Dreamscapes: Our nighttime head trips

May 25, 2018

Scientists think that we sleep so that we can retreat from the outside world and process the information that we have amassed during the day.

But what purposes do our dreams and nightmares serve? Although lucid dreaming is rare, we all can recall some recurring motifs and mental pictures that do not reflect what has happened on a specific day. What’s more, many of us have similar dreams, based on findings of a poll of 1,256 adult Americans conducted by Mattress Advisor earlier this year.

And men and women are likely to have dreams that are much the same as those experienced by others of the same sex. What’s that all about?

The survey was conducted using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an artificial intelligence application. Of the respondents, 57% were female and 43% male—and most were an average 57 years of age, although the total sample of participants ranged from 18 years of age to 81.

However, by far the most popular dream among both sexes relates to traveling to destinations far and wide. The subconscious of the American man is particularly fond of this dream Fully 37.9% percent of male respondents said they had explored a new place while fast asleep—like a sprawling city bathed in twinkling light or even a new planet.

Respondents described feelings during this dream to be anything from “terrifying” and “pure bliss” to “wonder” and “sadness and anxiety.” Frequent mentions of China and outer space led the visual of male dreams and provide context for the broad range of feelings evoked in participants, Mattress Advisor found.

Predictably enough, the second most popular dreams among males centered on sex; while among females, they were about falling in love.

Research shows “some women can tend to gain their self-esteem from relationships and some men can tend to gain their self-esteem from their performance within the world,” which may explain the reason behind this long-standing divide.

So what do women feel while their dreams of finding true love unfold? Words like “love,” “happiness,” “joy,” and “excitement” were common.

Finally, American men also reported dreaming of acquiring superpowers (8.7%) and money (8.4%); while women also dreamed of being able to fly.

When it came to nightmares, nearly 20% of men reported they had experienced horrible visions of falling—from airplanes, windows, roofs, whatever. Respondents used terms such as “stomach-turning,” “terror,” “helplessness,” and “fear” to describe their memories of taking a deep plunge.

Nightmares about being chased were not far behind, with 17% of American men saying they had seen themselves being hunted by people or animals and 20% of women saying the same.

The uncertainty of being chased is what makes this nightmare one of the most universally terrifying: What if the person pursuing me actually catches me? What would they do to me?

One explanation, Mattress Advisors believes, may be rooted in the way anxieties manifest: According to their data, large amounts of stress drove 49% of women’s dreams and 40% of men’s.

Finally, all three generational groups represented in the poll reported having problems getting a good night’s sleep. Boomers sleep best, with only 10.9% having problems, and Millennials are next at 14.6%. Gen Xers, get the worst sleep of anyone, with 16.9% of respondents reporting issues.

Research contact: @MattressAdvisor

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