<b>Background:</b> Sleep complaints and various sleep symptoms are common in elderly persons with cardiac diseases. Nightmares are associated with profound sleep disturbances.
<b>Methods:</b> The present questionnaire survey with questions on sleep symptoms, nightmares and cardiac symptoms comprised 6103 elderly subjects (39.5% men).
<b>Results:</b> Nightmares occurred rather often in 6.9% and very often in 2.1% of the men. The corresponding frequencies in women were 9.6 and 2.3%, respectively. Irregular heart beats were reported by 11.8% of the men and 13.1% of the women (NS). Spasmodic chest pain occurred in 12.9 and 10.6%, respectively (p<0.01). Irregular heart beats increased in association with increasing nightmares in both men (p<0.01) and women (p<0.0001). The percentages of men and women with both irregular heart beats and spasmodic chest pain were three times and seven times higher, respectively, among those who had nightmares very often than among those who very seldom or never had nightmares. The increase in cardiac symptoms in nightmare sufferers was not attributable to an increase in medication with cardiac drugs.
<b>Conclusion:</b> In this group of elderly men and women increased nightmares were associated with an increase in irregular heart beats and spasmodic chest pain.