A great deal of information is known about how blind people dream. You may be surprised to learn how their dream experiences are different and similar to those of sighted people.
Do Blind People Dream?
Yes, they do. Dreaming is associated with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. It is generated deep within the brain and is, therefore, a function of the brain, not the eyes. Blind people dream as much as a sighted person would, no matter the cause of their blindness.
Can Blind People See in Their Dreams?
The time of their life that a person became blind impacts the content of their dreams. People who were born blind or became blind at a young age (before age 5) do not have a visual component to their dreams. Those who became blind after age 5 or 6 can see in their dreams. Therefore, there seems to be a window in the development of the brain in which the capacity to have visual dreams is established.
What Do Blind People Dream About?
Most dreams contain elements that are related to both sight and movement (such as falling.) More than half of dreams contain an element related to sound. It is rare for people to describe other sensory experiences, such as those related to smell, taste, and pain. It is estimated that these latter three elements occur in less than 1% of dream reports. Women more often experience smell and taste in their dreams while men more often report sound and pain.
Blind people are more likely to report feelings of touch, taste, and smell in their dreams compared to sighted people. This likely corresponds to their waking experience which relies more on these senses.
What are Special Features of Blind People’s Dreams?
Blind people seem to have less aggression in their dreams. Justifiably, they are more prone to nightmares about getting lost, falling into manholes, and getting hit by a car. In one study of dreams, 60% of blind people reported dreaming about transport (compared to 28% of sighted people) which is understandably a big cause of anxiety for blind people because of the danger it presents.
Despite these differences, the emotional and thematic content of dreams isn’t much different in the blind and the sighted. Both groups report about the same number of social interactions, successes, and failures in their dreams. They have the same distribution of emotions and the same level of bizarreness.
Do Colorblind People Dream in Color?
As we have learned, your waking experience dictates your perception of dreams. So, someone who has a red-green color vision defect since birth will dream in the same colorblind mode.
If you were born with full-color vision but later became colorblind, you may have full-color dreams if you have sufficient intact long-term memories of colors.
Black and White Dreams
Have you ever noticed if you dream in color or in black and white? For people 65 and older, it is common to dream in black and white. The reason may surprise you – it’s TV exposure. A 2008 study showed that people who’d had childhood exposure to black and white TV were likely to dream in black and white, while people 25 and under (who had always watched TV in color) almost always dreamt in full color.
How Do Blind and Deaf People Dream?
Before her teacher first came to her, Helen Keller, in her autobiography, stated that her dreams were devoid of any kind of sound/sight/thought/etc. and only contained fear and strong abstract sensations. She states,
“My dreams have strangely changed during the past twelve years. Before and after my teacher first came to me, they were devoid of sound, of thought or emotion of any kind, except fear, and only came in the form of sensations. I would often dream that I ran into a still, dark room, and that, while I stood there, I felt something fall heavily without any noise, causing the floor to shake up and down violently; and each time I woke up with a jump. As I learned more and more about the objects around me, this strange dream ceased to haunt me; but I was in a high state of excitement and received impressions very easily. It is not strange then that I dreamed at the time of a wolf, which seemed to rush towards me and put his cruel teeth deep into my body! I could not speak (the fact was, I could only spell with my fingers), and I tried to scream; but no sound escaped from my lips. It is very likely that I had heard the story of Red Riding Hood and was deeply impressed by it. This dream, however, passed away in time, and I began to dream of objects outside myself.”