Nonwaking Responses to Waking Stressors: Dreams and Nightmares1


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    This study was made possible by funding from the Department of Veteran Affairs' Great Lakes Regional Health Services Research and Development Field Program and NIMH Grants MH34586 and 5P50MH38330. The authors acknowledge the contributions of Delores Hooks in preparing this manuscript and Tm Anderson, Man5 Gittleman, and Vivian Kemeny in coding the nightmare and dream content for this article.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Cynthia A. Loveland Cook, George Warren Brown School of sodal Work, Washington University, Campus Box 1196, St. Louis, Missouri 63130.


A distinction between self-reported dreams and nightmares made it possible to test the relative sensitivity of these nonwaking cognitions to different kinds of life stressors including combat expasure, childhood and adolescent stressom, and recent life events. Survey interview data were collected on 442 men from the cohort eligible for military duty during the Vietnam Conflict who varied in their partiapation in that war. Dreams were over 3.5 times more prevalent than nightmares. Nevertheless, it was the prevalence, frequency, and content of nightmares, not dreams, that were consistently associated with life stresors. Links between nonwaking cognitions and life stressors are explored with regard to hypothesized mechanisms involving affect and cognition, wish fulfillment, and working-through processes.