People with more stereotypically feminine traits tend to experience more nightmares, according to new research published in the journal Dreaming. The findings suggest that sex roles influence the propensity to experience nightmares.
“I did a meta-analysis in 2011 finding that women tend to report more nightmares than men, so one of the questions was whether sex roles are related to nightmare frequency and contribute to this gender difference. It’s not simply biology,” said Michael Schredl, the research head of the sleep laboratory of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany.
The meta-analysis, which included data from 111 independent studies, found a gender difference in nightmare frequency among adolescents and young and middle-aged adults but not among children or older adults.
In the new study, 1,110 women and 698 men indicated how often they had experienced nightmares in the past several months before completing an assessment of masculine and feminine traits. They also provided subjective ratings of their own femininity and masculinity, and reported how comfortable they felt with their level of femininity and masculinity.
In line with the previous research, women reported experiencing more nightmares than men. Schredl and his colleagues found that feminine traits such as being sensitive and empathic were positively associated with nightmare frequency. Those who were less comfortable with femininity also tended to report greater nightmare frequency. Masculine traits such as assertiveness and confidence, on the other hand, were negatively associated with nightmare frequency.
The researchers also found some evidence that the effects of sex roles were different for women and men when analyzed separately. Feminine traits were linked to an increased frequency of nightmares among both male and female participants. But masculine traits were only linked to a reduced frequency of nightmares among male participants.
The findings indicate that femininity “is important in explaining the gender difference in nightmare frequency,” Schredl told PsyPost. “We also speculate that masculinity (being tough) might explain why nightmare sufferers rarely seek help for their condition, even though very simple, non-pharmacological treatments like the Imagery Rehearsal Therapy is available.”
But it is still unclear why these sex roles are linked to nightmare frequency. “We would have liked to have measures of depressive mood and/or neuroticism to have a better understanding of the big picture,” Schredl said.
The study, “Nightmare Frequency and Feminine and Masculine Sex Roles: An Online Survey“, was authored by Michael Schredl and Anja S. Göritz.