Women's Nightmares Are About Relationships; Men's Are About Disasters

Illustration for article titled Women's Nightmares Are About Relationships; Men's Are About Disasters

A new study from the journal Sleep peers into the gendered nature of the unconscious and maybe finds that we've all been incepted by the patriarchy.


Dream scientists already know that women have already found that women report having significantly more nightmares than men do, but few studies have attempted to explore why that occurs or what it means. This new Sleep study does that, among other things, and it finds that nightmare themes vary by gender. Whereas men are more likely to have nightmares about natural disasters, being chased, or insects, women more frequently have them about interpersonal conflicts. At Slate, Katy Waldman points out that women's nightmares also tend to feature "feelings of humiliation, frustration or inadequacy."

It's worth noting that here a nightmare is defined not as a scary dream, but rather as a "disturbing mental experience" that result in the sleeper waking up. Therefore, it doesn't necessarily mean that women are more likely to have bad dreams about relationships — the study's findings just indicate that the fear of interpersonal fallout and associated emotions — guilt, shame, embarrassment, etc. — may "elicit a more intense emotional response in women leading to a greater proportion of such dreams ending in a nightmare awakening." For men, I guess, bugs and volcanoes and pursuers will do that.

Waldman asked Antonio Zadra, one of the study's authors, what he thought of the gender discrepancy. His explanation was that "for women, on average, social or interpersonal dimensions may be more emotionally salient." Anecdotally, this makes sense to me: although I have bad dreams that touch on a whole slew of themes, I only ever feel distressed enough to wake up when I do irreparable dream-damage to an important relationship. I've had several bad dreams about, like, malicious wizards and zombies and so on in the past year, but I only ever woke up in a state of terror when I dreamt that I'd angrily poured beer in my best friend's eye and then we became worst enemies (beer in the eye will do that to a friendship).

What reoccurring nightmare-themes do you have? Do you feel incepted by the patriarchy? Discuss.

Image via Platslee/Shutterstock.



I have two recurring nightmares. One about losing my teeth one at a time and another about trying to beat up this old lady that just keeps smiling and not reacting to my attacks.