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Dream vs. Fantasy: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 11, 2024
Dream is a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep. Fantasy is an imaginative creation or scenario, often unrealistic, created consciously while awake.

Key Differences

A dream is a mental experience that typically occurs during sleep, encompassing a range of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations. It's an involuntary process, often reflecting memories, daily experiences, or subconscious thoughts. In contrast, a fantasy is a conscious, imaginative construction, often creative and fanciful, which can be wildly unrealistic or whimsical. Unlike dreams, fantasies are under the person's control and can be shaped according to their desires and creativity.
Dreams often have a narrative structure and can be influenced by real-life events, although they may seem illogical or disjointed. They are a natural part of the sleep cycle, especially during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage. Fantasies, on the other hand, are deliberate creations of the mind. They can be detailed daydreams, aspirations, or scenarios that provide an escape from reality. Fantasies are not bound by the constraints of logic or reality, allowing for more extraordinary and imaginative content.
The content of dreams is generally out of the dreamer's control and can be influenced by external factors such as stress, anxiety, or physical health. Dreams can also be a way for the mind to process emotions and experiences. Fantasy, in contrast, is often a means of personal entertainment, wish fulfillment, or a way to explore scenarios and ideas that are not possible in real life. It is a voluntary and conscious process, often used as a creative outlet or a form of escapism.
Dreams can sometimes be remembered upon waking, though they often fade quickly from memory. They can be vivid and lifelike or hazy and confusing. Fantasies are usually clear and can be recalled easily, as they are consciously created and often revisited or developed over time. While dreams can have a profound emotional impact, fantasies are typically known to provide a sense of joy, anticipation, or longing.
In psychological terms, dreams can be studied and analyzed for their meaning or connection to the dreamer's life. They are a topic of interest in fields like psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Fantasies, while they can be reflective of personal desires or fears, are more often seen as a form of mental recreation, a way to explore creativity, or a method of coping with reality.

Comparison Chart


During sleep
While awake



Reality Basis

Often based on real life
Not bound by reality


Subconscious processing
Creative escapism


Often forgotten
Easily remembered

Dream and Fantasy Definitions


Sleep Visions.
I had a vivid dream about flying last night.


Creative Escapism.
She found solace in fantasies of distant galaxies.


Mental Imagery during Sleep.
Strange dreams filled her sleep after the movie.


Unrealistic Daydream.
In his fantasy, he was a superhero saving the world.


Subconscious Experiences.
He often experiences dreams reflecting his day.


Imaginative Creation.
Her fantasy involved a journey through a magical land.


Her dream is to become a renowned author.


Wishful Thinking.
His fantasy was to win the lottery and travel the world.


REM Sleep Phenomenon.
Dreams are most vivid during REM sleep.


Fanciful Scenario.
The book was based on a fantasy of an utopian society.


A series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.


The creative imagination; unrestrained fancy.


A daydream; a reverie.


Something, such as an invention, that is a creation of the fancy.


Do dreams have meanings?

Many believe dreams can have symbolic meanings related to the dreamer's life.

Are dreams a reflection of our subconscious?

Yes, dreams often reflect subconscious thoughts and emotions.

Can fantasies influence our behavior?

Yes, they can shape desires and aspirations.

Are dreams a type of fantasy?

Not exactly; dreams are involuntary and occur during sleep, unlike fantasies.

Do children have more fantasies than adults?

Often, as children's imaginations are usually more active.

Is it normal to confuse dreams with reality?

Occasionally, especially if the dream is particularly vivid or realistic.

Is remembering dreams common?

It varies; some people remember their dreams frequently, others rarely.

Can we control our fantasies?

Yes, fantasies are a product of conscious thought and can be shaped at will.

Can fantasies be harmful?

If they interfere with reality or become obsessive, they can be.

Are fantasies always positive?

Not necessarily; they can also reflect fears or negative scenarios.

Do animals dream?

Yes, many animals show signs of dreaming during sleep.

Can fantasies be a form of therapy?

Yes, they can be used in therapeutic settings for creativity and coping.

Can dreams be influenced by external factors?

Yes, factors like stress, diet, and environment can influence dreams.

Are fantasies a sign of mental health issues?

Not necessarily, unless they become delusional or disruptive.

Is lucid dreaming controlling one's dreams?

Yes, it's a state where the dreamer is aware they're dreaming and can control it.

Can fantasies lead to creative breakthroughs?

Absolutely, many creative ideas begin as fantasies.

Is dream analysis scientifically proven?

It's a debated topic; some theories are more accepted than others.

Do dreams occur in all stages of sleep?

They mainly occur during REM sleep but can happen in other stages.

Do dreams serve a biological purpose?

There are theories suggesting dreams help in memory consolidation and emotional processing.

Can fantasies change over time?

Yes, as our experiences and knowledge grow, our fantasies can evolve.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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