Acting Out Dreams Is Common Experience
Study Shows Men and Women Differ in Responding to Dreams
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 1, 2009 -- Feeling scared after waking from a frightening dream or
aroused after an erotic dream is extremely common among healthy young adults,
according to a new study. But women and men may act out dream behaviors in
Researchers found 98% of young adults reported at least one acting out dream
behavior at least rarely in the past year. The most commonly reported
occurrence was related to fear after awakening from a scary dream.
The study also showed that women reported more speaking, crying, fear, and
smiling or laughing after waking from a dream while men reported more sexual
arousal after erotic dreams.
Researchers say acting out dream behaviors in this manner is normal and
differs from REM sleep behavior disorder
(RBD), which is a sleep disorder that can cause
injury or sleep disruption.
"Normal episodes are usually extremely mild, for example, briefly jerking an
arm or leg while waking up from a nightmare, once or twice a year," says
researcher Tore Nielsen, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the Universite de
Montreal in Canada, in a news release.
"This is far different from RBD cases, which are typically very intense, and
might involve repeatedly flailing an arm or a leg or smashing into something in
the middle of a dream, not waking up easily from it, with occurrences several
times a month,” says Nielsen.
In the study, published in Sleep, researchers surveyed a total of
1,140 undergraduate students about whether or not they acted out dream
The results showed nearly all of them experience at least one of seven
common behaviors at least rarely in the past year.
Fear was the most commonly reported dream-related experience; nine in 10
said they have felt signs of fear in their body after awakening from a
frightening dream. Sexual arousal was the second most common with 78% reporting
that they had woken from an erotic dream to find they were sexually
Seventy-two percent said they had awakened from a happy dream to find they
were smiling or laughing. Each of the following four dream-related behaviors
was reported by more than 50% of those surveyed: talking, crying, acting out in
an angry way (such as clenching a fist or kicking), or acting out other
movements like waving or pointing.
Researchers say acting out dream behaviors may be related to particular
personality traits or a genetic predisposition. But they say more study is
needed to determine whether frequently acting out dream behaviors is related to
an increased risk of RBD in the future.