Pain Dreams and Dream Emotions in Patients with Chronic Back Pain and Healthy Controls

Michael Schredl1, *, Aline Kälberer2, Kai Zacharowski2, Michael Zimmermann2
1 Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim/Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany
2 Department of Anaesthesia, Intensive Care Medicine and Pain Therapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany

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© 2017 Schredl et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at: Central Institute of Mental Health J5, 68159 Mannheim, Germany; Tel: +49-621-1703-1782; Fax: +49-621-1703-1785; E-mail:



Although some theorists have suggested that pain sensations cannot be part of the dreaming world, research has shown that pain sensations occur in about 1% of the dreams in healthy persons and in about 30% of patients with acute, severe pain.


The present study is the first to study pain dreams in patients with chronic pain.


A questionnaire was administered to 100 patients with chronic lower back pain and 270 controls.


The patients reported more pain dreams and more negatively toned dreams compared to healthy controls. In addition, patients reported more often that the dreamed pain persisted into waking state.


In patients, pain dreams might be instigated by actual pain whereas for healthy persons pain dreams might be pain memories (self-experienced pain and/or seeing persons in pain). Future research should clarify how pain is processed during sleep. As patients with chronic pain experience negatively toned dreams, it will be beneficial to ask chronic pain patients about their dreams and, if necessary, offer specific treatment options like imagery rehearsal treatment.

Keywords: Pain dreams, dream emotions, chronic back pain, Toned dreams, Pain sensation, imagery rehearsal treatment.