Nightmares, Life Stress, and Anxiety

An Examination of Tension Reduction

Jan Roberts, C. J. Lennings*, R. Heard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)


Do nightmares increase or decrease anxiety? Theoretical views of nightmares suggest that nightmares play out stressful events, decathecting their energy. A more pragmatic view suggests that nightmares that result in waking distress add to the burden of anxiety. The current study investigates whether negative life events are associated with an increase or decrease in anxiety attributable to nightmares in 624 adolescents aged between 12 and 19. The results indicate no support for a tension reduction hypothesis. There seems no relief from anxiety if a person reports nightmares, and the stronger the distress of waking (from nightmares), the more likely a person is to report anxiety, controlling for life events and the distress associated with life events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-29
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • adolescence
  • anxiety
  • life events
  • nightmares

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