Dreamers and Their Dreams
These demographics were developed through various studies of
thousands of dreams. As with all generalizations, they might be true
for the norm but not necessarily for a given individual.
Jump to the following topics:
- The dreams of men and
- The dreams of children.
- The dreams of
dreams of psychologically disturbed people.
dreams of "challenged" people.
- Other dreamers.
The dreams of men and
women. The topics of dreams have followed the stereotyped traditional
image of male and female. However, since dreams tend to parallel our
waking life, researchers have found that the dream-content of men and
women has become more similar in recent years; this corresponds to
the trend of wakeful American culture in which we see less-rigid
- Men. Men's dreams tend to feature outdoor settings, aggression
and violence, working (and identification of dream characters by
occupation), physical activity, money, strangers, sex, cars,
weapons, and competition. They dream primarily about other men, in
situations which generally feature belligerence. When women are in
the dreams, they are usually treated kindly. (Most of my dreams
differ from the macho themes listed above; the same disparity
might be experienced by other men who are interested in inner
realities such as dreams, emotions, and spirituality.)
- Men - fathers-to-be. They have more nightmares during this
period. (See "Women - pregnant.")
- Women. Again, studies have shown that the dreams mirror a
wakeful gender stereotype: Women's dreams predominantly include
the themes of home, shopping, conversations, indoor settings,
people's appearances (clothes, faces, jewelry) -- and emotional
reactions to those elements. Their dreams have more characters
(and more friendly ones) than do those of men; the women are
usually socializing with friends and family rather than
confronting strangers. Approximately half of the characters are
men (and those who are strangers are likely to cause trouble),
but both the male and female characters are equally capable of
hostility (although female aggression is primarily verbal, not
physical); the dream persona is more often the victim than the
aggressor. Women have sexual dreams less often than do men; the
partner is generally a familiar person rather than a stranger.
- Women - pregnant. Some women dream about pregnancy
before it is suspected or confirmed; certainly their body is
aware of the condition before any symptoms would be
detectable. During the pregnancy, they can expect intense
dreams which are laden with anxiety and nightmarish
situations -- but this is good, because the nightmares are a
rehearsal and psychological preparation for the rigors of
childbirth; women who experience more nightmares during
pregnancy (and manage them with daytime dreamwork) generally
have a delivery which is shorter and easier. All of the
dreams are not nightmares; some contain symbolic signs of
life, with themes of water, little animals, and gardening.
- Women - breast-feeding. Their dreams occur at the same
time and continue for the same duration as those of the
baby. Women who do not breastfeed do not experience this
- Women - during menstruation. During this time, they have
a larger percentage of REM sleep, particularly if they are
experiencing emotional upset. Their dream persona is more
congenial with women than with men.
The dreams of children.
- Fetuses. A fetus in the womb experiences REM sleep during
perhaps 100% of its sleep-time.
- Babies. An infant's sleep is a hefty 50% REM -- probably
because this newcomer has so much information to process regarding
this unfamiliar world. REM starts as soon as the baby falls
asleep. (A premature baby spends about 75% of his or her sleep in
REM.) By the age of six months, the REM-time has decreased to
approximately 25%, where it stays until late middle age.
- Children. As children develop psychologically, their dreams
follow a pattern of growth in subject matter and sophistication.
Boys and girls.
- Dreams' association with wakeful reality: During children's
first few years of life, they believe that dreams occur in the
same world as their wakeful reality; for example, when they
awaken, they might hit a sibling for an infraction which
occurred within the dreamscape. By the age of 5 to 8, they
realize that the dream's reality is only within their mind.
- Complexity of dreams: Around the age of three, dreams are
short, literal, and elementary (usually with only one image).
As the child matures psychologically, the dreams become more
complex, with more characters and a distinct plot.
- Themes: Very young children frequently dream about animals,
family members, and other children. They grow into their normal
"nightmare phase" around the age of 6. Throughout childhood,
their dreams often depict their persona being victimized.
Generally their dreams show them at home or at play.
- The dream persona: A three-year-old typically experiences
his or her dream persona as an animal; the sense of "self" is
usually not yet sufficiently developed to view the persona in
its childlike form until around the age of eight.
- Boys. Their dreams are oriented more toward objects than
people. Most of those people are women.
- Girls. In contrast to boys' dreams, the girls experience
more people (50% of whom are women), more social gatherings,
more pleasant feelings -- and longer dreams.
The dreams of
- Alcohol drinkers. Even a small amount of alcohol keeps people
from experiencing REM during its early cycles; later in the night,
they compensate by having an unusually large amount of REM (and a
tendency toward nightmares). This effect is more pronounced for an
alcoholic; the REM deficit is so severe that the withdrawal period
is characterized by sleep which is nearly 100% REM -- and the
wakeful hours are possessed by delirium tremens (DTs) and
hallucinations which are apparently a further attempt by the
REM-starved mind to offset its previous deficit (by imposing the
dream-like hallucinations into wakefulness).
- Drug users. The amount of REM sleep is diminished by such
drugs as tranquilizers, antidepressants, antihistamines,
barbiturates, amphetamines, marijuana, sleeping pills, cocaine,
muscle relaxants, tobacco, and other stimulants or depressants. If
the drug wears off during sleep, people have an opportunity to
compensate with more REM-time during the later hours. But when
people withdraw from long-term use of sleeping pills (and perhaps
other drugs), the compensation is so fervent that the next few
nights will be filled with prolonged REM periods of very rapid eye
movements, and imagery which is emotional and perhaps nightmarish.
In contrast to those REM-disrupting drugs, penicillin and
antibiotics enhance the first two REM sessions of the
sleep period; psychedelic drugs heighten REM sleep in general.
dreams of psychologically disturbed people.
- Depressed people. Their dreamscape is generally a malicious,
unsatisfying world. Their first REM period of the night tends to
be the longest; for non-depressed people, the first REM period is
the shortest. Some depressed people enter their first REM period
after only 20 minutes or so, following a stage of light sleep;
non-depressed people experience all four stages of light and deep
sleep before entering REM, and their first REM period occurs after
90 minutes. Depression has been successfully treated by depriving
patients of their excessive REM (through drugs or frequent
awakenings); apparently, those people are engaging in so much
activity during their dreams that they are left with insufficient
drive to seek fulfillment during their wakeful life.
- Mentally retarded people. Their first REM period occurs later
than it does for non-retarded people. Proportionally, they have
less REM-time during sleep, and fewer eye movements; this
proportion is lowest for the most severely retarded people.
Perhaps the deficiency of REM activity worsens the people's mental
condition since REM is a period of information processing, or
maybe the small amount of REM is appropriate for the meager amount
of data which was absorbed during wakefulness.
- Schizophrenics. If the symptoms are worsening, the amount of
REM decreases; when the condition stabilizes, this time-period is
comparable to that of non-schizophrenic individuals -- and during
recovery, REM increases. When schizophrenics are deprived of REM,
they do not compensate for it later, as would be the case for
non-schizophrenics. The dreams of schizophrenics are typically
lackluster, less weird and less active than those of
non-schizophrenics, and containing simple plots with no human
characters. We might theorize that schizophrenia involves (but is
not necessarily caused by) a displacement of the dream mechanism;
"normal" people would experience a "normal" wakeful routine, and
then, during sleep, perhaps experience a nightmare in which they
are dodging death-rays from Martians; a schizophrenic might see
those death-rays during wakefulness and then enter sleep for an
uneventful dream about working at a job. However, the correlation
between dreams and hallucinations is not exact; hallucinations
tend to be auditory and fragmented, unlike the visual stories
expressed by dreams.
The dreams of
- Deaf people. Some of them have dreams in which the characters
communicate via sign language.
- Stutterers. In a survey that included one person, a stutterer
said he does not stutter during dreams except in the rare
circumstances where the speech impediment is relevant to the plot.
- Blind people. If the people were born blind, they have no REM
and no visual imagery; the dreams consist of impressions from the
other senses -- touch, hearing, smell, and taste. If the people
were sighted and then became blind, they have REM (if the eye
muscles have not yet atrophied), and their dreams contain visual
imagery -- but these visual dreams might cease to occur
- Elderly people. During their earlier adulthood, they
experienced REM sleep during approximately 25% of their
sleep-time. But as they enter old age, this percentage gradually
- Creative people. Their dreams display more imaginativeness,
unconventionality, humor, color, and sexuality than do the dreams
of less-creative people.
- Identical twins. Their REM periods occur at the same time and
continue for the same span. Sometimes even the topics are
identical on a given night.
- Short sleepers. The REM cycle adjusts for a person's typical
sleep period; someone who typically sleeps five hours per night
experiences approximately the same amount of REM as someone who
sleeps nine hours per night.
- Long sleepers. REM periods become longer as the sleep-period
progresses, so the final period may last for approximately an
hour. Because of the intense mental activity which occurs during
REM, this concluding period can leave us exhausted; thus, people
who sleep for an exceptionally long time usually wake up feeling
tired. Also, these people's dreams contain an usually large amount
of sex and aggression -- but their wakeful lives exhibit less than
the average, perhaps because they are depleting these drives in
the dreamscape. (A similar drive depletion has been noted among
depressed people, as explained previously.)
- Enlightened yogis. Some yogis claim that they do not dream --
but in experiments, they did exhibit REM. However, their reported
"dreams" were unusual; the experience could be described as
samadhi, or a unity with "the light" -- without images, emotions,
senses (hearing, etc.), a dream-body, or a sense of space or time.
Because of the contrast to our usual dreams, we might agree that
they do not "dream."
- Meditators. Long-term users of Transcendental Meditation have
shorter REM periods than do non-meditators, and they have less of
a need to compensate for a lack of REM following sleep-deprivation
experiments. (See the chapter on meditation.)
- Animals in general. When my dog slept, it would have periods
of twitching, growling, and rapid breathing. The dog may or may
not have been "dreaming," but many species of animals do exhibit
REM sleep (and we might dare to assume that they are experiencing
imagery and feelings similar to those of a human dream). REM sleep
-- and the corresponding physiological states -- has been
discovered in many animals which have a sophisticated nervous
system (and a neocortex -- or a wulst, which is a comparable
structure in birds); this would include virtually every species of
mammal and bird -- and some authorities say that REM might be
present in fish and reptiles.
- Other animals. The "lower" animals, such as reptiles,
presumably have no need for the information-processing function of
dreams because their brains are capable of little more than
habitual, instinctive responses, and they have virtually no
capacity for learning -- so there is hardly any new information to
be processed. However, all animals, and even plants, have cycles
of metabolic and electrochemical activity during sleep; these
cycles resemble the REM cycle.
- Mammals without REM. The only mammal which is known not to
exhibit REM sleep is Australia's echidna (spiny anteater), which
has a prefrontal cortex which is proportionally bigger than that
of a human; we might speculate that this animal developed a large
cortex to manage the information-processing function which is
performed by other species during their dream state.
- Cats. Cats have been studied in many dream experiments, with
the following results:
- When cats are in REM sleep, their brain-wave patterns
exactly match the patterns of wakefulness.
- REM has been induced in a cat experimentally via an
- Shortly after birth, kittens (as well as puppies and rats)
have sleep which is 100% REM.
- A cat's REM cycle takes 30 minutes, in contrast to the 90
minutes of a human REM cycle. (A rat's cycle is only 12
- An experimenter induced the EEG readings which correspond
to REM sleep in a cat by introducing a drug similar to the
neurotransmitter (brain chemical) acetylcholine; the REM
readings were then turned off through the use of the
- One study examined sleep paralysis, which is caused by
"neural inhibitors" in the bloodstream. In experiments where
these inhibitors were blocked (chemically or by surgically
removing the parts of the brain which inhibit motor activity
during dreams), cats dramatized their REM sleep with vigorous
- Cats were deprived of sleep through the use of a drug
(PCPA). After a period of sleep-deprivation, they appeared to
be hallucinating; they stared at blank walls as though they
were watching something, and they pounced where there was
nothing on which to pounce.