I can recall two movies that I watched during early and late adolescence which caused me to have disruptive sleep over several days and made me terrified to be alone at (my parent’s) home; Scream (the original) and The Exorcist. The levels of realism portrayed in each of these films are polarizing (the former is about a sadistic, sociopath, the latter about a possessed 8-year old [with the fallacy being that the director discloses that the film is based on a "true story"]) even if the series of unfortunate events in both are equally as predictable. At any rate, I wondered if this phenomenon, the ability of horror films to disrupt sleep, has been empirically documented or simply, to date, still rests on anecdotal eviedence.
After doing a comprehensive lit search on Google Scholar and PubMed I came across surprisingly few hits. While night terrors have been clinically documented and the manifestation of these experimentally investigated (with horror films being a contributing, though not absolute factor), the population of study in most of these studies, except for the meta-analysis [linked above], was largely restricted to young children. And I can guarantee that there are plenty of adults who are disturbed and frightened after watching this weekend’s release of Paranormal 3 at the box office or Scream 4 on DVD (which, as a side note, montegraphia and I rented yesterday only for me to realize during the DVD main menu that I had already seen it in theatres in May; really reveals how unimpressionable of a movie that it was).
So, can someone please do a more definitive study of the direct effects of horror films on subsequent sleep quality?
Schredl M, & Reinhard I (2011). Gender differences in nightmare frequency: a meta-analysis. Sleep medicine reviews, 15 (2), 115-21 PMID: 20817509