What are the Most Common Nightmares?

By McKenzie Hyde Certified Sleep Coach

Last Updated On October 13th, 2023
What are the Most Common Nightmares?

Key Takeaways

  • Nightmares & Their Triggers: Nightmares are a common experience for most people, often centered around falling, being chased, death, feeling lost, feeling trapped, and being attacked. They can be triggered by various factors, including major life changes, traumatic incidents, and everyday stress.
  • Comparing Women vs. Men: Gender differences play a role in the types of nightmares experienced, with women more likely to dream about a loved one dying and men more likely to have nightmares about technology malfunctions or bugs crawling on them.
  • Work Affecting Nightmares: Work-related fears are prevalent in many individuals’ nightmares, with concerns about missing deadlines being a common theme across various professions. Taking steps to improve sleep quality, such as limiting technology use before bed, maintaining a healthy diet, and incorporating regular exercise, can help reduce the occurrence of anxiety-filled nightmares.

No one loves experiencing a terrifying nightmare, yet almost everyone has had one.

To find out what wakes us up in the middle of the night and causes our heart to beat out of our chest, we surveyed 2,000 people about their anxiety-fueled nightmares. It turns out we tend to be scared or anxious about the same things. We then broke down the data further by gender and relationship status. Continue reading to see what we discovered.

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When You Fall Asleep, and Keep Falling

Most Common Nightmares

Many of our respondents’ nightmares were shrouded in fear, which is no surprise considering the word “nightmare” is defined as a dream full of extreme anxiety or sorrow. Nearly 65 percent of our survey takers experienced falling most frequently in their nightmares. While this type of nightmare is nearly universal, experts don’t quite know what causes people to dream this way. One theory suggests that when your muscles relax as you enter sleep, your brain interprets it as an actual fall. Another theory suggests that dreams about falling are a result of your nervous system gearing down for the night.

Nightmares about falling were followed closely by dreams about being chased (more than 63 percent). Other distressing nightmares included death (roughly 55 percent), feeling lost (almost 54 percent), feeling trapped (52 percent), and being attacked (nearly 50 percent).

While not as common, dreams focusing on poor performance – whether at school or at work – sustaining an injury, and drowning also made an appearance on the list.

The Gender Divide

Most Common Nightmares by Gender

Significant divergences between men and women included nightmares about a loved one dying. More specifically, nearly 61 percent of women dreamed about this unfortunate event, while roughly 39 percent of men have experienced the same. This may possibly have something to do with gender stereotypes and the expectation that women are the caregivers of the family.

Additionally, nightmares about technology malfunctions tended to occur more commonly in men (almost 66 percent), while about 60 percent of women reported having dreams about bugs crawling on them. This isn’t surprising considering that the Zika virus was an earlier concern. Women are also more apt to have nightmares about fires or their house burning down (about 62 percent).

The Fears in Our Dreams

Most Common Fears in Nightmares

A wide variety of things can cause nightmares, including daily stress. Verified Source Mayo Clinic Ranked #1 hospital by U.S. News & World Report and one of the most trusted medical institutions in the world. The staff is committed to integrated patient care, education, and research. View source Major life changes – such as a move, a new job, or a family member passing – are particularly stressful, as are traumatic incidents, such as an accident, attack, or injury.

In our survey, we asked people to tell us what fears they most frequently experienced in their nightmares, and we found that the majority of respondents (nearly 53 percent) had nightmares that focused on dangers to their well-being. Work-related fears accounted for almost 17 percent of recurring nightmares, followed by family and relationship issues (both 12.5 percent). Nightmares about friendships and health were each mentioned by fewer than 4 percent of respondents.

Bringing It Home With You

Most Common Nightmares about Work

Nightmares can and do follow us home from work. According to our survey, broadcasters and journalists were often plagued by nightmares about missing a deadline, probably because their daytime hours can be filled with the same horrors that dreamland has in store for them. Respondents in almost every industry had frequent nightmares about being late to work.


Nightmares are an unfortunate reality for most of us, but they can be a way to subconsciously work out normal and excessive stresses in our lives. Within the data, we found that nightmares about dangers to our well-being were pretty common, while work-related terrors followed directly behind.

To help you get a more restful night of sleep and put those anxiety-filled nightmares behind you, check out Amerisleep.com and find your best mattress.

Tips for Healthier Sleep

Getting quality sleep doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Below are simple steps you can take to fall asleep fast stay asleep longer.

  • Limit the use of technology before bed. This isn’t necessarily only an issue with blue lights but how stimulated we are making our senses. Watching videos or working a late-night project keep the mind active and is counterproductive to a good night’s rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet. What you eat before bed (and when you eat it) plays a significant factor in how your body falls asleep. Eating too close to bedtime can lead to digestive issues that are not conducive to quality sleep. Stick to eating at least one hour before sleeping and avoid red meats, spicy foods, and caffeinated snacks.
  • Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. There is plenty of literature about the benefits of daily exercise. Sleep experts are starting to see how exercise also promotes better sleep.

Another thing to consider? Your mattress. The best mattresses are ones that support your body’s natural sleep posture while reducing pressure points. Reducing pressure points helps to keep you from tossing and turning.

Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and following the steps above play a significant role in getting refreshing sleep each night.


We surveyed more than 2,000 people regarding their nightmares and dreams. To make the data easier to read on the infographics, we rounded percentages to the nearest tenth. This may cause some figures to only add up to ninety-nine percent.


Fair Use Statement

There’s no reason that using the above images as you wish should cause anxiety that may manifest later as a nightmare. We welcome you to share and use them! All we ask is for you to please link back to this page so the designers and authors of it get credit for the work they put in.

About the author

McKenzie Hyde is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a full-time writer specializing in sleep health and the mattress industry. With a Master of Arts degree in literature and writing from Utah State University, McKenzie combines her passion for writing with her in-depth knowledge of sleep science. Her articles cover a wide range of topics, including best sleep practices for students, the consequences of sleep deprivation, and choosing the right mattress for back pain relief. McKenzie's dedication to delivering accurate and informative content makes her a valuable contributor to the field of sleep health.

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