Study Finds Divergence in Nightmares Between the Sexes

That different people tend to have different nightmares –or no such bad dreams at all– is fairly common knowledge, though the factors that have an impact upon the actual content of nightmares remain largely unexplored. A study recently performed with the sponsorship of the International Association for the Study of Dreams has examined the differences in nightmare content between men and women, and has found that the sexes tend to diverge. The study included the participation of over two thousand people, all of whom were asked to submit information regarding their dreams, and particularly their nightmares. While nearly fifty percent reported never experiencing nightmares, those who did reported about the specific scenes and sequences involved in their bad dreams.

Among the respondents, themes of being late, being chased or paralyzed, falling, and experiencing the death of a family member or other loved one were especially common. The study found that men tended to experience more nightmares focused on physical violence or on losing a job, whereas women were more likely to have nightmares involving distressing death, sexual harassment, and scenes involving the loss of hair or of teeth. The study’s author suggested that the differences in the content of nightmares between the sexes may reflect differences in waking fears, though he noted that further research was necessary in order to explore the metaphors that may be responsible for creating various types of symbols and meaning within dreams.

While there are scores of ways to interpret dreams and many people –both amateur and professional– who claim to be able to translate the language of dreams into an every-day lexicon, meaningful research is also being conducted to help investigate why people dream about the things they do –and what parts of their waking lives may play a role.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Yolanda


    March 25th, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    48% have never experienced a nightmare?! Almost half, which would be about 1000 people? That’s incredible. I thought that everyone had nightmares. How do they know they haven’t had them and are just not remembering them when they wake up? They must lead very ordered lives LOL. Good article!

  • ross


    March 25th, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    This just goes out to show that people see in their nightmares what they dread in real life, more often than not…

    I love reading about dreams and related things…its an amzing thing…dreams that we see in our sleep.

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    March 25th, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    I’ve had vivid nightmares all my life almost. I can remember having them from when I was about six or younger. They were usually the common being chased scenario. I used to waken the whole house with my screams. Plus I was a sleepwalker. My parents had a blast with me. ;)

  • JP


    March 25th, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    I didn’t think men would be the ‘weaker’ sex in this issue ;)

    On a more serious note, it is interesting to read that there is divergence in nightmares between sexes because I always thought it always depends upon what a person is thinking about, irrespective of their sex.

  • Iris


    March 26th, 2010 at 4:57 AM

    I had crazy dreams while I was pregnant but not since then.

  • Jacquie


    March 28th, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    I don’t know if there’s any proven link to this but my nightmares get worse and become more frequent the more stressed I am. It’s exhausting and can go on for weeks if I don’t break the cycle. I wake up sweating and sometimes even crying. My husband often needs to waken me out of it.

  • Paulette


    March 28th, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    Isn’t that dangerous Jacquie? I heard that you should never awaken a person having a nightmare or that’s sleepwalking. Come to think of it, I don’t know why.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    March 30th, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    My son has always complained about being paralyzed some nights in bed. He’s convinced he’s awake on his bed and can’t move or call out and it only lasts a minute or two. I think he really is still only half awake and just nodding off. He insists he isn’t though. Is that a nightmare do you think?

  • Lizzie


    April 1st, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Nightmares aren’t all bad. They can make us examine what we don’t want to in our lives. If I have the same theme cropping up over and over I know that’s it’s not going to go away until I pay attention to dealing with the trigger. For example, I had terrible nightmares about my sister dying in different ways. These happened for about a week after the one and only time we’d had a very big argument and weren’t talking, which we never do even when we’re disagreeing with each other. I knew it was about me not wanting to lose my sister and I’d spent the week pushing it to the back of my mind and deliberately avoiding thinking about it. When we made up, the nightmares stopped.

  • Dylan


    April 2nd, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    I never dream or if I do I don’t remember them. Why do women get angry when you say that? They look at me accusingly as if I’m lying or hiding something. I don’t dream! One girl told me I must dream. “If you don’t dream, you die because your brain gets overloaded.” That was her logic and she was serious. Yeah, she was a trip, that one.

  • Wendy


    April 3rd, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    I always dream in color and the dream or nightmare rolls like a movie. I never have the disjointed, scattered kinds. Do some honestly dream in black and white? I’ve never experienced that.

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