Blind people can and do dream, though their dreams can be somewhat different from those of sighted people. The type of imagery a blind person has in their dreams can also vary, depending on when they lost their sight.
Previously, it was widely believed that blind people didn’t dream visually. In other words, they didn’t “see” in their dreams if they’d lost their sight before a certain age.
But more recent research suggests people who are blind, from birth or otherwise, can still experience visual images in their dreams.
Read on to find out more about what blind people might dream about, whether they have nightmares, and how you can learn more about living without sight.
What do they dream about?
Consider some common types of dreams you have. Chances are they include a mix of strange things that don’t make a ton of sense, mundane things that happen in your daily life, or potentially embarrassing scenarios.
Blind people largely dream about the same things sighted people do.
One 1999 study looked at the dreams of 15 blind adults over a period of two months — a total of 372 dreams. The researchers found evidence to suggest the dreams of blind people are largely similar to those of sighted people, with a few exceptions:
- Blind people had fewer dreams about personal success or failure.
- Blind people were less likely to dream about aggressive interactions.
- Some blind people seemed to dream about animals, often their service dogs, more frequently.
- Some blind people reported more frequent dreams about food or eating.
Another finding from this study involved dreams that included some type of misfortune. The blind people who participated in the study dreamed about travel or movement-related misfortune about twice as often as sighted people.
This seems to suggest that the dreams of blind people, like those of sighted people, could reflect things happening in their waking lives, such as concerns about or difficulties in getting from place to place.
Can they see their dreams?
It’s common to wonder how different people experience dreams. Many sighted people tend to have very visual dreams, so if you aren’t blind, you might wonder whether blind people also have visual dreams.
Theories on this vary, but it’s generally thought that both people born blind (congenital blindness) and people who become blind later in life have less visual imagery in their dreams than people who aren’t blind.
Research suggests blind people who lose their sight before the age of 5 usually don’t see images in their dreams. According to this train of thought, the later in life a person loses their sight, the more likely they are to continue having visual dreams.
People with congenital blindness may also be more likely to experience dreams through taste, smell, sound, and touch, according to a 2014 study. Those who became blind later in life appeared to have more tactile (touch) sensations in their dreams.
Below, blind radio host and film critic Tommy Edison explains how he dreams:
Do they have nightmares?
Blind people have nightmares just like sighted people do. In fact, some research suggests they may have nightmares more frequently than sighted people. This is especially true for people who are born blind.
Experts believe this higher rate of nightmares is partly linked to the fact that blind people may be likely to face-threatening experiences more often than sighted people do.
Think of your own nightmares — chances are they become more frequent (and distressing) when you’re under a lot of stress or facing a frightening time.
Things to keep in mind
Only a few scientific studies have explored how blind people dream, and these studies have several limits. For one, these studies looked at only small groups of people, usually no more than 50.
Dreams can vary widely from person to person, and small studies can offer only a general guideline of how some people might dream, not a clear explanation of the content and images that might occur in all dreams.
It can also be difficult for blind people to accurately convey how they experience their dreams, especially if they have little to no experience of sight. But overall, the content of a blind person’s dreams is likely the same as yours. They just experience their dreams a bit differently.
Your best bet is to go straight to the source and talk to someone in the blind community. If you approach them politely and from a place of genuine interest, they’ll likely be happy to offer their insight.
The bottom line
Everyone dreams, even if they don’t remember it, and blind people are no exception. Several studies have explored how blind people dream. The findings are helpful, but they definitely have some limits.
For a more balanced understanding of how blind people dream, consider reaching out to someone in the blind community or checking out first-person accounts online.