Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.
Fever dreams are one of the possible symptoms of fever. In multiple studies, sleepers describe their fever dreams as bizarre, negative, and emotionally intense Experiences of fever dreams vary among sleepers. Some people with fevers do not recall dreaming, while others can recall their fever dreams years later.
A fever is a sign of inflammation, and one of the body’s potential responses to infection or illness. Although there is wide variability of body temperature among individuals, a standard human body temperature is generally considered about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Fevers are an elevated body temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or greater, taken orally in adults.
Symptoms of fever may include:
Fever dreams are vivid, often bizarre or unpleasant dreams sleepers can experience when they have a fever. These dreams happen similarly to other dreams. Although they can occur during any stage of sleep, most vivid dreams happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Waking up during or right after REM sleep can increase the chances of remembering your dream. Typically, people dream for about two hours total each night, but the dream experiences vary. Some people dream in black and white while others dream in full color.
Additionally, dreams may play a role in memory consolidation and processing emotions. In fact, one study of 299 dreams showed that half of the dreams contained at least one component tied to a specific daytime experience. As a result, fever dreams may include feelings of heat and illness.
The exact cause of fever dreams is unknown. Some researchers speculate that the “overheated” brain affects cognitive processing and therefore makes the fever dreams more strange than typical dreams. Fevers can also interrupt REM sleep, which may lead to other sleep changes, including unusual dreams.
Fever dreams differ from other dreams in that they are often more vivid and unusual. Fever dreams also tend to feel more negative and involve fewer positive emotions than other recent non-fever dreams. Also, in fever dreams the sleeper interacts with fewer dream characters or figures.
Specific aspects of fever dreams can include:
Although fever dreams do not have a specific meaning, they can often include connections to a person’s current situation. For example, fever-related dreams more often include a health-related topic and sense of temperature than regular dreams.
While fever dreams are the result of a fever, nightmares may stem from <anxiety, stress, or trauma. These frightening and unsettling dreams could also be indicative of a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. Regardless of cause, nightmares can impact sleep quality.
Reducing stress and practicing good sleep hygiene can help decrease the likelihood of nightmares. More severe cases may require cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, a sleep study can determine if a sleep disorder is present.
During lucid dreams, the dreamer becomes aware they are asleep. Some lucid dreamers even experience control over their dreams. In one study of fever dreams, nearly 40% were described as lucid. This number is significantly higher than the 7.5% of dreams experienced as lucid dreams in healthy people.
Fever dreams are not necessarily bad for the body. Because most dreams take place during REM sleep, when leg and arm muscles are temporarily paralyzed, sleepers are unlikely to act out their dreams. However, sleepers may experience unpleasant or negative dreams. They may wake feeling unsettled or uncomfortable.
While there is no single way to prevent fever dreams, resolving the fever itself can reduce the likelihood of them occurring.
Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience additional or worsened symptoms with your fever.