Narrative Qualities of Bad Dreams and Nightmares

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Abstract

This study empirically investigated content differences in bad dream and nightmare narratives collected prospectively utilizing evidenced-based scoring systems for waking narratives. Three-hundred and twelve participants completed a daily dream log where they were asked to record the incidence of disturbed dreaming and provide a written dream narrative for their bad dreams or nightmares. Participants reported a total of 642 disturbed dreaming narratives (504 bad dreams and 138 nightmares). Content analyses of narratives revealed distinct content differences between bad dreams and nightmares. Overall, nightmares contained more unarticulated and primary affect such as fear, more death references, more severe aggression than bad dreams. Taken together, these findings suggest that nightmares reflect increased deficits in emotional regulation as compared to bad dreams. In contrast, bad dreams contained more markers of emotional processing, such as more articulated and modulated expressions of emotion.

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