October, also known as National Bullying Prevention Month, is dedicated towards raising awareness of bullying and its consequences in hopes of preventing it. Bullying causes serious trauma in children and can leave lasting imprints if not addressed. According to a new study published in PEDIATRICS, children who have been chronically bullied between ages eight to ten showed higher instances of night terrors, sleep walking, and, nightmares by age 12. The observations in this study confirm the long-term effects of bullying and the need to educate parents, teachers, and children on how to look for signs of possible victimization.

Monitoring the Development of Bullied Children

Dr. Dieter Wolke and Dr. Suzen Tanya Lereya interviewed 6,796 children, 3,462 girls and 3,334 boys. The average age of the children was 12.9 years old. The interview was conducted face-to-face and asked questions about sleeping problems. Questions assessed the following three sleep problems:

  • Nightmares: Since your 12th birthday have you had any dreams that woke you up? Were they frightening?
  • Night Terrors: Has anyone ever told you, since you were 12, that you scream out at night, sit up in bed, seem to fight or wrestle with unseen creatures, or shout at them in your sleep?
  • Sleepwalking: Has anyone ever told you, since you were 12, that you got out of bed and walked around while you were fast asleep?

Children who answered yes to these questions were asked to further elaborate on their experiences. Wolke and Lereya wanted to be clear on which sleep problems children were suffering from the most.

Wolke and Lereya analyzed bullying history using reports that the children completed at ages eight or ten. The Bullying and Friendship Interview Schedule was used and asked nine questions regarding experiences in both the perpetrating and receiving end of bullying. Some of the situations highlighted were:

  • Stealing personal items
  • Threats
  • Exclusion

The children were categorized as a bully/victim (any reported victimization and bullying), a pure victim, or a pure bully.

Trouble Sleeping Due to Past Encounters with a Bully

When Wolke and Lereya interviewed the children about their sleep behaviors, they found that 2,462 children suffered from at least one sleep problem:

  • 1,655 reported having nightmares
  • 633 reported having night terrors
  • 853 reported having sleepwalked

According to the Bullying and Friendship Interview Schedule, 1,887 children had been a victim to bullying at least once by age eight or ten, while 723 were chronic victims. After accounting for different variables affecting sleep, Wolke and Lereya concluded that being a victim, especially a chronic one, of bullying and being both a victim and a bully showed a significant relationship for having sleep problems later in life. Wolke and Lereya emphasize “if a child is experiencing frequent parasomnias, parents, teachers, school counselors, and clinicians may consider asking about bullying." Doing so will help with detecting bullying early on, and to reduce the long-term negative effects.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: October 23, 2015


Dieter Wolke, Suzet Tanya Lereya. Bullying and Parasomnias: A Longitudinal Cohort Study. PEDIATRICS, 8 September 2014; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-1295