Sleep and Dreaming Why People Have Similar Dreams By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 13, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Armeen Poor, MD Medically reviewed by Armeen Poor, MD Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images Dreams can be mysterious, strange, confusing, or even amusing. Have you ever shared a dream with your friends and noticed that many people report having the same or similar types of dreams? The content of dreams can vary from one person to the next, but some people have suggested that certain types of dreams tend to be more common. It is important to recognize, however, that this an evolving field that still has a great deal of uncertainty. More research is needed to understand why people dream about certain things. Common Dreams What do people dream about most often? In one study looking at the content of dreams, researchers found that some of the most common dream themes included: Being attackedBeing chasedBeing lateDeath of a loved one or the return of a deceased loved oneFallingFlyingSchool-related activities (taking exams, studying, going to class)Sexual activity Dreams Reflect Concerns About Daily Life According to dream researcher Calvin Hall, who collected and analyzed more than 10,000 dreams, the majority of our dreams tend to reflect concerns about daily life. Money, school, work, family, friends, and health are just a few of the most common things that people dream about. One study found that psychological needs may play a part in determining the content of dreams. People who were experiencing frustrations caused by having their psychological needs undermined were more likely to experience negative dream themes and emotions. This suggests that the concerns of daily life are indeed reflected in the content of our dreams. Another study found that almost 84% of participants dreamed about events from their waking lives, and around 40% involved mundane events from the previous day. Research has also suggested that the contents of our dreams are not invented out of thin air. One study found that of characters that appeared in dreams: More than 48% were identifiable as a person that the dreamer knew by name in real life.Another 35% of characters appearing in dreams were identifiable by their social or occupational role in the community.Only around 16% of the characters appearing in dreams were not recognized by the dreamer. What researchers have also noticed is that there are a number of "dream themes" that tend to be quite common across different cultures. Events such as being chased, falling, or being naked in public are surprisingly common among people from all over the world. Other Discoveries by Dream Researchers Dream research has also revealed a number of other interesting results about what people tend to dream about: People tend to dream about negative events a lot more frequently than they do about positive events. For example, people are more likely to dream about an attack or an argument than a friendly exchange with another person.External stimuli often influence dreams. For example, a person sleeping in a really hot room might dream about being in a sauna or being trapped in a sweltering desert with no water. If your alarm clock goes off, you might simply incorporate the noise into the story of your dream rather than actually waking to the sound.Men's dreams tend to contain more aggression and negative emotions, while women's dreams are more likely to contain positive emotions and friendly interactions. The difficulty in studying the content of dreams is that it is impossible to objectively look at exactly what people dream about. Instead, researchers must rely on self-reports from dreamers. This then leads to questions of whether these reports can accurately convey the subjective experiences of the dream. Particularly since many dreams are forgotten immediately or shortly after awakening. A Word From Verywell The next time you have what seems like a really unusual dream, remember this: you're definitely not alone. There are a lot of books out there that try to interpret the symbolic imagery of dreams in order to search for hidden, unconscious meanings. But in all probability, your dream probably relates to some element of your daily life and it most likely shares common elements with many other people's dreams. Why Do People Dream? 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Schredl M, Ciric P, Götz S, Wittmann L. Typical dreams: stability and gender differences. J Psychol. 2004;138(6):485-94. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.6.485-494. PMID: 1561260. Hall, C. S. & Van de Castle, R. L. Content analysis of dreams. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1966. Weinstein N, Campbell R, Vansteenkiste M. Linking psychological need experiences to daily and recurring dreams. Motiv Emot. 2018;42(1):50-63. doi:10.1007/s11031-017-9656-0 Vallat R, Chatard B, Blagrove M, Ruby P. Characteristics of the memory sources of dreams: A new version of the content-matching paradigm to take mundane and remote memories into account. PLoS One. 201711;12(10):e0185262. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185262 Kahn D, Stickgold R, Pace-schott EF, Hobson JA. Dreaming and waking consciousness: a character recognition study. J Sleep Res. 2000;9(4):317-25. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2869.2000.00213.x Valli K, Strandholm T, Sillanmaki L, Revonsuo A. Dreams are more negative than real life: implications for the functioning of dreaming. Cognition and Emotion. 2008;22(5):833-861. doi:10.1080/02699930701541591 Schredl M, Atanasova D, Hörmann K, Maurer JT, Hummel T, Stuck BA. Information processing during sleep: the effect of olfactory stimuli on dream content and dream emotions. J Sleep Res. 2009;18(3):285-90. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2009.00737.x Fogli A, Maria Aiello L, Quercia D. Our dreams, our selves: automatic analysis of dream reports. R Soc Open Sci. 2020;7(8):192080. Published 2020 Aug 26. doi:10.1098/rsos.192080 Nir Y, Tononi G. Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology. Trends Cogn Sci. 2010;14(2):88-100. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.12.001 Additional Reading Empson J. Sleep and dreaming (3rd ed.). New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press; 2002. By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. 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