Variety and Intensity of Emotions in Nightmares and Bad Dreams

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Nightmares are usually defined as frightening dreams that awaken the sleeper. This study uses the waking criterion to distinguish between nightmares and bad dreams and investigated the variety and intensity of emotions reported in each form of disturbing dream. Ninety participants recorded their dreams for 4 consecutive weeks and, for each dream recalled, noted the emotions present and their intensities on a 9-point scale. Thirty-six participants reported at least one nightmare and one bad dream over the 4 weeks covered by the log, while 29 reported having had at least one bad dream but no nightmares. Nightmares were rated as being significantly (p < 0.001) more intense than bad dreams. Thirty percent of nightmares and 51% of bad dreams contained primary emotions other than fear. The findings support the claim that awakening can serve as an indirect measure of nightmare intensity and raise important implications for the operational definition of nightmares.

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