Fever Dreams


Written by Rebecca Levi

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It’s not unusual for someone fighting an infection to have vibrant, disturbing, and bewildering dreams. People with fevers may dream of fleeing from insects or find themselves surrounded by towering houses and volcanic eruptions. They may also have dreams about being sick and feverish, in line with how they feel when they are awake.

While fever dreams are well known to be a possible symptom of infection, they have not been extensively studied in a scientific manner. But researchers have developed intriguing theories about these strange, vivid fever dreams that may relate to the possible reasons why we dream at all.

What Is a Fever Dream?

Fever dreams are vivid, outlandish, or frightening dreams that can come when a person has an elevated body temperature. They tend to be more emotionally intense and negative than average dreams.

Scientists are not sure exactly why we dream. However, some believe that our dreams reflect our emotions and concerns during waking life and can help us process our feelings. This is why recent events, strong emotions, and worries often appear in dreams.

Similarly, people who do not feel well may be more likely to have dreams that are unpleasant or that contain references to temperature and sickness.

Fever dreams’ strange, unsettling content may be related to the overall experience of being sick. They may also occur due to the ways fever and illness impact how well we sleep.

What Can Cause Fever Dreams?

Fever dreams are caused by a fever, which occurs when a person’s body temperature is higher than normal. Typically, this means a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, although some people may have a higher or lower average body temperature. Most fevers are caused by viral or bacterial infections.

Besides strange dreams, a variety of other symptoms may accompany fevers:

  • Chills and shivering
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Feeling warm or hot
  • Headache
  • Bad mood

Fevers also negatively affect cognitive functions like thinking, judgment, memory, and reaction time. Experts think that these cognitive changes may be part of the reason why fever dreams are so bizarre.

In addition, infection can change a person’s sleep patterns. Normally, people cycle through four stages of sleep throughout the night: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which has three stages, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dreams are most vivid and more easily remembered when they occur during REM sleep.

When someone is fighting an infection, their REM sleep decreases and they spend more time in NREM sleep. Infections can also cause fragmented sleep and frequent awakenings. These disruptions to sleep and sleep cycles may affect a feverish person’s dreams, as well as make their dreams harder to remember.

What Are Fever Dreams Like?

Many people describe their fever dreams as generally stranger and more negative than their typical dreams. Some find their dreams to be frustrating or confusing. In their dreams, people with fevers may interact with fewer people and experience more unpleasant emotions.

Fever dreams tend to feature some common themes.

  • Space and size distortions: People with fevers may dream of walls that move, animals with oversized limbs, and other changes of size and proportion.
  • Heat: Fever dreams often involve feeling warm or overheated. Themes may include thirst, hot winds, lava, and being unable to remove bedclothes.
  • Threats: Dreamers may be threatened by people or animals, natural disasters, or more fantastical threats such as large spheres.
  • Illness: Health-related themes appear frequently in fever dreams. Studies show that people with health problems tend to dream about health more often.

Fever Dream Meanings

Some sleep scientists believe that dreams, including fever dreams, do not contain hidden meanings or symbolism. Instead, they suggest, our dreams are a continuation of the thoughts and concerns we have while we’re awake.

Known as the continuity hypothesis, this theory views dream imagery as a representation of real-life events, current issues in our lives, and memories. This is especially obvious in the case of fever dreams, which reflect sensations of heat and concerns about health and illness.

Can Fever Dreams Be Prevented?

It may not be possible to prevent fever dreams while you are sick. However, getting over your fever will eliminate your chances of having one.

Doctors often disagree on whether or not people should try to reduce a fever with over-the-counter medications. Fevers make it harder for viruses and bacteria to survive and may help the immune system function better. But doctors may recommend treating fevers for people with underlying health conditions.

You can take several measures to relieve your fever and reduce your chance of having a fever dream.

  • Drink enough liquids: Prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids like water, juice, and broth.
  • Keep cool: Fans, cooling blankets, and mist from a humidifier might make you feel better.
  • Sleep well: Sleep plays an important role in fighting infection and healing from illness. Sleeping with a cough or a cold can be hard, but prioritizing rest will make you feel better in the long term.
  • Try an over-the-counter medicine: Ask your doctor if it is safe to take a fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to a child with a fever.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fever Dreams

Are fever dreams dangerous?

Fever dreams are not dangerous themselves. However, the fevers that cause these dreams may be harmful to people with certain risk factors, such as dementia, heart conditions, or lung problems.

In addition, older people tend to have fewer fevers than younger people. This means that in older people, a fever is more likely to signify a serious bacterial infection.

If you are concerned about a fever or fever dreams, contact a health professional.

Can COVID-19 cause fever dreams?

COVID-19 may cause fever dreams, because fever is a common symptom of the infection.

Are fever dreams similar to nightmares?

Fever dreams only occur when a person has a fever, while nightmares may happen during any period of sleep. However, fever dreams and nightmares share some characteristics. Both kinds of dreams contain strange or frightening images, and both are more likely to happen during REM sleep.

Anyone may experience a fever dream if they have an illness that causes fever. In contrast, nightmares are more common in childhood and during stressful times of life.

About The Author

Rebecca Levi

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington, Rebecca enjoys making accurate, up-to-date health information accessible to all readers. As a freelance writer and editor, she has covered everything from healthcare and experimental music to education. Rebecca lives in Tennessee, where she spends her free time reading, writing fiction, and making music.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Cold Sleeper
  • CHRONOTYPE: Dolphin

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