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Dream vs. Nightmare: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 25, 2024
Dream refers to a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep. Nightmare refers to a disturbing dream causing fear or anxiety.

Key Differences

Dreams are a natural part of sleep, often reflecting daily experiences or thoughts. Nightmares are a type of dream characterized by fear, anxiety, or distress, often waking the sleeper.
Dreams can be pleasant, neutral, or bizarre, and are a normal part of the sleep cycle. Nightmares, on the other hand, are often vividly realistic and can evoke strong emotional responses.
Dreams can be forgotten upon waking, they sometimes influence a person's mood. While, nightmares are typically remembered more clearly due to their intense and unsettling nature.
Dreams vary widely in content and meaning and can be influenced by various factors. Nightmares are often triggered by stress, anxiety, or traumatic experiences.
In many cultures, dreams have been seen as prophetic or symbolic. Nightmares, however, have often been associated with omens or negative portents.

Comparison Chart


Can be pleasant, neutral, or strange
Disturbing and frightening

Emotional Impact

Varies, often less intense
Typically causes fear, anxiety, or distress

Memory Upon Waking

Often forgotten or vague
Usually vividly remembered

Trigger Factors

Daily life, experiences, subconscious thoughts
Stress, anxiety, trauma, or fear

Cultural Perception

Often seen as meaningful or prophetic
Generally viewed as bad omens or warnings

Dream and Nightmare Definitions


A mental experience during sleep.
I had a dream last night about flying.


A dream causing fear or anxiety.
His nightmare about being chased was terrifying.


Subconscious thoughts and images.
Her dream was filled with surreal landscapes.


A vivid dream inducing fear.
The nightmare about the storm left him shaken.


A story created by the mind while sleeping.
In my dream, I was exploring an unknown city.


An upsetting dream during REM sleep.
The nightmare about losing her way was unsettling.


A reflection of one's desires or fears.
He often dreams of becoming a successful artist.


A bad dream that causes distress.
After watching a horror movie, she had a nightmare.


A sequence of thoughts in sleep.
The dream I had was so vivid and colorful.


A frightening or distressing dream.
She woke up from a nightmare feeling scared.


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


A dream arousing feelings of intense fear, horror, and distress.


A daydream; a reverie.


An event or experience that is intensely distressing.


Can dreams be controlled?

Some people experience lucid dreams, where they are aware and can exert some control.

What causes dreams?

Dreams are caused by brain activity during sleep, often reflecting thoughts or experiences.

Do animals dream?

Yes, many animals show signs of dreaming during sleep.

Do dreams have meanings?

The significance of dreams varies; some people view them as meaningful, while others see them as random brain activity.

How long do dreams last?

Dreams can last from a few seconds to about 20-30 minutes.

Is it normal to not remember dreams?

Yes, it's common for people to forget most of their dreams.

Can external sounds influence dreams?

Yes, external stimuli like sounds can be incorporated into dreams.

How can nightmares be reduced?

Reducing stress, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and avoiding disturbing content before bed can help.

Can certain foods cause nightmares?

Some studies suggest that certain foods can affect dreams and possibly increase nightmares.

Why do nightmares occur more in children?

Children have more nightmares due to their developing brains and imaginations.

Are nightmares a sign of mental health issues?

Frequent nightmares can be linked to stress or mental health conditions but are not always indicative of them.

Are nightmares a type of sleep disorder?

Frequent, severe nightmares can be classified as a sleep disorder.

Is there a way to remember dreams better?

Keeping a dream journal and writing down dreams upon waking can improve dream recall.

Can nightmares cause physical reactions?

Yes, nightmares can cause physical reactions like sweating or a racing heart.

Is it possible to continue a dream after waking up?

Sometimes, especially if you go back to sleep soon after waking.

How does REM sleep relate to dreaming?

Most vivid dreams occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

Are dreams always in color?

Many people dream in color, but some report dreaming in black and white.

Do blind people dream?

Yes, blind people dream with other sensory experiences like sound, touch, and emotion.

Can dreams predict the future?

There's no scientific evidence that dreams can predict the future.

Can stress cause more vivid dreams?

Yes, stress can lead to more intense and vivid dreams.
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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