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Fever Dreams: Meaning, Causes, and Prevention


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Writers at Sleep Authority are supported by a research team conducting in-depth research about the topics. The editorial team reviews them for accuracy and facts to ensure the most authentic and accurate content is published. Sleep Authority does not offer any medical advice, and you should not rely solely on our content for your course of treatment. Consult your medical professional to discuss any health concerns, chronic conditions, treatment options, or diagnoses.


December 16, 2022

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Dreams have mystified humankind for ages: with endless hypotheses about their origin, meaning, and purpose, such as what causes dreams and how dreams work.

However, people believed in the interpretation of dreams and their impact on day-to-day life back in the day.

And consequently, for most of the twentieth century since the discovery of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the theories have been purely psychological. REM sleep is the state that starts after ninety minutes of falling asleep. It is where the eyes start to move rapidly, and the person does most of their dreaming. All the same, REM sleep is many things; it is the behavioral state, a brain state, a dream state, and a paradoxical state.

Because of that, neural dreaming activity can be studied and understood more precisely, and it is possible to determine the mechanism of the brain with a theory of consciousness derived from the aforementioned study of dreams

Dreams are usually connotations of mood and strong emotions during wakefulness. And there are many types of dreams, like normal dreams, daydreams, lucid dreams, nightmares, etc. However, the most peculiar one is fever dreams.

Now, what is a fever dream?

What Is A Fever Dream?

Somatic symptoms like the elevation of body temperature, weakness, sore throat, feeling hot/cold, sweating, and chills are some of the common symptoms of fever. And in addition to these somatic symptoms, fever also affects sleep, mood, and cognition.

Furthermore, when the sleeper experiences unpleasant, dreary, and weird dreams that are upsetting during the episodes of fever, then these dreams are known as fever dreams. Besides, fever dreams are often associated with intense sensations such as vertigo or the inability to breathe.

Sometimes fever dreams are lucid and particularly intense during the episode of fever. However, fever dreams are not harmful. And whether the content of these lucid dreams is positive, rare, or negative depends on the sleeper’s situation.

However, for the most part, fever dreams are directly related to body temperature and can be unpredictable and abnormally dramatic. 

When Do They Occur?

A fever dream happens when a person has a fever, and fever occurs due to the body’s response to the following:

  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Certain inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Due to medication, like antibiotics
  • Or a tumor

So when the body detects a virus or any foreign body in the system, the immune system’s defense mechanism starts to turn up the heat. Because most pathogens thrive when the body is at the normal temperature, increasing the temperature will be harder for these viruses to survive. 

So this means whenever there are any infections or illnesses, the sleeper will experience fever. And when the body temperature rises two degrees over 99°F (i.e., 37°C), fever dreams can happen.

Moreover, fever dreams also occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage like other dreams and nightmares. And during REM sleep, the brain’s activity is usually on the same wavelength as wakefulness; that’s when most dreams occur. 

However, there are other reasons for a person to experience fever dreams. For example, if the body temperature rises because of the condition outside the body, like wearing layers when it’s already warm outside or staying under the sun for too long can cause the usual case of hyperthermia, where a person may experience hallucinations and fever dreams. These symptoms can also be both heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

What Happens During a Fever Dream?

Fever or sickness heightens emotional instability, increasing sensitivity and making a person more vulnerable to negative thoughts. Hence, all fever dreams are vivid and overwhelmingly upsetting, making people experience more bizarre or intensely harrowing situations. 

And since fever dreams occur during the REM stage, that’s when the arms and legs are paralyzed and unable to act or react to these dreary and weird dreams. However, the person could still wake up startled, uncomfortable, and unsettled.

Regarding the dream’s content being associated with fever, Bruce Ames and his research partners document that 11% of participants out of 28 reported strange and unusual dreams accompanying their fever, such as “back and forth between very difficult circumstances and a very comfortable circumstance.”

Moreover, fever dreams are also said to be featuring a negative childhood memory, or they could be recurring dreams which surface whenever the person has a fever. Most common scenarios during the fever dreams are stressful situations where dreamers are intimidated by anxious situations that are overwhelming in real life.

Do Fever Dreams Have a Meaning

Although fever dreams do not have any meaning, they are usually correlated with the person’s current situation or state of mind. And since fever dreams could occur for reasons nothing more than the common cold. 

Micheal Schredle stated in his study that fever symptoms and related imagery were common occurrences in fever dreams; common themes in fever dreams often included spatial distortion, such as moving walls and creatures with oversized arms and legs. 

Though there is no explanation regarding these vivid dreams’ meaning, according to Schredle, this could be because of the brain’s awareness of heat during fever. 

However, fever dreams’ meaning and purpose remain veiled under mystery.

What Causes Fever Dreams?

Although the exact cause of fever dreams is unknown, however, regarding the state of REM sleep, the brain’s activity being on the same wavelength as wakefulness is a process that affects the cognitive process and brain activity, causing it to “overheat,” and during fever, the strain on the brain gets worse. That’s when a person’s body responds to factors, such as:


Conditions like the common flu or respiratory diseases that cause a rapid temperature rise can also cause fever. Hence can be the subject of disturbing and vivid fever dreams or flu dreams.


Since fever dreams remain mysterious for most of the part, they are considered a symptom of an illness or any chronic disease, like a tumor. However, the fever could also be a side effect of underlying conditions.


As mentioned before, a person could experience fever dreams in their wakefulness. And scientists have evaluated the cause to be “overheating” of the brain and body disrupting the cognitive process and brain activity. There are also cases where the body may feel feverish because of conditions outside the body; for example, hyperthermia can lead to dehydration, hallucination, and fever dreams.

High Body Temperature 

Since body temperatures are directly related to fever dreams, high body temperature during the fever disrupts the regular cognitive functioning of the brain. This gets worse during REM sleep when the dreams are more vivid; having a fever may further stress the individual’s situation.  

Medication Side effect

Fever is the common side effect of medicines like antibiotics. The fever may also occur because of an allergic reaction or a side effect. Some drugs, however, directly affect the brain’s thermostat, which increases the body temperature. For example, thyroid hormone medications like Synthroid elevate the temperature rapidly.

Even so, fever dreams are like the usual dreams and happen during a state of sleep.

What are the Symptoms of Fever Dreams?

Fever dreams’ direct relate to body temperature that includes symptoms such as– increased body temperature, fever, cold, aching, stress and likewise. Read more about it below:

Increased Body Temperature

The frequency of fever dreams indicates the rise in body heat, which happens due to the immune system defending the body against the pathogens by increasing the body heat, making it harder for these pathogens to survive. 

However, other factors trigger the rise in body heat, such as hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, where the outside elements like the sun play the main cause.


It has come to light that experiencing fever is not only limited to increased body temperature but also other symptoms.


During the research by Ames et al., 79% of the interviewees reported feeling cold and shivering while experiencing fever. Some participants expressed feeling cold during a febrile process. One of the participants remarked, “I think just before you get the fever, you can tell, you get the chills, everything feels colder than it should, so you know something is changing with your body temperature.”


And 11% of participants reported body aches as the general symptom of fever. Two of them also stated that achiness is one of the symptoms that alert the elevation of body temperature.

Furthermore, during the experiment Beyond Intuition: Patient Fever Symptom Experience, Ames and his research partners reported people having common flu or fever symptoms and respiratory-related symptoms. They also documented fever associated with hallucinations and weird dreams. 


Some certain moments or events repetitively occur in the fever dream. It often happens that fever dreams are lucid and are caused by traumatic experiences. And it is worth remembering that it can happen to anyone since negative thoughts and intense stimuli are also triggered by stress.

How to Prevent Fever Dreams?

Some people may not be bothered by these dreams; however, they could be nightmarish and stressful for some, and children are no different. And since children usually have hyper imagination, their dreams may ride high.

However, there are no magic bullets to shoot these dreams away. But certain things could be done to prevent these fever dreams; if not, it will at least help calm down for a good rest. Thus, there are some tips stated below to prevent fever dreams.

  • Treating fever and tackling its symptoms may prove providential, so controlling body temperature might be a good start.
  • Eating mild food that is easy to digest will keep from indigestion and upset stomach.
  • Drinking lots of fluids helps keep the body hydrated.
  • Stressing over dreams is not helpful, so keep calm and rest plenty.
  • Showering in lukewarm water might help relieve body aches and calm down.
  • Getting a doctor’s prescribed or over-the-counter medications for a quick recovery can be provided if the fever seems to have worsened.
  • Wash hands frequently and eats healthy to help with the speedy recovery.
  • Sleeping plenty also provides various health benefits, which include fast recovery. 
  • Keeping the environment neat and tidy will encourage peaceful thoughts and stress out of the door.
  • Keeping the room humid will prevent the nose or throat’s itchiness; using a humidifier may also help improve the air quality.

How Are Fever Dreams Different From Other Dreams?

Fever dreams are different from other dreams because the intensely high temperature during febrile episodes affects the brain’s cognitive process, due to which the brain is unable to perform normally, making fever dreams more vivid and abnormally distressing than other dreams. They also tend to be negative and contain fewer positive events than other dreams. 

Also, there are fewer verbal and physical interactions in fever dreams, with fewer dream characters or figures. However, fever dreams stop after the temperature drops back to normal.

Besides, disturbance in sleep because fever has a higher chance of causing other sleep-related disorders like insomnia, episodes of sleepwalking or nightmarish dreams. This increases the likelihood and frequency of fever dreams.

Specific features of fever dreams include:

Spatial Distortion

According to Schredl’s (2003) and Domhoff’s (2003) study report- the negative dream emotions are related to the negative daytime mood and the bizarreness to the cognitive impairments. Moving walls and space changing size are common types of fever dreams.


Again, according to Schredl’s (2016) study, participants reported threats since fever dreams often reflect wake-life concerns, experiences, and thoughts such as dogs, big spheres, insects, and terrorists.


Dreams may vary mostly according to the sleeper’s situation, where sleepers dream about illness, such as respiratory distress, pain, and vertigo.

Fever Dreams vs Lucid Dreams

Lucid dreams are unique. Sleepers who claim to have the ability to control the narratives of their dreams have experienced lucid dreams. A lucid dream is a technique therapists use to help their patients dispel phobias and manifest desirable outcomes.

However, unlike fever dreams, lucid dreaming is not linked to body temperature. However, they share similar symptoms and aren’t always unpleasant and negative.

They both occur during REM sleep, are extremely vivid, and have high recall value. 

Some of the triggers of lucid dreams include:

Reality Testing

A sleeper asks themself whether they are awake or not? And since it is impossible to answer in non-lucid dreams, being able to answer proves the lucidity of the dreams.

Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams

For study purposes, research induces lucid dreams through the MILD method by waking up the participants after five to six hours of sleep. After waking up, the subjects were asked to practice MILD or a control task, for example, reading. Then they would return to bed for a morning sleep period.

External Stimulation

In this factor, flashing lights or loud sounds while the sleeper is in REM sleep stimulate senses, activating lucidity in sleepers’ dreams without waking them up.

Fever Dreams vs Nightmare

Fever dreams result from fever, while anxiety and stress can be the stem of nightmares. What’s more, nightmares can be an indicator of sleep disorder because nightmares impact sleep when a person has experienced troubles like,

  • If the nightmares are frequently recurring
  • Getting distressed or having cognitive impairment during the day, such as anxiety or bedtime anxiety about having another nightmare.
  • Having trouble with concentration or memory.
  • Thinking or often remembering about a certain moment or images from the nightmare.
  • Often feeling weak and fatigued during the day.
  • The trouble with socializing or concentrating at work or school.
  • Behavioral issues regarding bedtime or fear of the dark

Fever dreams are closest to nightmares. However, fever dreams and nightmares have correlating factors, which are different, such as fever dreams are triggered by fever and body temperature. In contrast, nightmares are influenced by psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety, trauma, sleep deprivation, certain medications, or scary books and media.

In addition, nightmares are disturbing and harrowing and occur from time to time throughout the year. Furthermore, nightmares like fever dreams are vividly realistic and unpleasant that can disturb and rattle anyone awake from a deep sleep. Thus, practicing good sleep hygiene and eating healthy may reduce the likelihood of nightmares. 

And though occasional nightmares aren’t concerning if the nightmares are frequently recurring and routinely disrupt sleep, keeps the sleeper from going to bed because of fear and persistence to go to bed, or if these nightmares derive suicidal thought, consult a specialist as soon as possible.

Final Words

Even though fever dreams can be vivid and often upsetting, they are not dangerous and go away with the fever. However, fever dreams mysterious occurrences, during which fever disrupts sleep quality. Also, no one can have control over their fever dreams or can completely prevent them. However, treating the fever may help prevent it temporarily.

And while fever dreams occur because of physical conditions, other types of dreams depend on external events. So although fever dreams don’t stay long, everyone is different. And if the fever dreams for longer than it should, consider seeing a doctor. 

Now after a better understanding of what is a fever dream? First, fever dreams mean and how to stop fever dreams; it will be convenient to take notes or keep a diary when you experience any recalled unpleasant dreams. Writing them down might help curb some intimidation.


The exact cause of fever dreams is unknown. However, it is believed that whenever there are any infections or illnesses, the sleeper will experience fever. And when the body temperature rises two degrees over 99°F (i.e., 37°C), fever dreams can happen. This makes the sleeper experience dreams that are more strange.

Fever dreams are an inexplicable phenomenon that occurs when the body temperature rises. They are frequently defined as distressing and stressful events. Although there is no certainty that a fever dream can be fully prevented, controlling your temperature may help minimize these vivid dreams.

These can be any type of vivid dreams that are emotionally exhausting. Some of these dreams involve drowning, buildings collapsing in and suffocating you, Kafkaesque animals, etc. You might even wake up in tears for help, believing that someone is there to seriously injure or kill you.

Fever dreams aren’t necessarily bad for your body. However, they can be distressing to your mind while experiencing them and might make you wake up crying. 

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