Ask Difference

Dream vs. Nightmare — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on October 13, 2023
A dream is a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep, often neutral or positive. A nightmare is a distressing dream causing fear, anxiety, or discomfort.
Dream vs. Nightmare — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Dream and Nightmare

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Key Differences

A dream, in its simplest definition, refers to the sequence of images, emotions, and thoughts that pass through the mind during the state of sleep. Dreams can range from pleasant and mundane to bizarre and abstract. On the other hand, a nightmare is a specific type of dream characterized by its distressing, frightening, or uncomfortable content. Nightmares can often cause the dreamer to wake up and may result in feelings of fear, sadness, or anxiety.
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Oct 13, 2023
While a dream might encompass a wide array of emotions and scenarios, ranging from joyous reunions to flying, a nightmare typically induces feelings of dread, panic, or terror. It's not uncommon for someone to recall a dream that brought them happiness or a sense of peace. Conversely, recalling a nightmare might bring back memories of being chased, falling, or other perilous situations.
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Oct 13, 2023
Dreams play a significant role in various cultures and disciplines, often seen as a window to the subconscious mind. They have been studied for their potential meanings, with some cultures believing that dreams can predict the future or offer guidance. Nightmares, though also a form of dream, are usually perceived in a more negative light. They have been linked to real-life stresses, traumas, or even particular foods eaten before bedtime.
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Oct 13, 2023
Neurologically, both dreams and nightmares occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. This phase is marked by increased brain activity, rapid eye movements, and temporary muscle paralysis. Although dreams and nightmares happen during the same sleep stage, the content and emotional responses they evoke are distinct. For some, a dream might be forgotten upon waking, while a nightmare might linger, affecting mood and well-being.
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Oct 13, 2023

Comparison Chart

Nature

Often neutral or positive in content.
Distressing and negative in content.
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Emotional Impact

Can be calming, uplifting, or mundane.
Induces fear, panic, or sadness.
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Perception

Seen as insights to the subconscious or predictions.
Often linked to real-life stresses or traumas.
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Occurrence

Common and can be recalled with varying clarity.
Less frequent but remembered with more vividness.
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Response

Often forgotten or pondered upon waking.
Might disrupt sleep and linger upon waking.
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Oct 13, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Dream

A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and function of dreams are not fully understood, although they have been a topic of scientific, philosophical and religious interest throughout recorded history.
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Nightmare

A person or thing causing great distress or anxiety.
The final exam was a nightmare for many students.
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Dream

A series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep
I had a recurrent dream about falling from great heights
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Sep 11, 2021

Nightmare

A demon or spirit once believed to plague sleeping people.
Folklore often speaks of a nightmare sitting on a sleeper's chest.
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Dream

A cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal
I fulfilled a childhood dream when I became champion
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Nightmare

An oppressive or intolerable idea or prospect.
The thought of losing all his savings was his worst nightmare.
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Oct 13, 2023

Dream

Experience dreams during sleep
I dreamed about her last night
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Sep 11, 2021

Nightmare

A nightmare, also called a bad dream, is an unpleasant dream that can cause a strong emotional response from the mind, typically fear but also despair, anxiety or great sadness. However, psychological nomenclature differentiates between nightmares and bad dreams; specifically, people remain asleep during bad dreams, whereas nightmares can awaken individuals.
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Dream

Indulge in daydreams or fantasies about something greatly desired
She had dreamed of a trip to America
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Nightmare

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

Contemplate the possibility of doing something or that something might be the case
I wouldn't dream of foisting myself on you
I never dreamed anyone would take offence
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Nightmare

An event or experience that is intensely distressing.
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Sep 11, 2021

Dream

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

A demon or spirit once thought to plague sleeping people.
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Dream

A daydream; a reverie.
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Nightmare

A demon or monster, thought to plague people while they slept and cause a feeling of suffocation and terror during sleep.
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Dream

A state of abstraction; a trance
Wandering around in a dream.
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Nightmare

A feeling of extreme anxiety or suffocation experienced during sleep; Sleep paralysis.
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Dream

A condition or achievement that is longed for; an aspiration
A dream of owning their own business.
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Nightmare

A very bad or frightening dream.
I had a nightmare that I tried to run but could neither move nor breathe.
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Dream

A wild fancy or unrealistic hope
He knew that playing for a professional team was only a dream.
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Nightmare

(figuratively) Any bad, miserable, difficult or terrifying situation or experience that arouses anxiety, terror, agony or great displeasure.
Cleaning up after identity theft can be a nightmare of phone calls and letters.
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Dream

(Informal) One that is exceptionally gratifying, excellent, or beautiful
Her boyfriend is a dream.
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Nightmare

To have a nightmare.
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Dream

To experience a dream in sleep
Dreamed of meeting an old friend.
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Nightmare

A fiend or incubus formerly supposed to cause trouble in sleep.
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Dream

To daydream
Sat there dreaming during class.
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Nightmare

A trerrifying or oppressive dream characterized by a sense of helplessness in the face of danger, extreme uneasiness or discomfort (as of weight on the chest or stomach, impossibility of motion or speech, etc.) or extreme anxiety, from which one wakes in a troubled state of mind.
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Dream

To have a deep aspiration or hope
Dreaming of a world at peace.
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Nightmare

Any overwhelming, oppressive, or terrifying experience resembling a nightmare{2} especially in the inability to escape from an unpleasant situation.
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Dream

To regard something as feasible or practical
I wouldn't dream of skiing on icy slopes.
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Nightmare

A situation resembling a terrifying dream
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Dream

To experience a dream of while asleep
Did it storm last night, or did I dream it?.
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Nightmare

A terrifying or deeply upsetting dream
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Dream

To conceive as possible; imagine
We never dreamed it would snow so much.
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Nightmare

A frightening or unpleasant dream.
I woke up in a sweat after a nightmare about getting lost in a forest.
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Oct 13, 2023

Dream

To have as an aspiration or hope
She dreams that she will become a pilot.
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Nightmare

A very distressing experience or situation.
Navigating through the crowded mall was a nightmare.
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Dream

To pass (time) idly or in reverie.
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Dream

Imaginary events seen in the mind while sleeping.
Have a dream
Scary dream
Vivid dream
Erotic dream
Feel like a dream
Be in a dream
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Dream

(figurative) A hope or wish.
Have a dream
Fulfil a dream
Harbour a dream
Realize a dream
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Dream

A visionary scheme; a wild conceit; an idle fancy.
A dream of bliss
The dream of his youth
Live in a dream
Wake up from a dream
Impossible dream
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Dream

(intransitive) To see imaginary events in one's mind while sleeping.
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Dream

(intransitive) To hope, to wish.
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Dream

(intransitive) To daydream.
Stop dreaming and get back to work.
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Dream

(transitive) To envision as an imaginary experience (usually when asleep).
I dreamed I was a superhero and flew through a fireworks show.
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Dream

(intransitive) To consider the possibility (of).
I wouldn't dream of snubbing you in public.
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Dream

Ideal; perfect.
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Dream

The thoughts, or series of thoughts, or imaginary transactions, which occupy the mind during sleep; a sleeping vision.
Dreams are but interludes which fancy makes.
I had a dream which was not all a dream.
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Sep 11, 2021

Dream

A visionary scheme; a wild conceit; an idle fancy; a vagary; a revery; - in this sense, applied to an imaginary or anticipated state of happiness; as, a dream of bliss; the dream of his youth.
There sober thought pursued the amusing theme,Till Fancy colored it and formed a dream.
It is not them a mere dream, but a very real aim which they propose.
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Sep 11, 2021

Dream

To have ideas or images in the mind while in the state of sleep; to experience sleeping visions; - often with of; as, to dream of a battle, or of an absent friend.
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Dream

To let the mind run on in idle revery or vagary; to anticipate vaguely as a coming and happy reality; to have a visionary notion or idea; to imagine.
Here may we sit and dreamOver the heavenly theme
They dream on in a constant course of reading, but not digesting
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Sep 11, 2021

Dream

To have a dream of; to see, or have a vision of, in sleep, or in idle fancy; - often followed by an objective clause.
Your old men shall dream dreams
At length in sleep their bodies they compose,And dreamt the future fight
And still they dream that they shall still succeed
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Dream

A series of mental images and emotions occurring during sleep;
I had a dream about you last night
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Dream

A cherished desire;
His ambition is to own his own business
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Dream

Imaginative thoughts indulged in while awake;
He lives in a dream that has nothing to do with reality
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Dream

A fantastic but vain hope (from fantasies induced by the opium pipe);
I have this pipe dream about being emperor of the universe
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Dream

A state of mind characterized by abstraction and release from reality;
He went about his work as if in a dream
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Dream

Someone of something wonderful;
This dessert is a dream
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Dream

Have a daydream; indulge in a fantasy
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Dream

Experience while sleeping;
She claims to never dream
He dreamt a strange scene
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Dream

A sequence of images, thoughts, and feelings experienced during sleep.
Last night, I had a dream where I was flying over a city.
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Oct 13, 2023

Dream

A cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.
Becoming a pilot has always been his dream.
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Dream

An unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy.
Thinking he could finish the project in a day was just a dream.
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Oct 13, 2023

Dream

A person or thing perceived as wonderful or perfect.
Her new car is an absolute dream to drive.
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Oct 13, 2023

Dream

A state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality.
He was lost in a dream after hearing the unexpected news.
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Common Curiosities

What is a dream?

A dream is a series of images, emotions, and thoughts experienced during sleep.
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What differentiates a nightmare from other dreams?

A nightmare is a distressing dream that causes fear, anxiety, or discomfort.
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Why do nightmares occur?

Nightmares can be linked to stress, trauma, certain medications, or even spicy foods eaten before bed.
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Can a dream predict the future?

While some cultures believe dreams can be prophetic, there's no scientific evidence supporting this.
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Oct 13, 2023

Can you train yourself to dream about specific topics?

While not guaranteed, techniques like dream incubation can influence dream content.
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Oct 13, 2023

Is there a meaning behind every dream?

Interpretation varies; some believe dreams carry deep meanings, while others think they might be random brain activity.
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Oct 13, 2023

Are nightmares harmful?

Occasional nightmares are normal, but frequent ones can impact sleep quality and emotional well-being.
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Is there a way to prevent nightmares?

Addressing stress, maintaining a sleep routine, and avoiding certain foods or medications can help reduce nightmare frequency.
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Why do we dream?

Dreams might serve several purposes, including processing emotions, consolidating memories, and reflecting subconscious thoughts.
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Can we control our dreams?

Through techniques like lucid dreaming, some people claim to influence the content and outcome of their dreams.
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Oct 13, 2023

Are dreams and nightmares universal experiences?

Most people experience dreams and occasionally nightmares, but the content and frequency can vary.
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What stage of sleep do dreams and nightmares occur in?

Both occur primarily during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep.
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Do animals dream?

Research suggests that many animals, especially mammals, have REM sleep and likely experience dreams.
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How long do dreams and nightmares last?

While it varies, a single dream or nightmare can last anywhere from a few minutes to about 20 minutes.
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Can dreams inspire creativity?

Absolutely! Many artists, writers, and inventors credit dreams for sparking ideas.
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Oct 13, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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