Why People Have Similar Dreams

Hispanic woman sleeping with empty thought bubble
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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?

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.

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

Here are a number of other discoveries dream researchers found:

  • 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, but women are more likely to dream about being the victims of aggression or a physical attack.

Common Dreams Across Cultures

So what are some of the most common things that people dream about? In one study that looked at differences between the dream content of American students and Japanese students, researchers found that:

  • Being chased or physically attacked was the most common dream event for both American and Japanese students.
  • The rest of the top five dream themes were falling, repeating an action over and over, school-related, for example, about teachers, students or homework, and being frozen with fear.
  • Other common dream events for students in both cultures included sex, being late for an important event, seeing deceased people as if they were alive and the death of loved ones.
  • Surprisingly, some of the least common dream themes included flying, failing an exam, and being naked.

That Unusual Dream Probably Isn't so Unusual

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.

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Article Sources
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  • Empson, J. (2002) Sleep and dreaming (3rd ed.). New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press.
  • Hall, C. S. & Van de Castle, R. L. (1966). Content analysis of dreams. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.