The Science Behind Fever Dreams

By: HowStuffWorks  | 
fever dream meaning
Fever dreams are known for their intensity, often characterized by heightened emotions, bizarre scenarios, and vivid imagery. odla3D / Getty Images

Fever dreams are a fascinating phenomenon that many of us have experienced during times of illness. These dreams can be vivid, strange, and sometimes even disturbing. But what exactly causes fever dreams? And why do they differ from our regular dreams? In this article, we will dive into the scientific research on fever dreams to uncover the mysteries behind these unique experiences.


What are Fever Dreams?

Before we delve into the science, let's first define what fever dreams actually are. When we have a fever, our body temperature rises above its normal range. This increase in temperature can lead to various symptoms, including fatigue, body aches, and changes in our sleep patterns. One common symptom that many people report during a fever is the occurrence of unusual dreams.

Fever dreams are characterized by their vividness and intensity. They often involve bizarre scenarios, strange characters, and a heightened emotional experience. Some people describe their fever dreams as more negative or unsettling compared to their regular dreams. These dreams can also involve less social interaction and may contain elements that shift rapidly between pleasant and troubling situations.


The Limited Scientific Research

Despite the prevalence of fever dreams, scientific research in this area is surprisingly limited. One small study conducted in 2013 surveyed individuals about their fever symptoms, and several participants mentioned experiencing "odd" dreams during their illness 1. Another study in 2016 aimed to compare the content of dreams during a fever to those during normal sleep 2. The findings suggested that fever dreams tend to be more bizarre, negatively toned, and less socially interactive than regular dreams.

While these studies provide some insights into fever dreams, more research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms and why they differ from our usual dreams.


The Role of Brain Activity

To understand why fever dreams occur, we need to examine the role of brain activity during periods of illness. When we have a fever, our body's immune response is activated to fight off infections. This immune response triggers the release of various chemicals, including cytokines, which can affect brain function.

One hypothesis is that the increase in cytokines during a fever can lead to changes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that play a crucial role in regulating our mood, emotions, and sleep. Altered neurotransmitter levels can disrupt the normal sleep cycle and contribute to the occurrence of fever dreams.


The Impact of Sleep Disruption

Another factor that may contribute to fever dreams is the disruption of our sleep patterns during illness. When we are sick, our body is constantly fighting off infections, which can lead to discomfort, pain, and difficulty sleeping. These disruptions in sleep can result in fragmented and inconsistent sleep cycles, leading to more vivid and memorable dreams.

Additionally, certain medications commonly used to treat fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can also affect our sleep patterns. These medications may alter brain activity and neurotransmitter levels, further influencing the occurrence of fever dreams.


The Emotional Component

Fever dreams often elicit strong emotional responses. They can evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, or even joy. The heightened emotional experience during fever dreams may be attributed to the activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in processing emotions.

During a fever, the release of cytokines and other immune molecules can trigger the amygdala, leading to heightened emotional responses. This increased emotional arousal can influence the content and intensity of fever dreams, making them more memorable and impactful.


The Significance of Dream Content

While the specific content of fever dreams can vary widely from person to person, certain themes or patterns may emerge. Some individuals report dreams that are related to their illness or symptoms. For example, someone with a fever and a sore throat may have dreams involving conversations or interactions centered around their throat discomfort.

Fever dreams may also reflect our subconscious thoughts and concerns. They can tap into our fears, anxieties, or unresolved emotions, which may be amplified during times of illness. These dreams often provide a unique window into our inner psyche and can offer insights into our emotional well-being.


Coping with Fever Dreams

If you find yourself experiencing vivid and unsettling dreams during a fever, there are a few strategies you can try to alleviate their impact. First, it's important to focus on managing the underlying illness and promoting a healthy recovery. Adequate rest, hydration, and appropriate medical treatment can help reduce fever symptoms and minimize the occurrence of fever dreams.

Creating a soothing sleep environment can also contribute to a more restful sleep and potentially reduce the intensity of fever dreams. Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable, practice relaxation techniques before bed, and avoid stimulating activities or screen time close to bedtime.



Fever dreams are a fascinating aspect of our sleep experiences during times of illness. While the scientific research on fever dreams is limited, studies suggest that they are more vivid, negative, and less socially interactive compared to regular dreams. The increase in cytokines, disruptions in sleep patterns, and emotional arousal are all factors that may contribute to the occurrence of fever dreams.

Understanding the science behind fever dreams can help us navigate these unique experiences and find ways to cope with their intensity. By prioritizing rest, managing fever symptoms, and creating a calming sleep environment, we can minimize the impact of fever dreams and promote a more restorative sleep during illness.


Remember, fever dreams are a natural part of the body's response to infection, and they usually subside as the illness resolves. If you have concerns about your fever dreams or other sleep-related issues, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance.

This article was created using AI technology.