How Gender Affects Your Stress Dreams

Waking up in a panic over a forgotten email or images of evil bosses might sound familiar. But the nature of your nightmare might be determined by your gender.

Does your work haunt your dreams? Wake up in a panic thinking you missed a deadline that’s two days away?

Over the course of my career, I’ve had numerous dreams that I was fired, yelled at and brought to tears by a boss (who in real life was the nicest woman on the planet), and one particularly frightening dream where I was rushing to get to an important interview and the office building kept moving further and further away and no matter how fast I walked, I couldn’t reach it. That one had me wake up in a cold sweat.

Catching our Zs is supposed to help us recover from the stress of work, but what happens when work enters our subconscious at night?

A recent article in Businessweek says our dreams are simply a way for our brains to process thoughts and memories, but interestingly, it cites a study that argues the way we dream about work may be based on our gender.

A recent study published in the journal Sleep showed that, while men’s nightmares centered around catastrophic disasters such as floods and earthquakes or being chased by swarms of insects, women’s nightmares are more likely to contain intrapersonal conflict and painful feelings of rejection or lost friendships rather than physical harm.

So, while men may dream about being chased through the office, my dream about being yelled at by my boss is in keeping with the study’s findings about the dream gender divide.

There are plenty of ways to interpret our dreams--being late in a dream may be a sign that you feel you’re missing out on an opportunity, for example. Being naked at work may be a sign you’re feeling vulnerable or are concerned about how others perceive you.

But despite your office nightmares, author Caroline Winter says we shouldn’t be afraid of work-related dreams. After all, dreams have been credited with award-winning revelations.

She notes two Nobel prizes have been awarded to individuals who claimed to develop their inventions in their deepest slumber. Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev claimed the periodic table of elements appeared to him in a dream, and Robert Louis Stevenson dreamt up two key scenes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which went on to become a best-selling, world-renowned book.

Winter sites a 2013 Harvard study that confirmed the productivity benefits of dreams. The study showed individuals who learned a task and napped before being tested on the material performed better than those who weren’t awarded a pre-test slumber. Interestingly, those who dreamt about the test during the nap scored the highest.

So whether you dream of being chased around the office by bees or being ignored by all of your co-workers, just remember, your dream may contain your next big idea.

Hat tip: Businessweek

[Image: Flickr user Keoni Cabral]