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article imageStudy: Blind have more nightmares than sighted people

By Martin Laine     Oct 8, 2014 in Science
A team of researchers in Denmark has compared the dreams of sighted and blind individuals. Their findings show that the blind have four times as many nightmares as sighted individuals, and they are more sensory than visual.
“The study already confirms an existing hypothesis that people’s nightmares are associated with the emotions they experience while awake,” said Amani Meaidi, a lead author of the study, in an article on the ScienceNordic website. Meaidi is a research assistant at the Danish Center for Sleep Medicine at Glostrup Hospital and at the BrainLab at the University of Copenhagen.
“Blind people apparently experience more threatening or dangerous situations during the day than people with normal sight,” Meaidi said. “The study also points out that the sensory input and experiences while we are awake are decisive when it comes to what we dream. So people without visual sensory input dream to a much greater extent in terms of sounds, tastes, smells, and touch.”
Heidi Anderson, 41, who has been blind since birth, confirmed this. She said she frequently has nightmares about such things as being hit by a car, falling down, and being followed.
“At the core of my nightmares is a feeling of complete hopelessness,” she said.
The research team analyzed the dreams of 50 people over four weeks. The test group was made up of 11 people who had been born blind, 14 who had become blind later in life, and 25 people with normal vision, according to the study abstract published in the journal Sleep Medicine.
The researchers found that those people who had been blind since birth experienced nightmares 25 percent of the time, and that their dreams had no visual content. Those people who had become blind later in life had nightmares 7 percent of the time, and had some visual content, though this seemed to lessen the longer they had been blind.
The normally sighted people had nightmares 6 percent of the time, and these had primarily visual images.
Despite having a greater number of nightmares, it doesn’t seem to affect the daily lives of those who have been blind all their lives, and the results even came as a surprise to some of them.
“This isn’t something that causes problems for them in their everyday lives, for which several of them were surprised to hear the result,” Maeidi said.
Earlier research suggests that dreams are a way of sorting through our experiences and remembering those things that are important.
“The best guess is that dreams are a way of wiping the slate clean,” said Prof. Albert Gjedde, head of the Institute of Neuroscience and Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen. “Our emotions help us evaluate what’s important and what isn’t.”
For blind people, Gjedde said, these dreams “might help them navigate the world in confidence, in traffic for instance.”
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