Study Objectives: Determine the prevalence and gender distributions of behaviors enacted during dreaming (“dream-enacting [DE] behaviors”) in a normal population; the independence of such behaviors from other parasomnias; and the influence of different question wordings, socially desirable responding and personality on prevalence.
Design: 3-group questionnaire study
Setting: University classrooms
Participants: Three undergraduate samples (Ns = 443, 201, 496; mean ages = 19.9 ± 3.2 y; 20.1 ± 3.4 y; 19.1 ± 1.6 y)
Measurements and Results: Subjectscompleted questionnaires about DE behaviors and Social Desirability. Study 1 employed a nonspecific question about the behaviors, Study 2 employed the same question with examples, and Study 3 employed 7 questions describing specific behavior subtypes (speaking, crying, smiling/laughing, fear, anger, movement, sexual arousal). Somnambulism, somniloquy, nightmares, dream recall, alexithymia, and absorption were also assessed. Factor analyses were conducted to determine relationships among DE behaviors and their independence from other parasomnias.
Prevalence increased with increasing question specificity (35.9%, 76.7%, and 98.2% for the 3 samples). No gender difference obtained for the nonspecific question, but robust differences occurred for more specific questions. Females reported more speaking, crying, fear and smiling/laughing than did males; males reported more sexual arousal. When controlling other parasomnias and dream recall frequency, these differences persisted. Factor solutions revealed that DE behaviors were independent of other parasomnias and of dream recall frequency, except for an association between dream-talking and somniloquy. Sexual arousal was related only to age. Behaviors were independent of alexithymia but moderately related to absorption.
Conclusions: Dream-enacting behaviors are prevalent in healthy subjects and sensitive to question wording but not social desirability. Subtypes are related, differ with gender and occur independently of other parasomnias.
Keywords: Dream-related motor activity, parasomnias, REM sleep behavior disorder, somnambulism, somniloquy, nightmares, gender differences, social desirability, alexithymia, absorption, state dissociation