Dreams are some of the most confusing and elusive human experiences. Do they actually mean anything? Can they truly be prophetic? While there are many philosophical questions that accompany dreams and dream interpretations, there are also questions concerning physical matters that pertain to dreaming as well.
One question that often comes up is that of whether it is possible or not to feel pain while dreaming. It is a very complex question to answer, which is why there are a lot of studies that aim to find the answer.
The overall consensus is that yes, you can feel pain while dreaming, but things get tricky when you try to understand whether the pain is actually triggered by the dream or by something that’s actually physically happening to your body.
Often, we feel pain in our dreams because of pain we are actually experiencing, for example, if you were to be stung by a bee while asleep. This sort of pain while dreaming was the subject of a 1993 paper that used blood pressure cuffs to administer pain while participants were sleeping, particularly during the REM cycle of their sleeping.
The participants experienced pain that mimicked the pain being inflicted on them while they slept with the cuff on. It was common that their dreams reflected this pain and often centered around it. They reported that they felt answer and also repetitive actions that tried to subdue the pain.
Pain experienced in a dream differs from pain that’s experienced in waking life since the source of the pain is the dream’s content instead of actual stimulus in real life.
Someone dreaming that they are being tortured may not have necessarily experienced this exact kind of pain in real life. The trauma experienced in the dream still registers as pain in the moment, but when a person wakes up, the dream pain usually goes away.
The likelihood of nighttime troubles often correlates with your general state of health. The better your health, the less frequently you’ll experience pain felt in dreams. A study from 2017 showed that pain in dreams happened to about 1% of healthy participants and 30% to those who reported acute and severe pain.
The study authors shared: “In patients, pain dreams might be instigated by actual pain whereas for healthy persons pain dreams might be pain memories (self-experienced pain and/or seeing persons in pain).”
“Future research should clarify how pain is processed during sleep. As patients with chronic pain experience negatively toned dreams, it will be beneficial to ask chronic pain patients about their dreams and, if necessary, offer specific treatment options like imagery rehearsal treatment,” they continued.