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Pain Research and Management
Volume 3 (1998), Issue 3, Pages 155-161
Original Article

The Nature and Prevalence of Pain in Dreams

Antonio L Zadra,1 Tore A Nielsen,1,2 Anne Germain,1 Gilles Lavigne,1,3 and DC Donderi4

1Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur, Centre d’étude du sommeil, Canada
2Département de Psychiatrie, Université de Montréal, Canada
3Faculté de Médecine Dentaire, Université de Montréal, Canada
4Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Received 12 March 1998; Revised 13 August 1998

Copyright © 1998 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


BACKGROUND: Little is known about the frequency and nature of pain in dreams. Several authors have suggested that pain may be beyond the representational capability of dreaming.

OBJECTIVE: To obtain more detailed information on the nature and prevalence of pain in a larger sample of everyday dreams collected through home logs. To examine the context within which dreamed pain occurs and to assess participants' retrospective recall of past experiences of pain in dreams.

METHOD: One hundred and eighty-five participants completed a battery of questionnaires and recorded their dreams for two consecutive weeks.

RESULTS: Retrospective responses to the questionnaire indicate that close to 50% of individuals report having experienced pain in their dreams at least once. A total of 3045 dreams were reported in the home dream logs. Eighteen of these dreams contained unambiguous references to the subject experiencing pain.

DISCUSSION: Pain sensations in dreams are reported as being realistic, localized to a specific area of the body, typically resulting from violent encounters with other characters and often accompanied by intense affect. A model is proposed to explain how sensory experiences such as pain can be produced in the dream state.

CONCLUSION: Cognitive systems that contribute to the representation of pain imagery are sometimes functional during dreaming.