The Science Behind How Introverts Sleep and Dream

An introvert dreams

Introverts may dream more of past events, and have more vivid dreams, but extroverts get more restful sleep.

When you wake up each morning, do you remember dreaming? I do, almost daily. My dreams are extremely vivid, full of imagery and complex plotlines, and combine elements of my life experience with things that haven’t happened in real life. And this may be surprising since I am… an introvert.

Now, I am not here to interpret all of our dreams for us or to say that all introverts sleep and dream in similar ways. I mean, let’s be honest: My dreams could be as much about what I ate and drank that evening, the medication I’m on, what I looked at or watched before bed, or how much I allow myself to process my (many, many) thoughts when I’m awake, as anything else. But, there are some interesting findings about dreams, the purpose of them, and how our dreams may be affected by our personality type. 

That said, here’s another disclaimer: I’m not going to be able to conclusively tell you that introverts dream more, or with certain specific content, or anything like that. I can hypothesize, but the fact is, research shows that personality and dreaming meet at the confluence of all the things science is still trying to understand about humans generally. There are, however, some recent polls and studies about dreams and sleep that provide some interesting insights.

Why Do People Dream?

The purpose of dreams in general is a question that has naturally come up for years. They can be fun or frightening, but dreams don’t seem to be necessary for our survival, so why do our minds do that when we fall asleep?  

While there is not one definitive answer to this question, it’s widely known that we dream most vividly during deep Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Some scientists believe that our dreams allow us to process and store memories, and even modulate trauma. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists believe that dreaming may be practice for life-threatening situations, allowing us to rehearse threat identification and avoidance for survival.   

In addition, scientists and artists alike agree that dreams can serve as a creative canvas. As a casual artist myself, I can affirm that I have painted with inspiration from a dream, and I like to think that the elaborate images and stories that emerge from my subconscious mind somehow reflect my creativity. Plus, a lot of introverts tend to be creative, which seems to make us likely to have vivid dreams.

How Do We Sleep and Dream?

Even some 20 years ago, most Americans suffered from some type of sleep disorder. Most people just don’t sleep well. There are many reasons for this, from sleep apnea to medications to alcohol to exercise (or the lack thereof) in our daily schedules. And, if you’re one of the introverts, like me, who also has anxiety (which is a common correlation) you may struggle with getting enough quality sleep. Plus, if you’re a highly sensitive introvert, you may need more sleep than others due to all the overstimulation coming your way all day. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) also suffer from sleep paralysis more than non-HSPs, wherein they have a bad dream and wake up, unable to move, as though they are stuck.

Along with beautiful, creative, intricate scenes and stories, I do sometimes have what I call anxiety dreams. They’re different from nightmares in that I am not fully afraid for my safety in the dream. In such dreams, however, stressful experiences from my past mix themselves together with surreal situations, and in the dream’s story, I find myself worried. 

For me, they are usually social in nature, around people’s responses to me or people who I do not want influencing my life anymore. Other times, I am trying to do something in the dream, but my body doesn’t work the way it should, or for some other reason, I am consistently frustrated in my attempts.

While I personally believe in some aspects of the supernatural, I tend to look primarily to science to explain the fictional stories my mind creates when I sleep. Sometimes dreaming, and remembering my dreams, also enhances the understanding I have of myself. It helps me understand what may trouble me “below the surface,” as well as what I really want. I imagine Sigmund Freud would approve. Since we introverts are reflective and deep thinkers, perhaps you can relate.         

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The Link Between Dreams and Personality

Though it’s not a scientific study, Best Mattress Brand recently asked more than 1,000 Americans about their Myers-Briggs personality type and their sleep and dreams. The poll focused on the subject matter of people’s dreams and identified correlations with personality type. I can’t really say, though, that this study showed that introverts or extroverts dream more or less than the other.   

But some fun facts they uncovered include:

  • Introverts were more likely to dream of being unable to influence the world around them while extroverts dreamed of more active pursuits, like traveling, 13.9 percent more often than introverts. 
  • Introverts dream of their teeth falling out 14.2 percent more often than extroverts. However, extroverts remember their dreams 5.7 percent more than introverts.
  • Introverts with the Feeling trait (INFJs, INFPs, ISFJs, and ISFPs) were found to dream about their partners cheating 12.6 percent more vs. those with the Thinking trait (INTJs, INTPs, ISTJs, and ISTPs). The former also were more likely to talk in their sleep and have nightmares vs. the latter.    

Speaking of nightmares, the survey found that introverts overall are a bit more likely to experience nightmares, unclear dreams, and less restful sleep than extroverts. This might be related to the correlation between introversion and anxiety that I mentioned earlier. I don’t think someone who doesn’t worry at all would have the types of dreams that I have. (It’s important to note, though, that not all introverts have anxiety, and that not everyone who has anxiety is an introvert.) 

Perhaps extroverts get more restful sleep than introverts because they expend a lot of energy during the day, socializing and being on-the-go, so they sleep better at night. To that point, a more scientific study found this to be true: that high levels of extroversion were associated with better sleep quality. Since dreaming primarily occurs in deep REM sleep, it would make sense that whomever sleeps more deeply, for a longer period of time, is likely to dream the most. That might imply that extroverts are more likely to have dreams, although more research would have to be done on this to reach more conclusive results.

Another study, published in the International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, found that introverts reported a high frequency of past events in their dreams. (This resonates with my own experience.) The study looked at the correlation between introversion vs. extroversion, and the content of dreams. The data showed that people who tested as introverts were more likely to dream about something that happened in the past, whereas extroverts were more likely to dream about things related to heights, such as climbing.

And yet another study suggests that peace of mind — or anxiety while awake — affects the content of dreams. That means we may be more likely to have “bad” dreams when we are anxious and more pleasant dreams when we feel at peace during our waking life. Since introversion can be correlated with anxiety, this means it’s possible we “quiet ones” could have more stressful dreams. 

Remembering Your Dreams and Daydreams

The 16 Personalities website, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), also conducted a poll about dreams and personality type. They looked into who remembers their dreams and who doesn’t. This adaptation of the 16 Myers-Briggs types grouped together the four types who are intuition-based — and make decisions based on feelings — into a category called the Diplomats. Diplomats, whether introverts or extroverts, were the most likely of the 16 types to remember their dreams. 

This makes sense to me, because I am an “F” for Feeling, “N” for Intuitive, and an “I” for Introvert, and do tend to retain my dreams. In fact, I am an INFP, which means I’m considered the most “dreamy” personality type, according to the MBTI approach. We’re even known for daydreaming while awake. And introverts are big daydreamers anyway, likely due to all our thinking (and overthinking). 

Overall, I think dreams are fundamentally creative, in addition to being a way to process our lives. And creativity is rarely purposeless. Yes, creativity can lead to beautiful and meaningful art and stories, but it can also lead to life-changing practical or scientific ideas. When we allow our thoughts to wander — whether we’re awake or asleep — who knows what we may come up with?

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Tandice is an Iranian-American consultant, freelance writer, and marketing professional (you can find her at tandicegstrausbaugh.com). She adventures where life and her marriage take her, but she tends to find nature and art wherever she is. She loves her cat, art history, murals, her husband, bodies of water, trees, and portraits, not necessarily in that order. She likes to use her time and effort for worthy causes in her community.