Can Nightmares Predict Autoimmune Flares? Insights from a Groundbreaking Study

▴ Can Nightmares Predict Autoimmune Flares
Approximately 61% of lupus patients who experienced hallucinations also reported having disrupted sleep and nightmares just before their hallucinations.


Nightmares are often seen as unpleasant but normal parts of sleep. However, a recent study has found that they could also be early warning signs of autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. This research, published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine journal, explored how nightmares and other symptoms might signal impending autoimmune disease flare-ups.


Researchers surveyed 676 patients with lupus and 400 doctors, conducting over 100 in-depth interviews to gather comprehensive data. They asked about neurological and mental health symptoms that patients experienced and their timing in relation to the onset and progression of the disease. These symptoms included low mood, hallucinations, tremors, and fatigue. The study aimed to identify patterns in these symptoms that could indicate an imminent flare-up.


A significant number of patients reported experiencing specific symptoms before their disease flare-ups. Although these patterns varied among individuals, they were often consistent for each person during their flare-ups. Many patients could identify certain symptoms as signs that their condition was about to worsen.

One of the most notable findings was that nightmares often preceded autoimmune disease flare-ups. These nightmares were particularly distressing, involving scenarios of being attacked, trapped, crushed, or falling. One participant described them as "horrific, like murders, like skin coming off people, horrific."


The study found a strong link between nightmares and hallucinations, especially in people with lupus. Approximately 61% of lupus patients who experienced hallucinations also reported having disrupted sleep and nightmares just before their hallucinations. In comparison, 34% of patients with other autoimmune rheumatological diseases reported similar experiences.

This connection is not entirely surprising, as lupus can affect the brain, leading to neurological and psychological symptoms. These findings underscore the importance of monitoring such symptoms in patients with autoimmune diseases.

To reduce the stigma associated with the word "hallucination," researchers introduced the term "daymare" to describe these experiences. Patients found this term more relatable, as it captured the dream-like state occurring "in between asleep and awake" and described their experiences as "waking dreams."

One participant explained, "When you said that word daymare and as soon as you said that it just made sense. It’s like not necessarily scary, it’s just like you’ve had a dream and yet you’re sitting awake in the garden, I see different things, it’s like I come out of it and it’s like when you wake up and you can’t remember your dream and you’re there but you’re not there."

This study highlights the long and challenging journey many people with autoimmune diseases face to receive a proper diagnosis. Recognizing the wide range of symptoms, including psychiatric ones, could significantly reduce misdiagnoses and improve treatment. Psychiatric symptoms often lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment, as explained by a rheumatology nurse: "I’ve seen patients admitted for an episode of psychosis and the lupus isn’t screened for until someone says, ‘Oh, I wonder if it might be lupus.’"

Doctors, who are frequently short on time, particularly with complex diseases like lupus, often prioritize other aspects of disease management over discussing symptoms like nightmares and hallucinations. One rheumatologist mentioned, "I hear what you are saying, about the nightmares and hallucinations, and I believe it, but what I am saying is that you cannot conceivably include that as well as the routine management of lupus."

However, many doctors have started asking about nightmares and related symptoms, which has proven beneficial for monitoring and managing the disease. Several doctors reported that their patients were now regularly reporting these symptoms, aiding in better disease monitoring.

The study highlights the crucial role of doctor-patient collaboration in identifying, monitoring, and treating symptoms that are often distressing yet not part of the standard diagnostic lists. Symptoms like nightmares are typically invisible and may never show up in diagnostic tests. Therefore, effective communication and teamwork between doctors and patients are essential for managing these conditions effectively.

Patients with lupus and other autoimmune diseases often face long and difficult paths to diagnosis. The wide range of symptoms they experience, including psychiatric ones, can lead to misdiagnoses. More understanding of these symptoms could lead to fewer misdiagnoses and better treatment. For instance, people whose first symptoms of autoimmune disease are psychiatric are particularly likely to be misdiagnosed and mistreated.

Doctors often lack the time to address these complex symptoms, but the study suggests that incorporating questions about nightmares and other symptoms could improve patient care.

Despite these challenges, the study found that many doctors have started asking about these symptoms, which has helped in monitoring and managing the disease. Several doctors reported back to the researchers that their patients were now regularly reporting these symptoms, aiding in better disease monitoring.

The findings of this study provide valuable insights into the connection between nightmares and autoimmune disease flare-ups, particularly lupus. They emphasize the importance of recognizing and discussing neurological and psychiatric symptoms as potential early warning signs of disease exacerbation. This research highlights the need for a holistic approach to autoimmune disease management, where both visible and invisible symptoms are acknowledged and addressed.

By fostering better communication and understanding between doctors and patients, the medical community can improve the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for those affected. This study serves as a reminder that even the most distressing symptoms, like nightmares, can hold significant clues to underlying health conditions and should not be overlooked.


In conclusion, nightmares, while generally seen as normal, can be early warning signs of autoimmune diseases like lupus. The study published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine journal has shed light on the importance of recognizing and discussing neurological and psychiatric symptoms as potential indicators of autoimmune disease flare-ups. By improving doctor-patient communication and understanding the wide range of symptoms, the medical community can better diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases, ultimately improving the quality of life for patients.

This research showcases the need for a holistic approach to autoimmune disease management, where both visible and invisible symptoms are acknowledged and addressed. As we move forward, it is crucial to remember that even the most distressing symptoms can provide valuable insights into underlying health conditions and should not be overlooked.

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About the Author


Sunny Parayan

Hey there! I'm Sunny, a passionate writer with a strong interest in the healthcare domain! When I'm not typing on my keyboard, I watch shows and listen to music. I hope that through my work, I can make a positive impact on people's lives by helping them live happier and healthier.

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