The impact of early-life maltreatment on dreams of patients with insomnia

Valérie Schäfer, Klaus Bader


Summary. There is ample evidence that bad dreams and post-traumatic nightmares are a common consequence of exposure to traumatic events both among children and adults. The aim of the present study was to examine to what extent early-life maltreatment experiences are associated with dreams even many years later in adulthood. 37 patients suffering from primary insomnia recorded their dreams for seven consecutive days at home, and completed self-report questionnaires assessing both childhood trauma and current level of stress. Dream content analyses were carried out. Even in consideration of current stressors which also were related to dream content, childhood maltreatment experiences proved to be important predictors of less positive dream emotions, more negative self-description in dream, and more aggression directed at the dreamer. These findings are consistent with the results of other studies indicating that traumatic events can have strong and long-lasting effects on dream emotions and dream content. Longitudinal studies are needed to identify how and why dreams develop over time as a consequence of traumatic experiences.


dream content; dreaming; abuse; neglect; childhood maltreatment; trauma

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