

Why Do We Experience Nightmares?

If you have ever stopped and wondered why our brains disrupt our perfectly peaceful rest, and instead insert a horrifying or heart-breaking nightmare, you are not alone.

Nightmares are defined as any disturbing dream that causes negative emotions such as fear, sadness, grief, panic, or anxiety and causes you to wake from your sleep.

Stress, anxiety, or major life changes are common reasons an individual may experience a nightmare. In addition, post-traumatic stress disorder and prescription medication can influence the occurrence of these terrifying dreams.

Whilst the theories behind why we experience nightmares are still up for debate, many researchers have concluded that they likely evolved as a way for our ancestors to stay alert for any potential dangers.

However, it is known that nightmares are caused as we begin to shift out of REM sleep – the deepest part of rest. When our brains are preparing us to awaken, we find ourselves on this ‘dream-wake’ cusp, halfway between reality and subconscious thinking. It is there that we find our memories, life experiences, worries, and memories become distorted and consolidated into one horrifying visual.

What Is Dementia?

Whilst dementia isn’t a specific disease, it is rather thought to be a group of conditions that occur when an individual’s brain function begins to decline.

Dementia often looks like the inability to remember both short-term details and long-term memories, confusion, and difficulties with speech and basic understandings.

These symptoms are gradual, and over time result in extreme impairment of daily living. While dementia can affect anyone, it is mainly found in individuals over 65 years of age.

By 2025, it is estimated that nearly 1 million people in the UK alone will be suffering from some form of dementia. Because of this staggering statistic, it is important to understand what to be on the lookout for. While frequent nightmares may not set off alarm bells for you, they can be a sign of brain degeneration in the future.

Frequent Nightmares and Dementia: What’s The Link?

Are Nightmares a Warning Sign for Dementia?

It can be incredibly difficult to determine who will develop dementia, and who won’t. However, research over the years has shown an increase in frequent nightmares in those who develop dementia later in life.

A British study conducted by Dr Abidemi Otaiku at the University of Birmingham’s Centre For Human Brain Health, found people aged 35-64 who experienced multiple bad dreams weekly were four times as likely to develop dementia and other forms of cognitive decline over the next 10 years.

Not only this, but men were found to have a stronger connection linking their nightmares to onset dementia, than women. Dr Otaiku’s study found that men experiencing bad dreams on a weekly basis were 5 times more likely than women to experience cognitive decline.

While this research gives us a strong possibility, Dr. Otaiku reiterated that it merely shows a correlation, rather than causation, and future research is needed.

In addition, Dr Sam Gandy, director at Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in the United States spoke on the matter, confirming this theory. He stated:

“I suspect that some individuals who are in the earliest stages of dementia have subtle neuro-degeneration in parts of the brain that help to down-regulate negative emotions during wakefulness and dreaming. This may manifest in nightmares and depression in the years leading up to a dementia diagnosis.”

What’s Next for Future Research?

While there is still a large amount of research that needs to be conducted on this subject, organisations such as Alzheimer’s Research UK are taking charge to do so. Their recent initiative involves studying the very earliest signs of brain disease, by analysing lifestyle factors such as sleeping patterns.

Since many of these existing studies were conducted on primarily white test subjects, a more diverse population is needed to determine how nightmares may predict dementia in minority groups.

Future research aims to determine whether nightmares in younger populations such as youth, determine an individual’s risk for dementia or other degenerative brain conditions. In addition, researchers want to uncover the link between other dream characteristics such as how often an individual remembers them, how vivid they are, or how long they last, to assess the possibility of future cognitive decline.

Final Thoughts

As we sleep, we enter and exit through many stages of rest. REM sleep, the deepest level is where nightmares begin to form. As our minds balance between reality and our subconscious world, images, ideas, and memories can become distorted and turn into a terrifying sight. It is these horrifying images that may signal a diagnosis of dementia down the road.

While only a few studies exist to link weekly nightmares and dementia, they do find a strong correlation between the two. Since dreams occur within the mind, and dementia is caused by brain degeneration, it is clear to see the possible correlation occurring here.

If you are approaching your middle years and you are experiencing an increase in nightmares, we would encourage you to speak to your GP. Thankfully, treatment options are available to ensure better sleep and a healthier mind.

Orchestrate Health offers bespoke mental health services that people can access from the comfort of their own home or within their community, with rapid response times and even daily visits if needed. Orchestrate Health can provide help for those struggling with dementia, and remove the inconvenience of travelling to and from appointments.








We are here to help

Contact us to find the care you need today.

+44 (0)800 193 3277 or
[email protected]


Contact us today

If you would like to know more about how treatment could benefit you or your loved one please submit your details below.

+44 (0)800 193 3277 [email protected]

Orchestrate Health is a private pay healthcare company and therefore works outside of the NHS and CAMHS provision.

Professional Memberships

Our professionals work alongside respected industry-specific organisations

Orchestrate Health is a trading name of Addcounsel Limited which is registered by the CQC.