Bugs, lost teeth and 'technology malfunctions': Why men and women dream very differently

·6-min read
(Getty Images)
When it comes to dreaming there's a difference between men and women. (Getty Images)

We've long suspected men and women are on totally different wavelengths, but turns out this gender difference extends to our dreams, with a new study revealing our night time mind-wanderings are poles apart. 

The research, commissioned by Amerisleep across two separate studies, asked more than 4,000 men and women about their sleeping habits and dream experiences. It aimed to discover which dreams and nightmares are the most common and how differences such as gender can impact a person’s night-time illusions.

Results revealed that while ‘falling’ and ‘being chased’ are the most popular things to dream about in general, there are some marked differences in the dream topics of men and women. 

Women are more likely than men to dream of emotional things, like ‘a loved one passing’, with nearly 61% of the females quizzed claiming they regularly dreamed about this unfortunate event, compared to just 39% of men who experience the same. 

The female of the species is also more likely to dream about ‘bugs crawling on them’ and ‘teeth falling out’, whereas their male counterparts are more likely to dream of practical problems such as ‘technology malfunctions’, ‘attacking someone’ and ‘sustaining an injury’.

And while women are more likely to have anxiety-fuelled dreams about being chased or losing teeth, men, conversely, are more likely to have positive mind wanderings, such as flying or becoming rich.

Read more: How dreams may prepare us for 'future events'

(Getty Images)
Women are more likely to have anxiety-fuelled dreams. (Getty Images)

The study findings correlates with similar previous research uncovering a difference between the sexes in the theme and tone of dreams.

While men’s dreams seem more hostile, featuring competition with other men, women are more likely to dream about harmonious relationships with individuals of both sexes. 

Interestingly though, although men are more likely to dream of physical aggression, women are often more likely to dream of verbal aggression.

Studies by the University of the West of England in Bristol also discovered that women have more nightmares than men. 

Over five years, volunteers were asked to write down whether they had nightmares during their sleep. The findings revealed that 19% of men reported nightmares, compared to 34% of women. 

When it comes to remembering our dreams, there's a difference between the sexes here too. 

According to the Amerisleep research women are more likely than men to remember their dreams, which makes sense considering that women have better short-term memory for daily events, according to the Association for Psychological Science

The figures found around 43% of women indicated they remember their dreams at least once a week, while about 41% of men remember the same. 

More notably, about a quarter (24%) of women remember their dreams almost every night compared to approximately 14% for men.

Watch: Your 'Sunday scaries' could be the reason for a restless night. 

Not only is the content of our dreams different, but previous studies have indicated that how the sexes perceive and regard their dreams varies as well.

Women tend to recall more details of their dreams and regard them as more important, on average, than most men might. 

Women are also more likely to share, record, and discuss their dreams with others and are more likely to define a dream as being a nightmare.

They are also more likely than men to seek out dream interpretation and/or use a dream dictionary to help them understand the meaning of their dreams.

Read more: Children who sleep with pets get better 'quality' shut-eye

When it comes to the reasons why men and women dream so differently, while experts say there is no immediately obvious reason for this difference, some argue the gender difference in our dreams could reflect that of our daily lives. 

Professor Antonio Zadra, who has studied the nightmare gender gap, believes that dreams are an extension of our waking state. 

His previous research notes that women report far more nightmares than men, and he has a couple of theories about why, including the fact that women, in general, experience higher rates of depressive and anxiety disorders, and nightmares tend to occur in times of stress. 

He also told the Guardian that there's also evidence women have much better dream recall than men, "so it could just be that they remember more of their nightmares as well".

Commenting on the gender dream gap, April Mayer of Amerisleep said: “I think one of the longest-enduring questions which has yet to be answered is why we dream what we dream, and what do they mean. 

"We wanted to try and get to the bottom of these questions, which is why we decided to commission these studies.

“Although we’re still a way off discovering the true meaning of dreaming, we have revealed some incredibly interesting insights across the two studies, both for dreams and nightmares. I was especially intrigued by the gender breakdown, and how varying occupations affected a person’s nighttime illusions.

"These studies mark another step in our quest to truly understand sleep."

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Read more: Sleep for six to seven hours a night to maximise heart health

The five most common dreams and nightmares

Dreams

  1. Falling - 53.5%

  2. Being chased - 50.9%

  3. Being back in school - 37.9%

  4. Being unprepared for a test or important event - 34.0%

  5. Flying - 32.6%

Nightmares

  1. Falling - 64.7%

  2. Being chased - 63.3%

  3. Death - 54.9%

  4. Feeling lost - 53.8%

  5. Feeling trapped - 52.4%

Tips for Healthier Sleep

Getting quality sleep doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Below are simple steps you can take to fall asleep fast stay asleep longer.

  • Limit the use of technology before bed. This isn’t necessarily only an issue with blue lights but how stimulated we are making our senses. Watching videos or working a late-night project keep the mind active and is counterproductive to a good night’s rest.

  • Eat a healthy diet. What you eat (and when you eat it) plays a significant factor in how your body falls asleep. Eating too close to bedtime can lead to digestive issues that are not conducive to quality sleep. Stick to eating at least one hour before sleeping and avoid red meats, spicy foods, and caffeinated drinks.

  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. There is plenty of literature about the benefits of daily exercise. Sleep experts are starting to see how exercise also promotes better sleep.

Watch: The pandemic has changed how we sleep - here's how to get better rest.

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