Disturbed sleep and nightmares may be linked to autoimmune diseases, experts say

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Those who experience vivid nightmares and strange hallucinations may have an underlying autoimmune disease, a new study suggests.

An international research team led by scientists from the University of Cambridge and King's College London investigated the possible link between nightmares and hallucinations and systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases.

The study, published in March 2024 in the journal eClinicalMedicine, included 676 people with lupus and 400 people from the medical field, as well as interviews with 69 people living with systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases, SWNS reported.

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Those with autoimmune diseases were asked about the timing of their neurological and mental health symptoms, such as disturbed sleep, hallucinations, depression and loss of balance.

Of the 29 symptoms listed, participants were asked to rank these symptoms in the order in which they occurred relative to the flare-ups of their illness.

The study not only looked at the problems surrounding sleep, but also when the problems started for the participants. (iStock)

The research found that three in five people experienced “vivid” and “disturbing” nightmares involving being stuck, attacked or falling – resulting in disturbed sleep.

A third of participants with compromised immune systems said they noticed the trend more than a year before the onset of their lupus.

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Lupus is defined as “a disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

One in four participants said they noticed hallucinations, although 85% said they didn't experience symptoms until the disease started or later.

Trouble sleeping

The study linked patients with an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, to disturbed sleep, including nightmares. (iStock)

According to SWNS, three in five people with lupus and one in three with other rheumatology-related conditions said they noticed an increase in sleep disturbances just before their hallucinations were set to begin.

The study's lead author, Dr. Melanie Sloan of the University of Cambridge, noted in the study that in many cases patients and doctors will not discuss mental health or neurological symptoms associated with these diseases.

Three in five people with lupus noticed an increase in sleep disturbances just before their hallucinations started.

“It is important that doctors talk to their patients about these types of symptoms and spend time writing down each patient's individual progression of symptoms,” she said.

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The study also reported misdiagnosis, as some participants said lupus and other autoimmune diseases were initially overlooked, SWNS reported.

For example, a participant from Scotland was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at age 18, before being diagnosed with lupus at age 19.

Woman trying to sleep

The research found that three in five people experienced disturbed sleep with 'vivid' and 'disturbing' nightmares of being stuck, attacked or falling. (iStock)

“It was all very close together,” the participant said — noting that there was only a six-month gap between “when my borderline personality disorder came under control and my lupus came under control,” SWNS said.

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Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a California-based chief medical advisor for Sleepopolis, was not involved in the study but shared his reaction to the findings with Fox News Digital.

Dasgupta, who is quadruple board-certified in pulmonary, sleep, internal and critical care medicine, said the study supports the perspective that a “high prevalence of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as headache, mood and fatigue” is often associated with patients with systemic lupus. erythematosus (SLE).

Dr.  Raj Dasgupta Profile

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, pictured, said sleep problems in patients with SLE should be discussed so that people can achieve a better quality of life. (Sleeplis)

SLE is a “chronic disease that can affect any organ, including the nervous system,” Dasgupta noted.

“This study also supports the fact that patients with SLE are subject to complications of treatment, including steroid-related psychosis,” he added.

The study also reported misdiagnosis.

Sleep problems are common in people with SLE, Dasgupta said, with more than half of patients experiencing restlessness, poor sleep quality and difficulty falling asleep.

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“These problems can be caused by pain, medication effects and the impact of the disease on the brain,” he said.

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Fox News Digital reached out to eClinicalMedicine magazine for more information.

Sleepoplis consists of a team of writers, product reviewers and sleep experts who provide reviews and sleep health content, according to the company's website.

For more health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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