ArticlePDF Available

Recurrent dreams: Their relation to life events.


Abstract and Figures

data reviewed in this chapter support the generic psychological position that dreams are related to waking states / it has been shown that the link between people's dream content and their current levels of well-being is particularly evident in dreams that make up G. W. Domhoff's (1993) repetition continuum / it has been shown that the cessation of a recurrent dream in adulthood is associated with an elevation in self-reported levels of well-being / this suggests that changes from repetitive to progressive dream patterns may be important indicators of how well people are adapting to their life circumstances / the study establishes a classification of the thematic content of childhood and adult recurrent dreams the prevalence and content of recurrent dreams / a content analysis of childhood and adult recurrent dreams / theories of recurrent dreams / the dream repetition continuum / recurrent dreams and well-being / lucid dreaming and repetitive dream content (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Content may be subject to copyright.
Antonio L. Zadra
This book has described a wide variety of traumatic events that can cause nightmares.
Recurrent dreams and repetitive dream themes are similar in many respects to traumatic nightmares.
Most recurrent dreams have negative content, arise during periods of stress, and dissipate once the
stressor has been successfully dealt with. Though the continuity between nightmares and other forms
of dream recurrence is not a new idea, much of the data that supports this continuity is new.
The Prevalence and Content of Recurrent Dreams
Relatively little is known about the prevalence and content of recurrent dreams. Until recently,
what appeared in the clinical literature was mainly passing mention that the occurrence of recurrent
dreams had been noted in some patients. For instance, Freud’s (1931) only comment on the prevalence
of recurrent dreams was that “dreams that recur periodically have often been observed” (p. 44).
Almost all of the studies that have used questionnaires to assess the prevalence of recurrent
dreams have done so by simply including a question such as “Have you ever had a recurrent dream?”
Thus, these studies did not evaluate the length of time that the subjects had experienced their recurrent
dreams. Moreover, with the exception of data presented by Brown and Donderi (1986), these studies
have failed to differentiate between true recurrent dreams (in which the dream content is always
identical) from repetitive dream themes that occur across dreams with varying contents. Finally, the
literature on the content of recurrent dreams has been largely impressionistic. Only two studies have
used well-established, quantitative dream content scales to evaluate recurrent dream content
(D’Andrade, 1985; Larue, 1970). Both are unpublished undergraduate research papers by students of
In terms of the prevalence of recurrent dreams, 60% to 75% of college students and older adults
report having had one or more “recurrent dreams” at some point in their lives on questionnaire surveys
(Browman and Kapell, 1982; Cartwright, 1979; Cartwright and Romanek, 1978; D’Andrade, 1985;
Robbins and Houshi, 1983; Robbins and Tanck, 1991-92; Webb and Fagan, 1993). Seventy to 80% of
adults who take part in dream studies report having had a recurrent dream in early childhood (Brown
and Donderi, 1986; Zadra and Donderi, 1992). In some cases, recurrent dreams which emerge during
childhood may persist into adulthood (D’Andrade, 1985; Robbins and Houshi, 1983). Questionnaire
and home dream diary data collected by Zadra and Donderi (1992) showed that 80 of 217 non-student
adults reported experiencing an ongoing recurrent dream, or ongoing recurrent themes, of at least one
years’ duration. There is also some evidence to indicate that recurrent dreams are more prevalent in
women than they are in men (Browman and Kapell, 1982; Cartwright and Romanek, 1978; Robbins
and Houshi, 1983).
In terms of dream content, 60% to 85% of recurrent dreams are described as being unpleasant
by the subjects who report them (Cartwright and Romanek, 1978; D’Andrade, 1985; Zadra and
Donderi, 1992). In one female sample, 46% of the recurrent dreams reported were rated as being
highly unpleasant (Cartwright, 1979). Dream content is described as being pleasant in approximately
10% of recurrent dreams (Cartwright, 1979; D’Andrade, 1985), while about 8% of recurrent dreams are
rated as containing a mixture of both positive and negative emotions (D’Andrade, 1985).
Cartwright (1979) and Robbins and Tanck (1993) examined retrospective accounts of childhood
recurrent dreams. These studies show that between 86% and 90% of childhood recurrent dreams are
unpleasant or of a threatening nature. In approximately 70% of the childhood recurrent dreams,
external agents (e.g., monsters, witches) were responsible for the unpleasant content. Both studies also
showed that as people grow older, fewer recurrent dreams are reported as having threatening contents.
Furthermore, in recurrent dreams from people’s second and third decade of life, the dreamer and not an
external agent becomes increasingly responsible for the dream action (Cartwright, 1979).
Though the precise content of recurrent dreams is invariably idiosyncratic, themes common
across individuals who report recurrent dreams have been noted (e.g., Delaney, 1991). These include
recurrent dreams of flying, falling, being chased, taking an examination, loosing one’s teeth, and
nudity. These themes are similar to typical dreams, or non-recurrent dreams that many people report
having had at least once (e.g., Griffith, Miyago, and Tago, 1958; Kramer, Winget, and Whitman, 1971;
Ward, Beck, and Rascoe, 1961). Though several studies have investigated the content of typical
dreams, no systematic classification of the thematic content of recurrent dreams has appeared in the
A Content Analysis of Childhood and
Adult Recurrent Dreams
The goal of this study was to obtain more detailed data on the content of recurrent dreams than
had been previously reported. In particular, the study establishes a classification of the thematic
content of childhood and adult recurrent dreams.
The data presented in this study is based on the content analyses of 163 recurrent dreams.
These dreams were collected from the dream reports of 352 subjects who completed the McGill
Sleep/Dream Questionnaire as part of our studies on dreams between 1990 and 1992. These 163
recurrent dreams were selected from a pool of over 250 recurrent dreams and were all of the dreams
which met the following inclusion criteria: the recurrent dream must have occurred over a period of at
least six months; the content of the recurrent dream had to be rated by the subject as being “always” or
“almost always” identical; and the recurrent dream had to be described in sufficient detail to allow a
content analyses of the dream’s setting, its affective tone, and the type of characters present. The
recurrent dreams were classified as being from adulthood if they first occurred after the age of 18, and
from childhood if they ceased to recur before the age of 12.
Dream content was evaluated using the objective content analysis system developed by Hall and
Van de Castle (1966). The measures of dream content are described below.
Dream Affect. Dream affect was scored using the Emotions scale of Hall and Van de Castle
(1966). Negative affect includes classes of emotion such as anger, apprehension, sadness, and
confusion. One class of emotions, called Happiness, encompasses all the adjectives that describe
positive affect (e.g., pleased, relieved, relaxed, elated).
Success and Failure. Success and failure were scored according to Hall and Van de Castle’s
scales for Achievement Outcomes. Success consists of an expenditure of energy and perseverance in
pursuit of a goal, resulting in goal attainment. Failures occur when there is expenditure of energy and
perseverance in pursuit of a goal resulting in failure to attain the goal because of personal limitations
and inadequacies.
Good Fortune and Misfortunes. Good fortune and misfortunes were scored according to Hall
and Van de Castle’s scales of Environmental Press. Misfortunes are defined as “any mishap, adversity,
harm, danger, or threat which happens to a character as a result of circumstances over which he has no
control” (p.103). Good fortune is scored when “there is an acquisition of goods or something
beneficial happens to a character that is completely adventitious or the result of a circumstance over
which no one has control” (p.105).
Categories for the classification of the thematic content of childhood and adult recurrent dreams
were not determined a priori. They were constructed following the content analysis of the recurrent
dreams and were based on the most frequently reported themes contained in the childhood and adult
recurrent dreams.
Results and Discussion
Table 1 presents the percentage of recurrent dreams from adulthood and childhood which
contain the dream content categories described above.
Insert Table 1 about here
The percentage of adult and childhood recurrent dreams that were found to contain either
negative affect, positive affect, or a mixture of both positive and negative emotions is consistent with
the previously reviewed findings. Approximately 5% of all the recurrent dreams in this sample were
described as containing no affect. Data on the absence of affect in recurrent dreams have not been
previously reported.
Among recurrent dreams containing negative affect, fear or apprehension was the most
frequently reported emotion, occurring in 67% and 79% of the adult and childhood recurrent dreams
respectively. The rest of these recurrent dreams contained other negative emotions including sadness,
anger, confusion, and guilt. This finding is of particular interest since there is evidence suggesting that
approximately 20% of nightmares contain emotions other than fear and that a significant percentage of
individuals cite emotions such as sadness and anger to be primary in their nightmares (Belicki, Altay,
and Hill, 1985; Dunn and Barrett, 1987; Zadra and Donderi, 1993).
In terms of Achievement Outcomes, adult recurrent dreams were nine times more likely than
the childhood recurrent dreams to contain one or more failures. Success was rare in both groups,
occurring in less than 3% of all recurrent dreams.
Approximately 42% of the adult and childhood recurrent dreams contained one or more
misfortunes. The dreamer was the recipient of the misfortune in 70% of the adult recurrent dreams and
in 74% of childhood recurrent dreams. Thus, for both groups of recurrent dreams, misfortunes were
about three times more likely to happen to the dreamer than to any other character. The other
Environmental Press category, good fortune, occurred in less than 5% of the adult and childhood
recurrent dreams.
Table 2 presents the most frequently reported types of themes in the current sample of recurrent
dreams from adulthood and childhood. For both adult and childhood recurrent dreams, the most
frequently reported theme is one in which the dreamer is being chased. The nature of the threatening
agent, however, differs between childhood and adulthood recurrent chase dreams. In 19 of the 22
(86%) chase dreams from childhood, the dreamer was being pursued by monsters, wild animals,
witches, or ghoulish creatures. By contrast, such threatening agents appeared in only 3 of the 16 (19%)
adult chase dreams. The latter contained predominantly human characters including burglars,
strangers, mobs, and shadowy figures. These findings are consistent with those reported by Robbins
and Tanck (1991-92).
Insert Table 2 about here
Next to chase and pursuit dreams, the second most frequently reported theme in the adult
recurrent dreams was one in which the dreamer is having difficulties with house maintenance. In these
recurrent dreams, the dreamer may be overwhelmed by an inordinate number of household chores that
must be quickly completed, discover that the house is falling apart or in ruins, or have to choose
between maintaining one or the other of two houses. Other common themes include being alone and
trapped (e.g., in an elevator or container), facing natural forces such as volcanic eruptions or tidal
waves, and loosing one’s teeth.
In the childhood recurrent dreams, the second most frequently reported theme was one
involving the death of family members. All of these recurrent dreams involved the murder or
accidental death of the dreamer’s parents. By comparison, the five adult recurrent dreams from the
same content category were either dreams in which a distant relative had died, or about people who
were already dead in actual life (e.g., mourning dreams).
Themes in which the dreamer is in danger (e.g., threatened with injury, death, or chased) have
been found to characterize approximately 40% of recurrent dreams (Cartwright and Romanek, 1978;
Robbins and Houshi, 1983). Using the same broad content category, 42% of the adult recurrent dreams
and 65% of the childhood recurrent dreams could be classified as containing themes in which the
dreamer is in danger. In most of these dreams with threatening content, the subject is either fleeing,
attempting to hide, or helplessly watching.
Relatively little is known about the content of pleasant recurrent dreams, because they occur
infrequently. In the present sample, 5 of the 6 dreams that involved “discovering and exploring new
rooms in a house” and 4 of the 5 flying dreams were described as containing positive emotions. Other
examples of pleasant recurrent dreams included excelling at a particular task (e.g., figure skating),
finding oneself in a bountiful environment, and being involved in sexual activities.
These results demonstrate key differences between adult and childhood recurrent dreams. For
instance, adult recurrent dreams were nine times more likely than the childhood recurrent dreams to
contain one or more failures. Since failures in dreams result from a character’s “personal limitations
and inadequacies,” these data suggests that recurrent dreams from adulthood are more likely to reflect
issues of personal competence than do recurrent dreams from childhood. This hypothesis is consistent
with Cartwright’s (1979) suggestion that “as the subject grows, the responsibility in the repetitive
dreams with an unpleasant tone is less often attributed to things beyond her control” (p.135). Though
the thematic content category “being chased” was common in both the adult and childhood recurrent
dreams, the threatening agents in former usually were human characters, whereas monsters, wild
animals, or ghoulish creatures were predominant in the latter. Finally, several of the thematic content
categories reported in adult recurrent dreams are noticeably absent from the childhood recurrent
dreams. These include themes involving problems with house maintenance, teeth falling out, and being
unable to find a private toilet.
These findings indicate that the content of recurrent dreams changes with age and suggest that
the dream symbols or metaphors believed to depict current problems or concerns that underlie recurrent
dreams also change with age.
Theories of Recurrent Dreams
Dream theorists generally agree that recurrent dreams are related to unresolved difficulties in
the dreamer’s life (Fosshage and Loew, 1987). For example, in Gestaltist dream theory, recurrent
dreams are viewed as depicting an individual’s current state of psychic imbalance. Presenting this
psychic state to consciousness allows for a possible restoration of self-balance (Fantz, 1978; Perls,
1969). Neo-Freudian, object-relations, and ego-psychology dream theorists believe that the dream
repetition of emotionally painful events allows the ego to attempt to master or assimilate the painful
event (Bibring, 1943; Renik, 1981; Silverberg, 1948; Stewart, 1967). Freud viewed recurrent
(traumatic) dreams as expressions of a neurotic repetition compulsion (Freud, 1955; Cavenar and
Sullivan, 1978). Jung believed that recurrent dreams not only indicated the presence of psychological
conflict, but that they were also “of specific importance for the integration of the psyche” (Jung, in
Adler, 1973, p. 93). Finally, culturalist dream theory (Bonime, 1962) maintains that recurrent dreams
indicate a lack of positive change or development in one’s personality. In recurrent dreams “people
continue to reflect unresolved personality difficulties with the identical symbols” (Bonime, 1962, p.
41). Thus, many kinds of dream theories converge in their view that recurrent dreams are associated
with a lack of progress in recognizing and resolving conflicts in the dreamer’s life.
If recurrent dreams signal the presence of an unresolved conflict, then the cessation of a
recurring dream should indicate that the conflict has been successfully dealt with. Dream theorists
from many different perspectives have suggested that this is the case (Bonime, 1962; Cartwright, 1979;
Delaney, 1991; Jung, cited in Mattoon, 1978, p.84; Sharpe, 1978; Ullman and Zimmerman, 1979;
Weiss, 1964).
Recurrent dreams, however, are not a unitary phenomenon. The repetition of dream symbols or
themes over a series of dreams is not the same thing as a recurrent dream, in which the dream content is
always identical from beginning to end. Domhoff (1993) has argued that repetitive dream themes and
recurrent dreams are related experiences in that they are both part of a “repetition dimension.” In the
next section, a summary of the types of dreams which make up this dimension will be presented.
The Dream Repetition Continuum
Bonime (1962) distinguished between recurrent dreams in which “the patient reiterates, again
and again, his symbolic statement of the core problem” (p.41) and dreams in which repetitive themes
are depicted over a range of symbols. Domhoff (1993) defined a continuum of repetition. At one
extreme are the traumatic dreams that repeatedly reproduce overwhelming experiences. Almost any
event that is perceived as being traumatic by an individual can produce traumatic dreams, and their
occurrence is recognized as a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (APA, 1987). As trauma
victims begin to deal successfully with their difficulties, there are often positive changes in the content
of their traumatic dreams (e.g., Hartmann, 1984). Domhoff (1993) iterates this point by stating “to the
degree that the experience gradually is assimilated, to that degree the dreams decrease in frequency and
become altered in content” (p. 297).
Next on the continuum is the recurrent dream. The content of recurrent dreams, like that of
many traumatic dreams, is replayed in all (or almost all) of its entirety. As noted earlier, recurrent
dreams are frequent in both children and adults, and are primarily unpleasant. Though recurrent
dreams do not always seem to be directly tied to any particular experience, the evidence suggests that
they occur during times of stress and that they cease to recur once the problem has been resolved
(Brown and Donderi, 1986; Cartwright, 1979; D’Andrade, 1985). However, unlike many traumatic
dreams, most recurrent dreams do not reflect a conflict or stressor directly, but rather depict it in a
metaphorical manner.
Further along the repetition continuum are recurrent themes within a long dream series. In
these dreams, the theme is always the same (e.g., being late or lost) but the content is not. Finally, the
repetition of mundane characters, activities, and objects that occurs in every-day dreams consistently
over decades lies at the other end of the continuum. Several examples of repetitive themes and
repeated dream elements are presented by Domhoff (1993).
Domhoff (1993) maintains that the dreams which constitute the “repetition dimension” all
reflect attempts at resolving emotional preoccupations. Empirical data that support both the validity of
the dream repetition continuum and its proposed association with emotional preoccupations will now
be reviewed.
Recurrent Dreams and Well-Being
A number of case reports have described positive changes in repetitive dream elements as a
function of successful psychotherapy (e.g., Bonime, 1962; Maultsby and Gram, 1974; Rossi, 1985).
Bergin (1970) presented the case of a client who lacked self-assertion skills and who was excessively
intimidated by authority figures. Following an improvement in his condition, the client spontaneously
reported that both the negative content and affective tone of a previously recurrent dream had changed
in a positive manner. This case is especially interesting given that the therapy involved behavioral
techniques, and the client’s dreams had never been discussed during therapy. The changes reported
above are consistent with Bonime’s (1962) assertion that “to the extent that these alterations of the
same symbol take place in accordance with alterations of the personality during therapy, the symbol
changes become important indicators of clinical progress” (p. 45).
In addition to anecdotal and clinical case reports, research data support the theory that the
repetition of negative dream content is associated with the presence of unresolved conflicts or stressors.
Robbins and Houshi (1983) found that undergraduate students who reported having a recurrent
dream had moderately significantly higher scores on the Beck Depression Inventory and reported a
significantly greater number of problems in their daily lives than did undergraduate students who did
not have recurrent dreams.
Brown and Donderi (1986) published the only study to have specifically investigated the
relation of recurrent dreams (as opposed to repetitive dream elements) to well-being. Recurrent
dreamers, former recurrent dreamers, and non-recurrent dreamers were asked to complete a battery of
well-being measures, and record a fourteen-day sample of their own remembered dreams. People in
the recurrent dream group were currently experiencing a recurrent dream. The former recurrent dream
group was composed of individuals who had experienced a recurrent dream in adulthood, but for whom
the dream had not recurred for at least one year. The recurrent dreams reported by the subjects in both
of these groups had persisted over at least a six month period. Subjects in the non-recurrent dream
group had never experienced a recurrent dream in adult life. Recurrent dreams were differentiated from
dream series that contained repetitive themes or repeated dream elements and were defined as dreams
which “are distinguished by their complete repetition as a remembered experience” (p. 612).
The recurrent dream group scored consistently lower on measures of well-being than both the
past-recurrent dream group and the non-recurrent dream group. For example, recurrent dreamers had
the least adaptive scores on measures of anxiety, depression, personal adjustment, and life-events
stress. Moreover, content analyses of the dream reports showed that the recurrent dreamers
experienced more anxious, dysphoric, and conflict-oriented dream content than either of other the two
groups. Finally, past-recurrent dreamers scored consistently higher than the non-recurrent dreamers on
indices of well-being and positive dream content. This latter finding is of particular interest, since it
suggests that the maintained cessation of a recurrent dream is associated with a positive rebound effect
on well-being.
Several of Brown and Donderi’s (1986) findings have been replicated in a younger adult
population by Zadra, O’Brien, and Donderi (1993). Using the same methodology as in Brown and
Donderi (1986), Zadra, O’Brien and Donderi (1993) found that recurrent dreamers scored consistently
lower on measures of well-being than non-recurrent dreamers. Specifically, recurrent dreamers
reported significantly higher levels of neuroticism, anxiety, depression, somatic symptomatology, life-
events stress and significantly lower levels personal adjustment. This study also replicated Brown and
Donderi’s (1986) finding that the dreams of recurrent dreamers contain significantly more negative
dream content than those of non-recurrent dreamers. For example, the dreams of the recurrent dream
group contained significantly greater proportions of anxiety, hostility, failure, and misfortunes. This
finding cannot be attributed to the presence of negative recurrent dreams in the recurrent dream group’s
two week dream log reports. Only 2 of the 187 dreams reported by the recurrent dream group were
recurrent dreams.
A past-recurrent dream group was also included in Zadra, O’Brien and Donderi’s (1993) study.
This group was composed of individuals who had experienced a recurrent dream in early childhood,
but for whom the dream had ceased to recur between the approximate ages of 10 and 12. Participants
in this group had not experienced any other recurrent dreams since then. The authors found that these
past-recurrent dreamers did not differ from non-recurrent dreamers on the measures of well-being or on
any of the dream content measures.
Taken together, these studies provide support the following conclusions. In both late teenagers
and older adults, recurrent dreams: 1) occur in times of stress; 2) are accompanied by negative dream
content in everyday dreams; and 3) are associated with a relative deficit in psychological well-being.
Furthermore, the cessation of a previously recurrent dream in adulthood is associated with increased
psychological well-being. The cessation of a recurrent dream in early childhood, however, does not
appear to have any long-term psychological benefits. These conclusions are consistent with the clinical
dream theories reviewed earlier in this chapter.
Zadra, Miller and Donderi (1994) extended some of the aforementioned findings on recurrent
dreams to dreams with recurrent themes. Specifically, they compared individuals who reported
repetitive themes in their dreams with people who did not have such dream patterns. Recurrent themes
fall lower on Domhoff’s (1993) continuum of repetition than do recurrent dreams. For this reason,
Zadra, Miller and Donderi (1994) predicted that, relative to non-recurrent dreamers, people with
repetitive dream themes would show deficits in well-being and negative dream content, but not to the
extent shown by recurrent dreamers in their previous studies.
As in the studies by Brown and Donderi (1986) and Zadra, O’Brien and Donderi (1993), group
membership was based on responses to several questions on the McGill Sleep/Dream Questionnaire as
well as on the subjects’ written descriptions of any type of “recurrent dream” they remembered.
Inclusion criteria for the repetitive theme group consisted of having “recurrent dreams” in which the
content was “rarely” or “never” identical but in which the theme was “always” or “often” identical.
Furthermore, the repetitive dream themes had to be currently experienced and have persisted for at least
12 months. The non-recurrent theme group was composed of people who reported never having
experienced recurrent dreams or recurrent dream themes in their adult life.
People with repetitive dream themes were found to score significantly lower than people
without repetitive dream themes on four of the six measures of well-being. What is more, the scores of
the repetitive theme group on these four measures were higher (more adaptive) than the scores obtained
by the recurrent dreamers in both Brown and Donderi’s (1986) and Zadra, O’Brien and Donderi (1993)
A content analysis of dream diary reports revealed that the dreams of the repetitive theme group
contained more negative dream elements than did the dreams of the control group (e.g., more anxiety,
negative affect, hostility-toned content). However, the frequency and intensity of these negative dream
elements were not as great as that which was found in the everyday dream reports of people with
recurrent dreams.
The results from the studies reviewed in this section support both the validity and heuristic
value of Domhoff’s (1993) repetition continuum. The data indicate that people who experience
recurrent themes show a deficit on measures of well-being, but not to the extent shown by those with
recurrent dreams. These results form a pattern which suggests that scores on measures of
psychological well-being are inversely related to the position of a dreaming experience on the
repetition continuum. If this is correct, we would expect that people with recurrent traumatic dreams
would score lower on measures of well-being than people with either recurrent dreams or repetitive
dream themes. Similarly, the data from the dream content analyses suggest that, as one moves towards
the traumatic dream end of the continuum, people’s everyday dreams should contain greater
proportions of negative dream elements (e.g., aggressive, anxious and dysphoric dream content).
Domhoff (1993) argues that the dreams which make up his repetition dimension (i.e., traumatic
dreams, recurrent dreams, repeated themes, and frequent dream elements) all reflect attempts at
resolving emotional preoccupations. If this hypothesis is correct, then the cessation of any of these
types of “recurrent dreams” should indicate that the emotional issue has been resolved. Consistent with
this view, Brown and Donderi (1986) presented evidence that the cessation of recurrent dreams in
adulthood was correlated with an elevation in well-being. Whether or not the cessation of previously
recurring themes or dream elements in adulthood is also associated with increases in well-being
remains to be determined.
A possible exception to the aforementioned conclusions concerns positive recurrent dreams. As
was described earlier in this chapter, approximately 10% of recurrent dreams are described as being
pleasant. Because positive recurrent dreams occur infrequently, their association to measures of well-
being has not been investigated. Thus, we do not know if people who report positive recurrent dreams
also show a relative deficit on measures of well-being. Similarly, we do not know whether the
maintained cessation of pleasant recurrent dreams is correlated with positive, negative, or no changes in
The theories and data on recurrent dreams presented here are consistent with a broader view of
the dream as an attempt to resolve current emotional concerns, one of the possible function of dreams
as proposed by contemporary dream theory (e.g., Baylor and Deslauriers, 1986-87; Breger, 1967;
Cartwright, 1977; Delaney, 1991; Fiss, 1986; French and Fromm, 1964; Greenberg and Pearlman,
1975; Hall, 1953). However, the data do not show that emotional concerns are resolved by
incorporating them in dreams. Given the correlational nature of the data, the direction of causality
between dream content and waking emotional states cannot be inferred. In other words, dream content
could either reflect, or influence, waking adjustment. At the present time, no firm conclusions as to
which of these possibilities is correct can be drawn. The nature of the association between dream
content and waking state personality may also vary with the individual and the life circumstances.
Thus, it may turn out that dreams can both influence and reflect waking state personality, albeit at
different points in one’s life.
The causality issue cannot be resolved until dream content is manipulated as an independent
variable. For example, one could attempt to alter recurrent dream content using lucid dream induction
techniques or waking imagery exercises. Case studies have shown such treatments to be effective in
the treatment of recurrent nightmares (e.g., Halliday, 1982; Marks, 1978; Tholey, 1988). In a
controlled treatment study, it may be possible to demonstrate a causal relationship between the
experimental manipulation of dream content and pre- to post-manipulation changes in objective
personality measures, including measures of psychological well-being. Such a study is currently
underway in Donderi’s laboratory. The clinical applications of lucid dreaming in altering recurrent
dream content will now be briefly reviewed.
Lucid Dreaming and Repetitive Dream Content
Several authors have suggested that there are psychological benefits from lucid dreaming (e.g.,
Kelzer, 1989; LaBerge, 1985; Tholey, 1988). Lucid dreams occur when one becomes aware that he or
she is dreaming while still in the dream state. Sometimes, lucid dreamers can recall events from their
waking life, can reason, and can move their dream bodies as desired. Furthermore, some lucid
dreamers can change the dream scenery at will. It is now known that lucid dreams occur during
unequivocal REM sleep (e.g., LaBerge and Dement, 1982; LaBerge, Greenleaf, and Kedzierski, 1983;
Schatzman, Worsley, and Fenwick, 1988).
A number of case studies have described the successful use of lucid dreaming in the treatment
of recurrent nightmares (e.g., Halliday, 1982; 1988; Tholey, 1988; Zadra, 1990). Dream lucidity can
also give rise to positive psychological elements which carry over into waking life (e.g., Brylowski
1990; Tholey 1988). Lucid dreaming may operate through a number of mechanisms to achieve
positive therapeutic outcomes. For example, LaBerge and Rheingold (1990) have suggested that what
a person expects to happen next in a dream can play an important role in dream construction or the
manner in which the dream will unfold. It is possible that individuals who have recurrent dreams
(including recurrent nightmares) may be locked into a fixed way of responding to the dream’s imagery
and of anticipating what will happen next. This in turn leads the dreamer to re-experience the same
imagery, which is often threatening in nature. Lucid dreaming may provide such individuals with new
responses and expectations concerning the dream’s progression, thereby altering the repetitive nature
of such dreams. Galvin (1990) suggests that by turning nightmare sufferers into lucid dreamers, the
sufferers may develop "a more coherent psychological sense of self through the experience of a degree
of mastery in the dream state and possibly resolve their nightmare condition" (p.78).
When working with recurrent nightmares, I have often combined lucid dreaming with exercises
in relaxation and guided imagery. In this treatment approach, subjects are first asked to close their eyes
and to make themselves comfortable. If a subjects is unable to relax, he or she may be trained in
progressive muscle relaxation (Bernstein and Borkovec, 1973). Once the subjects are relaxed, they
rehearse (i.e., imagine) their recurrent dream in as much detail as possible while describing it to the
therapist. The therapist guides this rehearsal, for example, asking about various dream elements (e.g.,
emotions, settings, characters) or bringing particular details to the subject's attention. Once the dream
has been described, the subject is asked to select a part of the recurrent dream which is emotionally
and/or visually salient and is instructed to carry out a particular task at this salient point in the dream.
The subject imagines performing this task in the dream while saying that he or she is dreaming (i.e.,
that the dream is now a lucid dream). When performed during the actual dream, this action is a cue that
the experience is a dream. Typically, this task is as simple as looking at one's hands or calling out a
word. Once the relaxation and imagery exercises have been completed, subjects are instructed to
practice them at home, especially just before going to sleep.
The rationale for this treatment is as follows: by repeatedly rehearsing the recurrent dream,
together with a task which is intentionally carried out at a preselected salient point in the dream, the
subject will remember to carry out the task when the recurrent dream occurs. The task serves as a pre-
rehearsed cue to remind the subject that the experience is a dream. At this point, the subject is
dreaming lucidly and can consciously choose the manner in which he or she wants to respond to and
interact with the dream imagery. This treatment is a variation of Tholey's (1983) intention technique
for lucid dream induction.
The therapist then consults with the subject to find an appropriate way to modify the recurrent
dream once lucidity is achieved. Various approaches include Garfield's (1974) suggestion to "confront
and conquer" the feared scene, Halliday's (1982; 1988) suggestion to alter some small aspect of the
dream, and Tholey's (1988) suggestion to have the dream ego engage in conciliatory dialogue with
hostile dream figures. Some subjects may be tempted to use lucid dreaming to fly away from
threatening agents in their recurrent dreams. I believe that this kind of approach should be
discouraged or used only as a last resort. Compared to other methods of dealing with repetitive dream
content when lucid, running or flying away from an aversive dream environment is not a constructive
act. Moreover, such an approach may deprive both the subject and the therapist of a unique
opportunity to gain new insights into the possible significance of the recurrent dream.
Though the ability to become lucid in one’s dreams can be of therapeutic value, it remains
unclear whether the principal factor responsible for the alleviation of recurrent dreams and nightmares
is lucidity itself, or the ability to exert some control over the dream. For example, some of my subjects
never became lucid in their recurrent dreams but nevertheless “remembered” to carry out their
rehearsed actions with positive results. Conversely, both Zadra (1990) and Halliday (1988) have
reported case studies in which lucidity without the element of control actually worsened the nightmare.
The dreamer’s ability to alter some detail in the otherwise repetitive dream, either through new
responses or altered expectations during the dream, may therefore represent a key factor in the
elimination of recurrent dreams.
General Comments and Conclusion
A question of interest to some dream researchers and to most clinicians who work with clients’
dream reports is whether people with similar life events report similar recurrent dreams. The answer to
this question has implications about how specific dream content may be constructed across individuals.
Clinicians’ interests lie in their desire to understand the possible significance of specific dream content
for the dreamer and the possible metaphorical expressions represented by specific dream content. In
the large sample of recurrent dreams we have reviewed, different people never reported the same
recurrent dream, but different life-events have produced the same type of recurrent dream content. For
example, two people in Zadra, O’Brien and Donderi’s (1993) recurrent dream group reported recurrent
dreams involving the loss of their teeth. However, there was no overlap in any of the life-events or
difficulties reported by these two people. The opposite scenario has also been noted. People reporting
the same life-events (e.g., major financial difficulties, divorce, unwanted pregnancies) were found to
have very different content in their recurrent dreams. Thus, the same dream themes or symbols may
represent different things to different people.
Some adults who experienced the same recurrent dream since childhood report that the content
of the dream changes gradually over the years. Although the thematic content of the dream remained
the same, the dream’s setting or characters had become altered in ways that often reflected changes in
the person’s life. One such example came from a 23 year-old student who reported a recurrent dream
in which someone she cared about would hurt her emotionally and show no consideration for her
feelings. During this women’s childhood, the recurrent dream consisted of her mother giving away
belongings that the subject cherished to other children. In early adolescence, she also began to have
recurrent dreams in which her older brother would be verbally abusive towards her while damaging her
personal belongings. These dreams began to decrease in frequency around the age of 18. From that
point onward, she began to have recurrent dreams about her boyfriend, who would say hurtful things to
her. In these recurrent dreams, the setting was always the subject’s home, while the feelings were
always ones of extreme sadness and frustration. Invariably, the subject would cry and beg the other
characters to stop what they were doing, but her appeals were always ignored. These dreams were
described as emotionally intense and extremely vivid. Frequently, the feelings experienced in the
recurrent dream would persist upon awakening. The subject reported that at times these feelings were
so strong that on several occasions over the past two years, she made her boyfriend apologize to her in
real life.
Some of our recurrent dreamers also report that their recurrent dreams cease for a period of
years, only to resurface when a new stressor is encountered. One 38-year old woman, who had kept a
dream diary since the age of 15, reported having had the same recurrent dream intermittently for over
20 years. The dream was an “examination dream” in which she found herself unprepared for an
important college exam. This dream had first appeared at the age of 19 when she had been in college.
She reported that this dream reappeared every seven to ten days for several months prior to her getting
married, but that it stopped recurring shortly after her wedding. Though she had not had the dream for
over five years, she stated that the dream had re-occurred with varying frequencies in the previous 18
months. During this period, she had lost her job and had been actively looking for a new one. This
case is similar to the examples described by Kramer, Schoen, and Kinney (1987) in their work with
Vietnam veterans. Many veterans re-experience their old traumatic dreams when dealing with marital
crises, demonstrating that old recurrent dreams can reappear when one is faced with new stressors.
The same phenomenon can take place in individuals who have non-traumatic recurrent dreams.
The data reviewed in this chapter support the generic depth psychological position that dreams
are related to waking states. It has been shown that the link between people’s dream content and their
current levels of well-being is particularly evident in dreams which make up Domhoff’s (1993)
repetition continuum. Moreover, it has been shown that the cessation of a recurrent dream in adulthood
is associated with an elevation in self-reported levels of well-being. This suggests that changes from
repetitive to progressive dream patterns may be important indicators of how well people are adapting to
their life circumstances.
These findings underscore the importance of examining series of dreams instead of focusing
solely on individual dreams. There is much to be gained from the study of repetitive dream content.
This is equally true for clinicians seeking to better understand their clients, and for researchers
interested in the possible psychological functions of dreaming.
Adler, G. (Ed.). 1973. C.G. Jung letters (Vol. 1, 1906-1950). Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Bollingen Series XCV.
American Psychiatric Association. 1987. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Third
Edition, Revised. Washington, DC.
Baylor, G. W., and Deslauriers, D. 1986-87. Dreams as problem solving: A method of study -- Part 1.
Background and theory. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 6, 105-118.
Belicki, K., Altay, H., and Hill, C. 1985. Varieties of nightmare experience. Newsletter of the
Association for the Study of Dreams, 2, 1-3.
Bergin, A. E. 1970. A note on dream changes following desensitization. Behavior Therapy, 1, 546-
Bernstein, D. A., and Borkovec, T. D. 1973. Progressive relaxation training. Illinois: Research Press.
Bibring, E. 1943. The conception of the repetition compulsion. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12, 486-
Bonime, W. 1962. The clinical uses of dreams. New York: Basic Books.
Breger, L. 1967. Function of dreams. Journal of Abnormal Psychology Monograph, 72 (5), 1-28.
Browman, C. P., and Kapell, L. A. 1982. Repetitive sexual dream content of normal adults. Sleep
Research, 11, 115.
Brown, R. J., and Donderi, D. C. 1986. Dream content and self-reported well-being among recurrent
dreamers, past recurrent dreamers, and nonrecurrent dreamers. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 50, 612-623.
Brylowski, A. 1990. Nightmares in crises: Clinical applications of lucid dreaming techniques.
Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa, 15, 79-84.
Cartwright, R. 1977. Night life. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
———. 1979. The nature and function of repetitive dreams: A speculation. Psychiatry, 42, 131-137.
Cartwright, R., and Romanek, I. 1978. Repetitive dreams of normal subjects. Sleep Research, 7, 174.
Cavenar, J. O. and Sullivan, J. L. 1978. A recurrent dream as a precipitant. American Journal of
Psychiatry, 135, 378-279.
D’Andrade, J. 1985. “On recurrent dreams.” Unpublished term research paper for a course on dreams
taught by G. William Domhoff. University of California, Santa Cruz.
Delaney, G. 1991. Breakthrough dreaming. New York: Bantam Books.
Domhoff, G. W. 1993. The repetition of dreams and dream elements: A possible clue to a function of
dreaming. In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer, and R. Hoffmann (Eds.), The functions of dreams . New
York: State University of New York Press.
Dunn, K. K., and Barrett, D. 1988. Characteristics of nightmare subjects and their nightmares.
Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa, 13, 91-93.
Fantz, M. 1978. Gestalt dream theory. In J. L. Fosshage and C. A. Loew (Eds.). Dream
interpretation: A comparative study. New York: Spectrum.
Fiss, H. 1986. An empirical foundation for a self psychology of dreaming. Journal of Mind and
Behavior, 7, 161-191.
Fosshage, J. L., and Loew, C. A. 1987. Dream interpretation: A comparative study. (Revised
Edition). New York: PMA Publishing Corp..
French, T., and Fromm, E. 1964. Dream Interpretation. New York: Basic Books.
Freud, S. 1931. The interpretation of dreams (A. A. Brill, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press. [Original
work published 1900]
Freud, S. 1955. Beyond the pleasure principle. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.) Complete
Psychological Works, Standard Edition, vol. 18. London, Hogarth Press. [Original work
published 1920].
Galvin, F. 1990. The boundary characteristics of lucid dreamers. Psychiatric Journal of the University
of Ottawa, 15, 73-78.
Garfield, P. (1974). Creative dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
Greenberg, R., and Pearlman, C. 1975. A psycho-analytic dream continuum: The source and function
of dreams. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 2, 441-448.
Griffith, R., Miyago, O., and Tago, A. 1958. The universality of typical dreams: Japanese vs.
Americans. American Anthropologist, 60, 1173-1179.
Hall, C. S. 1953. The meaning of dreams. New York: Harper.
Hall, C., and Van De Castle, R. 1966. The content analysis of dreams. New York: Appleton-Century-
Halliday, G. 1982. Direct alteration of a traumatic nightmare. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 54, 413-
———. 1988. Lucid dreaming: Use in nightmares and sleep-wake confusion. In J. Gackenbach and
S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming, New York:
Plenum Press.
Hartmann, E. 1984. The nightmare: The psychology and biology of terrifying dreams. New York:
Basic Books.
Kelzer, K. 1989. The sun and the shadow: My experiment with lucid dreaming. Virginia: A.R.E.
Kramer, M., Schoen, L., and Kinney, L. 1987. Nightmares in Vietnam veterans. Journal of the
American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 15, 67-81.
Kramer, M., Winget, C., and Whitman, R. 1971. A city dreams: A survey approach to normative
dream content. American Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 1350-1356.
LaBerge, S. 1985. Lucid dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
LaBerge, S., and Dement, W. C. 1982. Lateralization of alpha activity for dreamed singing and
counting. Psychophysiology, 19, 331-332.
LaBerge, S., Greenleaf, W., and Kedzierski, B. 1983. Physiological responses to dreamed sexual
activity during lucid REM sleep. Psychophysiology, 20, 454-455.
LaBerge, S., and Rheingold, H. 1990. Exploring the world of lucid dreaming. New York: Ballantine
Larue, R. 1970. Recurrent dreams. Unpublished term research paper for a course on dreams taught by
G. William Domhoff, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Marks, I. 1978. Rehearsal relief of a nightmare. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 133, 461-465.
Mattoon, M. A. 1978. Applied dream analysis: A Jungian approach. Washington, D.C.: V.H.
Winson & Sons.
Maultsby, M. C., and Gram, J. M. 1974. Dream changes following successful Rational behavior
therapy. Journal of Rational Living, 9, 30-33.
Perls, F. S. 1969. Gestalt Therapy Verbatim: A book of Gestalt therapy sessions. Moab, Utah: Real
People Press.
Renik, O. 1981. Typical examination dreams, superego dreams, and traumatic dreams. Psychoanalytic
Quarterly, 50, 159-189.
Robbins, P. R., and Houshi, F. 1983. Some observations on recurrent dreams. Bulletin of the
Menninger Clinic, 47, 262-265.
Robbins, P. R., and Tanck, R. H. 1991-92. A comparison of recurrent dreams reported from childhood
and recent recurrent dreams. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 11, 259-262.
Rossi, E. L. 1985. Dreams and the growth of personality. Second Edition. New York:
Brunner/Mazel, Inc.
Schatzman M, Worsley A, and Fenwick P. 1988. Correspondence during lucid
dreams between dreamed and actual events. In J. Gackenbach and S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious
mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming New York: Plenum Press.
Sharpe, E. F. 1978. Dream analysis. New York: Brunner/Mazel. [Original work published 1937].
Silverberg, W. V. 1948. The concept of transference. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 17, 303-321.
Stewart, W. A. 1967. Comments on the manifest content of certain types of unusual dreams.
Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36, 329-341.
Tholey, P. 1983. Techniques for inducing and manipulating lucid dreams. Perceptual and Motor
Skills, 57, 79-90.
——— 1988. A model for lucidity training as a means of self-healing and psychological growth. In J.
Gackenbach and S. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid
dreaming. New York: Plenum Press.
Ullman, M. and Zimmerman, N. 1979. Working with dreams. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.
Ward, C. H., Beck, A. T., and Rascoe, E. 1961. Typical dreams. Archives of General Psychiatry, 5,
Webb, D. E., and Fagan, J. 1993. The impact of dream interpretation using psychological kinesiology
on the frequency of recurrent dreams. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 50, 203-208.
Weiss, F. 1964. Dreaming: A creative process. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 24, 1-10.
Zadra, A. L. (1990). Lucid dreaming, dream control, and the treatment of nightmares. Paper presented
at the Seventh Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams, Chicago, June 26-
Zadra, A. L., and Donderi, D.C. 1992. Unpublished data.
Zadra, A. L., and Donderi, D.C. 1993. Variety and intensity of emotions in bad dreams and
nightmares. Canadian Psychology, 34:2a, 294.
Zadra, A. L., O’Brien, S., and Donderi, D. C. 1993. Dream content, dream recurrence and well-being:
A replication with a younger sample. Unpublished manuscript
Zadra, A. L., Miller, M., and Donderi, D.C. 1994. Repetitive dream themes and their relation to self-
reported well-being. Unpublished manuscript.
Table 1.
Dream Content Measures For Adult and Childhood Recurrent Dreams.
Negative Affect
77.3 81.1 78.5
Positive Affect 10.0 7.6 9.2
Mixture of Both Positive
and Negative Emotions 7.3 5.7 6.7
No Affect 5.5 5.7 5.5
Total for Emotion 100.1 100.1 99.9
Dream Content Scales
Failure 17.3 1.9 12.3
Success 1.8 3.8 2.5
Misfortune 41.8 43.4 42.3
Good Fortune 4.6 3.8 4.3
Total for Achievement
and Environmental Press
Dream Content Scales
65.5 52.9 61.4
Note: RD = recurrent dreams. Totals for emotion dream content scales do not equal 100
due to rounding. Totals for Achievement and Environmental Press Scales do not add up
to 100 as several dreams did not contain one or more of these dream content categories.
Table 2.
Thematic Content of Adult and Childhood Recurrent Dreams.
Being Chased
14.6 41.5 23.3
Problems With
House Maintenance 10.9 0 7.4
Being Alone and Stuck or Trapped 6.4 3.8 5.5
Facing Natural Forces
5.5 3.8 4.9
Teeth Falling Out
4.6 0 3.1
Discovering/Exploring New Rooms
in a House 4.6 1.9 3.7
Death of Family Members
4.6 9.4 6.1
Not Knowing Why or to Whom One
is Getting Married 3.6 0 2.5
Unable to Use a Telephone During
an Emergency 3.6 0 2.5
Unable to Find a Private Toilet
3.6 0 2.5
Being Late or Lost
2.7 1.9 2.5
Driving a Car That is Out of Control 2.7 0 1.8
2.7 3.8 3.1
Other 30.0 34.0 31.2
Total 100.1 100.1 100.1
Note: RD = recurrent dreams. Totals do not add up to 100 due to rounding.
% OF
... Prior studies suggest that lucid dreams allows sufferers to empower themselves, and have been linked to increases in self-confidence and better mental health (Doll, Gittler, & Holzinger, 2009;Holzinger, Klösch, & Saletu, 2015). In addition, lucid dreams can act relatively quickly, in some cases alleviating recurrent nightmares after one intervention session and a single successful lucid dream (Zadra & Pihl, 1997;Zadra, 1990) implicating lower costs than longer-term treatments requiring multiple treatment sessions. A recent review of the evidence (Macedo et al., 2019) concluded that lucid dream induction is a promising treatment for nightmares, but that more research is necessary for clinical guidelines to be established. ...
... Finally, future research could benefit from exploring methods to control or influence the content of lucid dreams, perhaps establishing action plans of what an individual would like to do or how to confront negative dreams if they occur. This is likely necessary as some researchers found that a lack of control experienced during lucidity can sometimes worsen nightmares (Zadra, 1990). Alternatively, meditation could be utilised before sleep and in conjunction with induction techniques, so that dreamers are at less risk of entering lucid dreams in a stressed or anxious state; such exercises have been shown in themselves to improve psychological wellbeing (Lee & Kuiken, 2015). ...
Lucid dreaming is a unique phenomenon with potential applications for therapeutic interventions. Few studies have investigated the effects of lucidity on an individual’s waking mood, which could have valuable implications for improving psychological wellbeing. The current experiment aims to investigate whether the experience of lucidity enhances positive waking mood, and whether lucidity is associated with dream emotional content and subjective sleep quality. 20 participants were asked to complete lucid dream induction techniques along with an online dream diary for one week, which featured a 19-item lucidity questionnaire, and subjective ratings of sleep quality, dream emotional content, and waking mood. Results indicated that higher lucidity was associated with more positive dream content and elevated positive waking mood the next day, although there was no relationship with sleep quality. The results of the research and suggestions for future investigations, such as the need for longitudinal studies of lucidity and mood, are discussed.
... Prior studies suggest that lucid dreams allows sufferers to empower themselves, and have been linked to increases in self-confidence and better mental health (Doll, Gittler, & Holzinger, 2009;Holzinger, Klösch, & Saletu, 2015). In addition, lucid dreams can act relatively quickly, in some cases alleviating recurrent nightmares after one intervention session and a single successful lucid dream (Zadra & Pihl, 1997;Zadra, 1990) implicating lower costs than longer-term treatments requiring multiple treatment sessions. A recent review of the evidence (Macedo et al., 2019) concluded that lucid dream induction is a promising treatment for nightmares, but that more research is necessary for clinical guidelines to be established. ...
... Finally, future research could benefit from exploring methods to control or influence the content of lucid dreams, perhaps establishing action plans of what an individual would like to do or how to confront negative dreams if they occur. This is likely necessary as some researchers found that a lack of control experienced during lucidity can sometimes worsen nightmares (Zadra, 1990). Alternatively, meditation could be utilised before sleep and in conjunction with induction techniques, so that dreamers are at less risk of entering lucid dreams in a stressed or anxious state; such exercises have been shown in themselves to improve psychological wellbeing (Lee & Kuiken, 2015). ...
Introduction Lucid dreaming (being aware that one is dreaming) is typically a positive experience that may enhance positive mood even after waking. There is concern, however, that lucid dreaming may interfere with sleep quality. In the current experiment, participants practiced common lucid dream induction techniques over the course of a week, and kept a daily sleep and dream diary. The study objective was to assess relationships between dream lucidity and subjective sleep quality, dream emotional content, and subsequent waking mood. Methods There were 32 participants aged 19–33 in this open label, single arm study (mean=22.63±3.48; 6 males, 24 females). All participants completed a sleep and dream diary for 7 days that included scaled items (1–7 scale) concerning subjective sleep quality, negative and positive emotional intensity of a dream (if recalled). Participants also completed a 19-item lucidity questionnaire, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. Average scores for the week were computed for all measures and Pearson’s correlations conducted between lucidity and all other measures. Participants with no dream recall (n=5) were excluded. Within-subjects analyses were undertaken by selecting each participant’s highest and lowest lucidity night (n=22; 5 participants with only minimum lucidity excluded). Results Positive correlations were found between lucidity and dream positive emotion (r=.490, n=27, p=.009) and positive waking mood (r=.638, n=27, p<.001); there were no other significant correlations (all p>.1). Higher lucidity was associated with more positive dream content (t(21)= -3.214, p=.004) and positive waking mood (t(25)=-4.568, p<.001); no other significant differences were observed. Conclusion These data indicate that lucidity is associated with positive dreams and waking mood, with no detriment to self-reported sleep quality. The findings provide preliminary support of lucid dreaming as an intervention to improve wellbeing and mood in the short term. Support N/A
... subsequent waking life have addressed the significance of lucid dreams, although they have examined only the effects of explicit awareness of dreaming. Moreover, their focus has been mainly on their therapeutic utility (e.g., treatment for nightmares) and their role in skill development (e.g., practice in a simulated world) (LaBerge, 1985;Zadra, 1996;Zadra & Pihl, 1997). Among the preliminary accounts of the transformative effects of lucid dreams, some studies have considered the importance of dream control in mastering life (Tholey, 1988). ...
... Built upon these continuous efforts, we believe that clarifying the possible relationships between reflective awareness within dreams and during waking life may help us to understand the significance of dreams (e.g., how dreams contribute to post-traumatic growth) and the nature of human consciousness. Past research has documented the therapeutic function of lucid dreams for treating nightmares (e.g., LaBerge, 1985;Tholey, 1988;Zadra, 1996;Zadra & Pihl, 1997); perhaps, a new look at the role of lucidity within dreams may not only turn the page on the pathological view on dreaming (Hobson, 2004;Yu, 2009), but also allude to the possibility of triggering insight (e.g., most importantly, increasing sense of reality) and self-knowledge for those who suffer from psychological disorders. ...
Full-text available
The objectives of this study were to explore (a) the relationships between dream reflective awareness and different types of impactful dreams, (b) the relationships between waking reflective awareness and dream reflective awareness following loss and trauma, and (c) the self-transformative potential of reflective awareness within dreams. We conducted a 2 (loss/trauma experiences) X 3 (timeframe: within the preceding 6 months, within the preceding 6-24 months, within the preceding 3-7 years) cross-sectional study to examine reflective awareness within impactful dreams and the changes in subsequent waking reflective awareness. The major results suggested that (a) only transcendent dreams were highly related to explicit dream lucidity (i.e., lucid mindfulness); (b) a continuity between pre-dream waking mindfulness and intra-dream self-awareness was specific to mundane dreams; (c) the experiences of loss or trauma and the timeframe of such experiences both predicted depersonalization within dreams; and (d) depersonalization within dreams was predictive of subsequent decreases in waking mindfulness. In sum, the present study replicated prior studies of the self-transformative effects of impactful dreams, demonstrated the continuity between dreaming and waking reflective awareness, and clarified the ways in which reflective awareness within dreams may affect post-traumatic growth.
... These topics were also often found in typical dreams [17][18][19][20] and recurrent dreams. 21,22 As mentioned previously, large-scale studies on nightmare topics are scarce. Summaries of the two most comprehensive studies thus far follow. ...
... 24 The topic of being chased was much more common in childhood recurrent dreams compared to those of adults (41.5% versus 14.6%). 21 Systematic research as to whether nightmare themes are related to nightmare frequency has not yet been carried out. To summarize, the research regarding nightmare topics indicate that nightmare content might not be exclusively limited to threats to survival, security, or physical integrity but also include others such as close persons disappear/die, interpersonal conflicts, and failure. ...
Study objectives: Even though the common diagnostic criteria (ICSD-3, DSM-5) acknowledge that nightmares do not only contain anxiety/fear (definition of the ICD-10) but also other emotions such as grief, disgust, and anger, the definition of a nightmare still focuses on threats to survival, security, or physical integrity. However, empirical studies on nightmare content in larger samples are scarce. Methods: The current study elicited 1,216 of the most recent nightmares including childhood nightmares of a population-based sample. Results: The findings show that nightmares encompass a diversity of different topics, being chased, physical aggression, including death/injury of close persons. Infrequent themes like being the aggressor and suicide are of special interest as they might be related to waking-life psychopathology. Conclusions: The variety of nightmare topics clearly indicate that current definitions of nightmare content are too narrow. Future studies should look into nightmare content of persons in whom nightmare disorder has been diagnosed.
... This figure is consistent with several studies that reported a prevalence of 60%-75% of recurrent dreams in college students and young adults (Zadra, 1996). Similarly, approximately 83% of the participants had already experienced a lucid dream at least once in their lives, a figure consistent with previous studies on student population (e.g. ...
... Second, the higher frequency of recurrent dreams in women than in men has previously been reported (Zadra, 1996), but is not VALLAT ET AL. ...
There is a lack of up-to-date data on sleep and dream habits of college students. To fill in this gap, we used an online questionnaire sent to the student mailing lists of two major universities of Lyon (Lyon 1 and Lyon 2) for the recruitment of an functional magnetic resonance imaging study with sleep disorders as exclusion criteria. In the sample (1,137 French college students, 411 males, mean age = 22.2 ± 2.4 years, body mass index = 22.0 ± 3.2 kg m⁻²), on average, the participants reported spending about 8 hr in bed during weekdays, 9 hr during the weekends, and 90.9% of them reported no difficulty falling asleep. Less than 0.4% of students reported to have sleep-walking episodes regularly, but nearly 7% reported regular sleep-talking episodes. The average dream recall frequency was about 3 mornings per week with a dream in mind. Dream recall frequency was positively correlated with the clarity of dream content and the frequency of lucid dreaming, and was negatively correlated with age. Fourteen percent of the students reported frequent lucid dreams, and 6% reported frequent recurrent dreams. We found a gender effect for several sleep and dream parameters, including dream recall frequency and time in bed, both of which were higher in women than in men. We have also observed differences between academic disciplines, namely humanities students (Lyon 2) reported spending more time in bed than sciences students (Lyon 1). These results confirm a gender difference for several sleep and dream parameters, and suggest a link between academic disciplines and sleep duration.
... Again, we have a type of dream content that is highly similar over different historical cohorts and also stays the same over longer periods in individuals. Frequent nightmare sufferers will often experience nightmares with repetitive content, and recurrent dreams, though rare, can remain almost exactly the same over extended periods (Zadra 2001). This does not mean that they are representative of a majority of dreams-rather, these dreams are particularly memorable and often emotionally intense. ...
Full-text available
In this paper, I discuss the relationship between bodily experiences in dreams and the sleeping, physical body. I question the popular view that dreaming is a naturally and frequently occurring real-world example of cranial envatment. This view states that dreams are functionally disembodied states: in a majority of dreams, phenomenal experience, including the phenomenology of embodied selfhood, unfolds completely independently of external and peripheral stimuli and outward movement. I advance an alternative and more empirically plausible view of dreams as weakly phenomenally-functionally embodied states. The view predicts that bodily experiences in dreams can be placed on a continuum with bodily illusions in wakefulness. It also acknowledges that there is a high degree of variation across dreams and different sleep stages in the degree of causal coupling between dream imagery, sensory input, and outward motor activity. Furthermore, I use the example of movement sensations in dreams and their relation to outward muscular activity to develop a predictive processing account. I propose that movement sensations in dreams are associated with a basic and developmentally early kind of bodily self-sampling. This account, which affords a central role to active inference, can then be broadened to explain other aspects of self- and world-simulation in dreams. Dreams are world-simulations centered on the self, and important aspects of both self- and world-simulation in dreams are closely linked to bodily self-sampling, including muscular activity, illusory own-body perception, and vestibular orienting in sleep. This is consistent with cognitive accounts of dream generation, in which long-term beliefs and expectations, as well as waking concerns and memories play an important role. What I add to this picture is an emphasis on the real-body basis of dream imagery. This offers a novel perspective on the formation of dream imagery and suggests new lines of research.
... Dreams of being chased and demonic forces were not considered in detail by Freud but both reflect the common occurrence of threats in dreams (18) and nightmares (134) as if primitive "fight or flight" reactions tend to shape the content. The chase dream is one of the most cross-culturally constant themes (135)(136)(137)(138), the most common nightmare theme [(67), p. 60] and the most prevalent recurrent dream theme from both childhood (41.5%) and adulthood (14.6%) (139). Accordingly, the game of chasing and being chased is very popular among young children. ...
Adverse childhood experiences can deleteriously affect future physical and mental health, increasing risk for many illnesses, including psychiatric problems, sleep disorders, and, according to the present hypothesis, idiopathic nightmares. Much like post-traumatic nightmares, which are triggered by trauma and lead to recurrent emotional dreaming about the trauma, idiopathic nightmares are hypothesized to originate in early adverse experiences that lead in later life to the expression of early memories and emotions in dream content. Accordingly, the objectives of this paper are to (1) review existing literature on sleep, dreaming and nightmares in relation to early adverse experiences, drawing upon both empirical studies of dreaming and nightmares and books and chapters by recognized nightmare experts and (2) propose a new approach to explaining nightmares that is based upon the Stress Acceleration Hypothesis of mental illness. The latter stipulates that susceptibility to mental illness is increased by adversity occurring during a developmentally sensitive window for emotional maturation—the infantile amnesia period—that ends around age 3½. Early adversity accelerates the neural and behavioral maturation of emotional systems governing the expression, learning, and extinction of fear memories and may afford short-term adaptive value. But it also engenders longterm dysfunctional consequences including an increased risk for nightmares. Two mechanisms are proposed: (1) disruption of infantile amnesia allows normally forgotten early childhood memories to influence later emotions, cognitions and behavior, including the common expression of threats in nightmares; (2) alterations of normal emotion regulation processes of both waking and sleep lead to increased fear sensitivity and less effective fear extinction. These changes influence an affect network previously hypothesized to regulate fear extinction during REM sleep, disruption of which leads to nightmares. This network consists of a fear circuit that includes amygdala, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex and whose substantial overlap with the stress acceleration findings allows the latter to be incorporated into a wider, more developmentally coherent framework.
In this era of empiric assessment of therapy results, the association between nightmares and PTSD has become even more important. Any therapy that reduces nightmare frequency and/or distress will have a positive effect on all four PTSD symptom categories; intrusion and re-experiencing, arousal, avoidance, and negative mood. Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) focuses on changing the storyline of a nightmare. IRT is primarily a behavioral approach in which sleep hygiene and maladaptive sleep behaviors contributing to disordered sleep are assessed and addressed by working with a typical nightmare. Using IRT from 70 to 80% of PTSD patients will report clinically meaningful improvements in nightmare frequency, as well as improvements in insomnia and waking PTSD symptoms. This approach can also be used in concert with instruction in lucid dreaming to produce excellent results in reducing nightmare frequency. IRT focuses on nightmares and may not be helpful for PTSD patients who do not report nightmares. IRT is an ideal approach for treating individuals with PTSD who report persistent nightmares after completing other PTSD treatment protocols. It is an excellent approach that can be used in PTSD patients with a strong interest in dreaming, for those whose primary symptom is recurrent nightmares, for at-risk populations, and for those who might prefer a less aversive approach to care than that offered by prolonged exposure to trauma.
Full-text available
A multivariate comparison was made among 52 recurrent, past-recurrent, and nonrecurrent dreamers aged 18–21 yrs. The participants completed measures of well-being and collected a 14-day sample of their own remembered dreams. Multivariate analysis showed that recurrent dreamers scored low on psychological well-being and reported more negative dream content. As was true in an earlier study, a single psychometric dimension, which the authors call psychological well-being, discriminated between the recurrent dream group and the other two groups over the entire set of well-being and dream content variables. As was true in two previous studies, dream archetypality was negatively correlated with a measure of neuroticism. It is concluded that in both late teenagers and older adults, recurrent dreams occur in times of stress, are accompanied by negative dream content, and are associated with a deficit in psychological well-being. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Previous research (Fenwick et al., 1984; Hearne, 1978; LaBerge, Nagel, Dement, & Zarcone, 1981; LaBerge, 1985) has shown that, during REM sleep, certain subjects can signal that they are dreaming lucidly by means of volitional eye movements (recorded by the electro-oculogram) and forearm muscle contractions (recorded by the electromyogram). If confirmed, these results suggest the possibility of a new method for examining experimentally the long-standing assumption that a dream report of a subject awakened from REM sleep corresponds to what the subject really dreamed. These results suggest, too, that if, while dreaming lucidly, a subject can perceive external sensory stimuli and, in response to them, can signal volitionally—thereby in effect engaging in two-way communication—then the ability in dreams to perceive incoming stimuli and respond to them (for example, by counting them) could be experimentally examined. Our experiments were designed to provide data relevant to these issues and, further, to explore the relationship in lucid dreams between the dream body and the physical body.
Abstract Looking first at the nature of dreams as studied in the laboratory during the last thirty years, this article (Part I) considers methods of knowing dreams and what is meant by dream interpretation. Within the context of current research in cognitive science, it is proposed that at least some dreams are generated by a regulatory system seeking to establish organismic balance, and in this sense fulfill a problem-solving function. A five-step method designed to facilitate dream understanding is sketched: it is a programmatic procedure that helps users recover aspects of their own dream formation process and probes the regulatory system by helping users discern the problem(s) a dream may be attacking. In Part II, the method will be illustrated and evaluated through the analysis of one dream in extenso.
Dreaming is not merely a reactive phenomenon, reactive to instinctual pressure, inner or outer stimuli, a traumatic past or a disturbing present. Dreaming is an active, creative process. Dreaming is not an irrational, regressive, libidinous phenomenon, but a dynamic biological function of the human organism. It reflects the striving for self-realization whether it is fully expressed or blocked by anxiety-charged neurotic needs. Dreaming is characterized by a widened scope of perception, particularly of self-awareness. Dreaming occurs in a state of lessened self-alienation and can become a “door to the larger self”. Symbol formation in dreams is not a reductive process, characterized by perceptive insufficiency, regression and censorship. It is a creative act in which the dreamer's strivings, conflicts and attempts at solution are crystallized. The past enters the dream as a dynamic symbol of the present. Dreaming is the latent phase of creative insight and self-realization. It is man's encounter with himself, his life (past, present and future) and his world. The dream becomes a creative force in therapy if it is permitted to speak for itself, if the therapist does not become a killer of the dream by reducing it to preconceived stereotypes, and if the patient learns to “own” his dream.
91 undergraduates described recurrent dreams experienced in childhood and recurrent dreams of recent years. Content analysis indicated that the dreams reported from childhood were more likely to be threatening. The dreams from childhood more often included a threatening agent which pursued or menaced the dreamer or other characters in the dream. The threatening agents were most frequently folkloric or fictional characters such as monsters or witches. Such folkloric characters were absent in the sample of recent recurring dreams. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)