For some, work-related dreams can be positive and harmless. However, for many, the stress from work can crawl into our headspace and elicit nightmares that impact our waking state. Negative interruptions in our normal sleep cycle can affect overall job performance, physical health, and even personal finances.
Between the eight-hour standard workday and the suggested minimum of seven hours of sleep experts recommend, we spend the majority of our lives working or sleeping. It makes sense that work-related issues not only permeate into our daydreams but our full dreams as well.
We surveyed over 1,000 people across a diverse range of backgrounds and demographics to determine which types of work-related dreams are common and how these dreams can impact performance and overall job satisfaction.
Do your work-related dreams appear at the top of the list? Do others with your job title deal with these issues too? Read on to find out.
Work-Related Dreams, by the Numbers
Around 4 in 5 people surveyed had experienced a work-related dream, highlighting the near-universal experience of visiting your workplace while you sleep. Americans will devote 90,000 hours to their jobs in their lifetime; considering how much of our waking lives we spend on the clock, it makes sense when these familiar places appear in our dreams, too.
Women aged 35 and older with mid- to senior-level management roles were the most likely candidates to have work-related dreams, although the majority of employees overall did dream about the workplace.
As we spend more time in our workplaces, the rooms and buildings become a part of our everyday routines, allowing our surroundings to permeate into our dream state. This leads to familiar dreams like waking and starting your day only to actually wake up and realize that you dreamed the entire morning routine.
As someone takes on leadership roles, they are likely to think and dream about work more often. This is supported by our data’s findings that entry-level workers dreamed about work 13 percentage points less than the survey average.
Entry-level workers have yet to fully embrace their job position, and their identities are less influenced by their roles. As someone rises in the ranks at a company, they tend to attach their identity to their place of employment, possibly inducing a subconscious comfortability in that environment.
Work Scenarios Appearing in Our Dreams
Negative dreams outweighed positive ones on nearly a 2:1 scale. Roughly 35% of respondents dreamed about making a big mistake at work, while over 30% were late to work in their dreams. The prevalence of negative dreams may indicate how disappointing or embarrassing scenarios related to work can affect us, even while we are dreaming.
Although the majority of these common work dreams were negative, there were bright moments that peeked through. The setting of the third most popular dream was a regular, ordinary day at work. Just as dreams can involve unfamiliar locales and people, a recognizable setting in a dream can simply be an indicator of the amount of time someone spends in the office or at their worksite. Innocuous types of dreams such as these may simply represent the physical time we spend working.
Our research also found that remote employees had the highest percentage of positive dreams, compared to standard in-office workers, blue-collar jobs, and white-collar jobs. Regardless of the work field, stress is directly linked to our environment, and remote workers strike a different balance between workspaces and often have a stronger responsibility to maintain a proper sleep cycle.
Job title and role also had an impact on our results, with 27% of mid-level to senior-level management workers reporting the highest percentage of positive dreams, while only 14% of intermediate workers dreamed positively about work.
How Do Finances Impact Our Dreams?
Make a commission for a living? You are more likely to have favorable dreams related to work according to the results of our survey. In fact, “commission-based” workers were one of the only demographics that reported a higher percentage of positive work-related dreams compared to negative ones (33% positive, 28% negative). In comparison, standard wage earners reported only 16% positive work dreams and 40% negative.
This massive gap may represent the satisfaction that comes from landing those crucial sales. In commission-based roles, your ability to sell products or services represents your income. In many cases, commissions are centered on staggered wins, which may lead to more positive dreams among the neutral and negative ones.
We observed a noticeable spike in negative work-related dreams for lower-to-middle income earners making between $25,000 and $49,999 per year. These employees reported the most negative work-related dreams as well as the fewest positive work-related dreams.
Even those who work in an office bring work home with them. While it sounds nice to curl up in bed with your laptop and finish those expense reports, you might want to hold off. Our research indicates a positive correlation between bad work-related dreams and working in bed four or more times a week. Our advice: If you complete some or all of your work at home, designate a table area or desk for job-related tasks.
We also found that employees stopped working roughly four hours before bed, on average. Continuing to work at home after an already long day or picking up the laptop too late in the evening can disrupt the natural flow of sleep. Keeping your sleep cycle regulated is essential to a healthy body and mind, so try developing habits designed to separate work and leisure, such as unplugging from devices earlier in the evening.
When Bad Work Dreams Become Nightmares
Having a bad dream about a missed deadline every once in a while during high-stress times is understandable. However, when the dreams become increasingly worse and more frequent, this could be a sign to refocus on promoting good mental health. Nightmares induce fear and anxiety, both of which can lead to negative effects on someone’s overall well-being.
Over half of people surveyed had experienced a work-related nightmare, a staggering number when we consider what a nightmare can do to the psyche. Nightmares can be debilitating and more memorable than positive dreams. This issue even effects on workers with little or no stress at work— over 46% of low-stress (or stress-free) workers said they had experienced work-related nightmares.
As new methods on how to structure the American workweek have become a point of contention for brand owners around the country, some business leaders have suggested new standards in how to manage workers, such as a four-day workweek and flexible time-off policies. This trend lines up with our research, revealing a graphical “sweet spot” wherein a worker has the best chance of not having work-related nightmares if they work between 21 to 30 hours per week.
Conscious Moments Impacting Dreamland
Sure, nightmares and bad dreams can stem from small, internalized feelings or insecurities. However, they can also come from real-life experiences at work.
The majority of the top sources of nightmares stem from a negative experience, such as getting laid off.
According to the results, job collar had little effect on employees experiencing nightmares. Fifty-seven percent of blue-collar workers and 58% of white-collar workers reported having work-related nightmares.
Work burnout is common, affecting employees with varying stress levels, job responsibilities, and overall job satisfaction. Recurring issues, such as an overload of meetings, email interruptions, too many tasks on the pipeline, and “excessive collaboration,” can have an impact on the day-to-day life of a worker— and their sleep and home life as well. In fact, we found that employees experiencing burnout were 1.8 times more likely than employees who didn’t feel burnout to report work-related nightmares.
While many of our respondents reported positive dreams about work, the overwhelming negative reports outweighed these happier experiences, calling attention to the underlying issue of poor sleep habits.
If you have positive dreams related to work, congrats! If you’re suffering from these negative work-related dream experiences, try some of these tips to manage work-related stress:
- Go to bed at an earlier time than usual.
- Create a distinct workspace that is separate from your sleeping space.
- Regularly relax away your work stresses and consider real-life options on how to resolve some of those issues.
Even if work is stressful, you can rest easy knowing that you have the option for a good night’s sleep. At Healthy Sleep, we not only value quality slumber but the impact a good night’s sleep can have on someone’s well-being and overall health. Nightmares and bad dreams are oftentimes an indicator of real-life stress, so start on the right side of the pillow every day with a solid, clinically tested mattress that sets a strong foundation.
Want a better night’s sleep? Visit Healthysleep.org to learn more about which mattress is best for you.
Methodology and Limitations
For this study, we administered online questionnaires to 1,015 employees in the United States via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. To qualify for the survey, participants needed to be currently employed. Fifty-six percent of the sample identified as female and 44% were male. Respondents ranged in age from 19 to 81 with an average age of 37 and a standard deviation of 11. An attention-check question was employed in the survey to identify and disqualify respondents who weren’t reading questions and answers in their entirety. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. The main limitation of this study is that the data solely relies on self-reporting. This means the data faced a variety of issues from exaggeration and attribution to recency bias and more.
Fair Use Statement
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This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.
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