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How Common is Your Worst Nightmare?

Although the average person forgets 90 percent of their dreams, there are some that we can simply never forget. One of those kinds of dreams is the nightmare, or a disturbing and emotionally intense dream that wakes up from sleep. In fact, if you don't wake up, your dream is not considered a nightmare, but just a regular bad dream. So what is the most common nightmare that all of us have? It depends on which study you look at.


In one of the earliest studies on nightmares conducted by psychologist Hulsey Cason in the 1930s, a group of 258 were surveyed for degrees of similarity in their nightmares. It was revealed that:

27% dreamt about animals
27% dreamt about being chased
26% about murder and death
22% about home and family
21% about falling
19% miscellaneous
17% about accidents.

The results of this experiment were vague because they did not examine all of the criteria that factor into the mental creation of a nightmare. Later in the 1980s, another study was conducted by psychologist Dierde Barnett, which attempted to clarify some of Cason's early results. Out of a group of 79 individuals, it was revealed:

72% had dreams about being chased
64% dreamt about the death of family or friends
53% dreamt about falling
39% about their own death
33% about animals and monsters
24% about war, violent crime, and national disasters.

Yet this study was still not enough to understand what the most common nightmare is, and if there is such a thing at all. In a 2010 study by Michael Schredl of Germany, a group of 1,000 subject's dreams were recorded to find:

40% dreamt of falling
26% of being chased
25% of feeling paralyzed
24% of being late to an important event
21% close persons disappearing or dying.

Yet these percentages, like those in the research before, were too similar to make a definitive statement about the most common nightmare among adults. Therefore, Antonia Zadra of the University of Montreal conducted yet another study, but this time, he examined the dreams of his subjects over a longer period of time. He found that the most common nightmare themes were:

48.6% dreamt of experiencing physical aggression
21% had interpersonal conflicts in their dreams
16.2% dreamt of failure or helplessness
9.1% dreamt of health concerns or death
8.7% had apprehensive or worrisome dreams.

So what is the bottom line on nightmares? It appears that there is no one most common nightmare, although most nightmares do entail some form of physical violence. While these results may be disappointing for the dream scientist, it is probably a good thing that we all have different nightmares, so that the chances they will ever come true are small to none!

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