Pain in dreams

Sleep. 1993 Aug;16(5):490-8.


Little is known about pain in dreams. Some studies indicate that it is rare and that it may be beyond the representational capability of dreaming. However, the present study describes experiences of dreamed pain that were reported incidentally in experiments on the effects of somatosensory stimulation administered during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dreams were selected from five subjects who had reported at least one instance of dreamed pain in these studies. The subjects had undergone 42 stimulation trials over 20 nights and had reported a total of 13 dreams (31%) with one or more references to pain. Most often, these references appeared to be direct, untransformed incorporations of real sensations produced by stimulation. Pain was the principal motivating agent in a majority of these dreams and was in many cases associated with strong emotion--typically anger. Dreams often depicted the subjects' attempts to obtain relief from pain, in some cases by repetition of actions, in others by metaphoric renditions of the goal. The results indicate that although pain is rare in dreams, it is nevertheless compatible with the representational code of dreaming. Further, the association of pain with dream content may implicate brainstem and limbic centers in the regulation of painful stimuli during REM sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Dreams*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • Substance P / physiology
  • Wakefulness


  • Substance P