Behavior Genetics

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 349–356 | Cite as

Do Nightmares and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Childhood and Adolescence have a Common Genetic Origin?

  • Frederick L. Coolidge
  • Daniel L. Segal
  • Christa M. Coolidge
  • Frank M. Spinath
  • Juliana Gottschling
Original Research


The present study investigated the prevalence and heritability of nightmares and their comorbidity with psychopathology in a sample (N = 1,318) of children, adolescents, and child and adolescent twins ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old. The prevalence of terrible nightmares was estimated to be 6.4%, which is similar to previous studies. There were marginal gender differences in this rate (7.7% for boys; 5.1% in girls), contrary to previous studies that purport higher rates for girls. There was little evidence for prevalence changes across age. Nightmares were highly heritable and attributed to an additive genetic influence (51%) and nonshared environmental effects (49%). There was little evidence for a shared genetic correlation for nightmares and generalized waking anxiety (Overanxious Disorder of Childhood). There was also a substantial and pervasive comorbid psychopathology for those parents who reported Strongly True on Item 59: My child has terrible nightmares on the 200-item parent-as-respondent, Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory. Issues in estimating prevalence rates of nightmares were identified.


Heritability Nightmares Generalized anxiety disorder Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory Twins 


  1. American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edn.) Text Revision. Author, Washington, D.CCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cohen DJ, Dibble E, Grawe JM, Pollin W (1975) Reliably separating identical from fraternal twins. Arch Gen Psychiatry 32:1371–1375PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Coolidge FL (2007) The Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory manual. Author, Colorado SpringsGoogle Scholar
  4. Coolidge FL, Segal DL, Stewart SE, Ellett JC (2000a) Neuropsychological dysfunction in children with borderline personality disorder features: a preliminary investigation. J Res Personal 34:554–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Coolidge FL, Thede LL, Young SE (2000b) Heritability and the comorbidity of ADHD with behavioral disorders and executive function deficits: a preliminary investigation. Dev Neuropsychol 17:273–287CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Coolidge FL, Thede LL, Jang KL (2001) Heritability of childhood personality disorders: a preliminary study. J Personal Disord 15:33–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coolidge FL, Thede LL, Stewart SE, Segal DL (2002a) The Coolidge Personality and Neuropsychological Inventory for Children (CPNI): preliminary psychometric characteristics. Behav Modif 26:550–566CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Coolidge FL, Thede LL, Young SE (2002b) The heritability of gender identity disorder in a child and adolescent twin sample. Behav Genet 32:251–257CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Coolidge FL, DenBoer JW, Segal DL (2004a) Personality and neuropsychological correlates of bullying behavior: an empirical investigation. Personal Individ Differ 36:1559–1569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coolidge FL, Thede LL, Jang KL (2004b) Are personality disorders psychological manifestations of executive function deficits? Evidence from a twin study. Behav Genet 34:73–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coolidge FL, Starkey M, Cahill BS (2007) Comparison of a parent-rated DSM-IV measure of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and quantitative EEG parameters in an outpatient sample of children. J Clin Neurophysiol 24:1–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hublin C, Kaprio J, Partinen M, Koskenvuo M (1999) Nightmares: familial aggregation and association with psychiatric disorders in a nationwide twin cohort. Am J Med Genet 88:329–336CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kline RB (1998) Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. Guilford, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Levin R (1998) Nightmares and schizotypy. Psychiatry 61:206–216PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Levin R, Fireman G (2002) Nightmare prevalence, nightmare distress, and self-reported psychological disturbance. Sleep 25:205–212PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Neveus T, Cnattingius S, Olsson U, Hetta J (2001) Sleep habits and sleep problems among a community sample of schoolchildren. Acta Paediatr 90:1450–1455CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Nielsen T, Levin R (2007) Nightmares: a neurocognitive model. Sleep Med Rev 11:295–310CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Nielsen TA, Laberge L, Tremblay R, Vitaro F, Montplaisir JY (2000) Development of disturbing dreams during adolescence and their relationship to anxiety symptoms. Sleep 23:727–736PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Pennington B (2002) The development of psychopathology. Guilford, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Sawyer A, Clark CR, Keage H, Moores K, Clarke S, Kohn M et al (2008) Understanding comorbid attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and sleep problems: a new approach. Manuscript submitted for publicationGoogle Scholar
  21. Simard V, Nielsen TA, Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Montplaisir JY (2008a) Longitudinal study of preschool sleep disturbance: the predictive role of maladaptive parental behaviors, early sleep problems, and child/mother psychological factors. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 162:36–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Simard V, Nielsen TA, Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Montplaisir JY (2008b) Longitudinal study of bad dreams in preschool children: prevalence, demographic correlates, risk and protective factors. Sleep 31:62–70PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Smedje H, Broman JE, Hetta J (1999) Parents’ reports of disturbed sleep in 5–7-year-old Swedish children. Acta Paediatr 88:858–865CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Tanskanen A, Tuomilehto J, Viinamäki H, Vartiainen E, Lehtonen J, Puska P (2001) Nightmares as predictors of suicide. Sleep 24:845–848Google Scholar
  25. Thede LL, Coolidge FL (2006) Personality and neuropsychological comparisons between Asperger’s Disorder and the autism spectrum. J Autism Dev Disord 37:847–854CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Torgersen S, Lygren S, Oien PA, Skre I, Onstad S, Edvardsen J, Tambs K, Kringlen E (2000) A twin study of personality disorders. Compr Psychiatry 41:416–425CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Zadra A, Donderi DC (2000) Nightmares and bad dreams: their prevalence and relationship to well-being. J Abnorm Psychol 109:273–281CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick L. Coolidge
    • 1
  • Daniel L. Segal
    • 1
  • Christa M. Coolidge
    • 1
  • Frank M. Spinath
    • 2
  • Juliana Gottschling
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of Colorado at Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA
  2. 2.Saarland UniversitySaarbrückenGermany

Personalised recommendations