Does sleeping face-down induce more sexual dreams?

It’s a common experience for us to incorporate sounds we hear while we’re sleeping into the narrative of our dreams. The real car alarm outside becomes a police siren in our exciting chase through dreamland. Given the way activities and sensations from the real world permeate our dreams, the author of a new study, Calvin Kai-Ching Yu at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, has investigated whether the simple fact of our sleeping position can also affect the kinds of dreams we’re likely to have.

Yu surveyed 670 people (average age 19) – including 227 men and 443 women – about the content of their dreams, their dream intensity, their usual sleeping position (face up, face down, or lying on their side), and their personality.

Yu’s main finding is that sleeping more often in a prone (face down) position is associated with a higher prevalence of experiencing particular dream themes, including: being locked up; dreaming about hand tools; sexual experiences; being smothered and unable to breath; swimming; and being nude. Although sleeping more often in a prone position was related to personality factors (negatively associated with conscientiousness and correlated with neuroticism), this didn’t fully explain the link between sleep position and dream content. Of the 476 participants who reported having a dominant sleep position, only 5 per cent were habitual prone sleepers.

Yu thinks a prone sleeping position triggers particular kinds of dream content because of the way that the pressure on the body, including the genitals, and difficulty breathing, is converted into dream experiences. Sometimes this is done in a symbolic way, he argues, (hence the dreams about hand tools). Yu endorses a Freudian view of dreams, suggesting they protect sleep “by quenching the internal needs or eliminating the cues that alert the sleeping ego to the existence of the outer world.”

In contrast to the associations between prone sleeping position and dream content, the frequency of sleeping in a supine (face up) or lateral position was almost entirely unrelated to the prevalence of different dream themes.

A major criticism of this research is the fact that participants were relied on to accurately recall their sleeping position and their dream content, a shortcoming that Yu acknowledged. The lack of any comparison between genders also seemed an unfortunate omission.

“This study provides the evidence that dream experiences, and in particular dream content, can be influenced by body posture during sleep,” Yu concluded. His findings add to past research showing that right-sided sleepers had more positive dreams and fewer nightmares than left-sided sleepers.


C K-C Yu (2012). The effect of sleep position on dream experiences. Dreaming DOI: 10.1037/a0029255

–Further reading– Paraplegics walk in their dreams.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

5 thoughts on “Does sleeping face-down induce more sexual dreams?”

  1. I find a lot of faults in this experiment, starting with the fact that most people have multiple sleeping positions so how can the participant tell what position they are sleeping in when they dream? They are sleeping therefore they have no idea what their body is doing. Also people have many dreams a night and can only remember one if that. There may be a connection between sleep position and the dreams that occur during those positions but it should be proven in a different way. Scientists should figure out another way to collect this information.

  2. This experiment probably made people think that they are going to sleep in a prone way. This experiment might be true since the majority of students had more sexual dreams with their face down. I even heard some people said they dreamed with their face down. But sleeping face down will harm people's back, and since they are pressing their stomach and also cause the colic. I believe it is an interesting experiment that people might want to try but I would not recommend to sleep facing down everyday.

  3. i think this experiment is through because it happened to me each time i have a dream seeing someone a man trying to have sex with me and am kind of struggling with the person then the person start pressing me and at that point i can not breath and cant even move my body then ill try to wake up, when i finally wake up ill fined my self lying with my face down.but when i sleep on my side i don't have such dreams.

  4. This study is quite interesting but since the general idea behind the results is that pressure is the stimulus for the change in dreams than wouldn't sleep position be one way to alter the dreams? I personally sleep with a heavy blanket that would stimulate the same sensations to a brain while sleeping. If the subjects in the study had similar sleep setups as me then that might work against the principle at play.

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