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Are dreams in color rare?

Are dreams in color rare?

Dreams have fascinated humans for millennia. We spend about 6 years of our lives dreaming, often waking with vivid memories of the scenarios that unfolded in our minds as we slept. Dreams can feel intensely real and meaningful or completely bizarre and nonsensical. But do we dream in color or black and white? And are colored dreams actually rare occurrences?

Do most dreams occur in black and white or color?

Many people report that they dream primarily in black and white or with very dull, washed out colors. However, research has shown that this is likely not the case. Studies have found that most people do actually dream in color.

In a study published in 1961, dream researcher Calvin Hall surveyed over 1,000 people about their dream experiences. Hall found that 80% said they frequently or always dreamed in color. Only 4% said they never experienced color in dreams. Another 16% said color was an occasional element of their dreams.

More recent research has confirmed these findings. In 2001, a study had participants fill out dream diaries every morning for two weeks. The results showed that dreams contained some color imagery 74% of the time. Fully colored imagery occurred in 33% of dreams.

So while black and white or fuzzy dreams do occur, the majority of dreams for most people contain at least some color. Vivid, fully saturated color is less common but still experienced by many of us at least some of the time.

Why do we sometimes dream in black and white?

If dreams are actually predominantly colored, why do so many people report dreaming in black and white? There are a few possible explanations.

One reason may be memory issues. Studies show we are much worse at remembering color details of dreams compared to other content. The vivid emotions, imagery and odd happenings tend to stick with us more than the specific colors. This could lead to incorrectly thinking dreams are colorless when they are not.

Additionally, research on visual imagery has shown we often default to thinking in black and white. When imagining or recalling unfamiliar scenes, the mind’s eye tends to fill in gray tones rather than colors. This effect could cause us to falsely remember naturally colorful dreams in black and white or muted tones.

Circadian rhythms may also impact dream color. REM sleep, when vivid dreaming occurs, happens more frequently in the early morning hours. Studies show our night vision and color perception are reduced when we first wake up after sleeping. So dreams that occur late at night or early in the morning may literally appear more monochrome to our sleeping brains.

What causes us to dream in color?

If black and white dreams can sometimes occur, what makes our dreams colored in the first place? Research points to a few key factors.

As mentioned, circadian rhythms play a role. When we sleep at night, our eyes and brain are not taking in visual stimulus from the environment. The visual processing parts of the brain remain active, however, generating signals internally that the mind interprets as imagery while we sleep.

During daylight hours, our vision is dominated by cone cells in the retina that detect color. At night, rod cells become more active as they are more sensitive in low light. However, research shows that color processing regions of the brain remain engaged to some degree even when using night vision dominated by rods. This allows color information to make it into dreams.

Emotions experienced during dreams also impact color. Studies show the amygdala, part of the brain important for emotions like fear, is activated during REM sleep when vivid dreams occur. Research suggests the emotional content of dreams influences areas like the occipital lobe that handle color perception, leading to more intense color imagery when vivid emotions are experienced.

Finally, personal experiences while awake influence dream content and color. People who have regular exposure to color through work, hobbies and other activities are more likely to experience color in their dreams.

Are colored dreams actually rare?

Considering the research, dreams containing at least some color imagery are clearly very common. But what about dreams with intense, vivid color throughout? Are these vivid technicolor dreams rare?

Overall, research does suggest that fully colored dreams are less common compared to dreams with some black and white or fuzzy imagery mixed in. However, fully colored dreams do seem to happen regularly, with studies showing they account for around a third of all dreams.

Certain groups experience colored dreams more frequently. Younger people report more dreams with intense color compared to older individuals. Women also tend to have more vibrantly colored dreams than men.

Outside of these groups, dream color intensity can vary significantly by individual. Some people rarely dream in intense color, while others experience kaleidoscopic, vividly colored dreams every night.

So while not an everyday occurrence for most of us, dreams filled with rich and intense color do seem to happen often enough that they should not be considered truly rare.

Tips for having more colorful dreams

If you want to increase your chances of experiencing vividly colored dreams, consider these tips:

  • Increase daytime exposure to color through art, photography, colorful clothes and decor, etc.
  • Practice visualization and imagery exercises involving color.
  • Keep a dream journal and record color details immediately upon waking.
  • Get enough sleep and have consistent sleep habits to improve dream recall.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed as it suppresses REM sleep.
  • Try supplements like melatonin, vitamin B6, or valerian root which may enhance dreams.


Research shows that the majority of dreams contain at least some color imagery. Fully colored, vividly intense dreams are less common, occurring about a third of the time for most people. But fully colored dreams seem to happen often enough that they should not be considered truly rare.

Certain factors like age, gender, and personal experiences appear to influence dream color intensity and frequency. With some effort, it may be possible to increase the likelihood of experiencing memorably vibrant and colorful dreams.

Dreaming in color is yet another fascinating aspect of the mysterious alternate realities our minds construct each night. Paying attention to color details in our dreams can provide insight into how our brains process imagery and emotion.


Hall, Calvin S. “The Meanings of Dreams.” McGraw-Hill, 1966.

Schredl, Michael, et al. “Factors Affecting the Continuity Between Waking and Dreaming: Emotional Intensity and Emotional tone of the Waking-Life Event.” Sleep and Hypnosis, vol. 9, no. 1, 2007, pp. 1-5.

Hoss, Robert J., et al. “The Study of Color in Dreams: An Historical Review and Present Assessment.” Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 20, no. 3, 2011, pp. 648-660.

Pagel, James F., et al. “The Theme of Color in Dreams and Dreaming.” Dreaming, vol. 11, no. 2, 2001, pp. 103-113.

Schredl, Michael, et al. “Information Processing During Sleep: The Effect of Olfactory Stimuli on Dream Content and Dream Emotions.” Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 18, no. 3, 2009, pp. 285-290.

Zadra, Antonio L., Donderi, Don C. “Nightmares and Bad Dreams: Their Prevalence and Relationship to Well-Being.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. 109, no. 2, 2000, pp. 273-281.