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How jealous dreams can trigger real rows: Study finds what we think about when we sleep affects how we act when we are awake

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If you can’t help snapping at your other half, blame your dreams. A study found that the content of our dreams spills over into our real-life relationships, triggering rows and doubts in the day to come. 

The idea that our waking life influences our dreams has been much studied. But the latest research looks at whether what we think about when asleep affects how we act when we wake up. 

The researchers from the UK and US, said: ‘These results provide evidence for the first time that specific dream content predicts subsequent behaviour with relationship partners. 

‘These results deepen our understanding of dreams, as a previously unstudied factor that contributes to important relationship processes – particularly love/intimacy and conflict.’

The researchers asked 61 men and women to write down details of their dreams as soon as they woke up. 

The volunteers, who were all in relationships, filled in the dream diaries immediately on waking. 

They also completed personality questionnaires and details of their waking day. 

This included how much time they spent with their boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife, how much they rowed, and how loving they were. 

All together there were 842 dreams to analyse and 87 per cent of participants dreamed of their partner at least once.

When people felt jealous in a dream about their partner, this led to them reporting more arguments and problems in their relationship the next day. 

Dreams that involved conflict with a partner also predicted greater real life relationship difficulties in the following days. 

And when the dreamer committed infidelity in their sleep this led to a fall in the level of love and intimacy they showed towards their partner in the next few days, the journal Social, Psychological and Personality Science reports. 

Importantly, the findings couldn’t be explained away by what the volunteers had done before dreaming – pointing to dreams influencing life rather than the other way round. 

The researchers, including a Reading University psychologist, said: ‘When recalling a dream after waking, the content and/or emotions are active in the mind, and once they are active, may influence subsequent behaviour.’

  Not all of the findings were negative.  For instance, the study also found that people who had more dreams featuring their partner spent more time with them and were closer to them in real life and the authors said dreams can promote bonding, as well as conflict. 

They said it was unclear whether dreams tend to alter moods without conscious reflection or whether dreamers intentionally changed their behaviour after considering the implications of their dreams.

But they added that ‘the social effects of dreams can be potent regardless’.

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