There are instances where you suddenly stare out of nowhere and have your mind drift into space. Then slowly, you’ll feel yourself slipping away from reality, only to be pulled back to earth by a friend or an angry superior. 

That’s daydreaming. An attempt by our brains to escape reality by constructing thoughts and fantasies that we cannot act out in our waking life. 

Daydreaming is akin to a coin. It can be your haven or prison when done wrong. So to avoid being the subject of its curse, it’s important to have a thorough knowledge of daydreaming.

What is Daydreaming?

Coined by the Father of Daydreaming, Jerome L. Singer, Daydreaming is a type of dream where our stream of consciousness detaches us from current and external tasks. It usually happens when our attention drifts to a more internal and personal direction.

It is when your mind seems to shut everything off to delve into a more self-satisfying thought instead of paying attention to a boring class or the endless banters of your friend.

We spend up to 30- 50 percent of our waking hours in spontaneous daydreams. And often, we are oblivious when it happens.

Types of Daydreaming

Jerome L. Singer categorized daydreaming into three main types: Guilty-Dysphoric Daydreaming, Poor Attention Control, and Positive-Constructive Control.

Guilty-Dysphoric Daydreaming

Consists of undesirable emotions such as anger, guilt, and fear. Examples of guilty-dysphoric daydreaming are imaginations of taking revenge against your enemy and worst-case scenarios.

Violent, hostile, and obsessive daydreams about others are signs of neurosis. Neurosis is a mild disorder associated with stress which can manifest as anxiety, obsession, hypochondria, and depression.

Poor Attention Control

Unlike guilty-dysphoric daydreaming and positive-constructive control, this does not necessarily involve daydreaming because it is due to a person’s difficulty concentrating on a train of thought or a task.

Positive-Constructive Control

It consists of positive, wishful, and lighthearted imaginations. It enhances creativity and is useful for goal setting and planning. Examples are the imagination of becoming a cool actor or famous person. Such types of daydreams give our minds a break from reality.

Aside from the categories given by Singer, there are other terms associated with daydreaming:


Involve intrusive thoughts where a person relives the mistakes they committed repeatedly. Although psychologists do not agree with rumination as a type of daydreaming, it is believed that it uses the same default network in the brain for daydreaming.


It is the utilization of healthy mental imagery as a cognitive tool. Athletes visualize themselves winning as preparation for their games. Insomniac patients might visualize a relaxing environment to help them sleep.


We often do this to escape boredom and frustration in the real world. It is our brains’ way of coping with distress. An example of escapism is when a person with money problems imagines living in luxury and has no problems that chain them.


This involves out-the-world imaginations such as flying or teleporting to places. The purpose of having fantasies is entertainment, distractions, or sexual arousal. 

In the 1980s, the term fantasy-prone was coined to describe a person with frequent daydreams that affect their professional and personal life.

The Benefits of daydreaming

In the past, daydreaming was portrayed as a blackhole of productivity. It was seen as a negative characteristic that hinders a person’s life. But thanks to psychological studies, it turns out that daydreaming also positively affects us.

Daydreaming reduces anxiety and stress.

When we daydream about positive things, we reduce our anxieties and stress. Spending a couple of minutes to let our minds wander and hope for the best things to happen reduces the possibility of suffering from rumination or negative thinking.

Daydreaming helps you know yourself more.

A short time for yourself enables you to think things through and get to know your emotions better. Giving meaning to your imagination and dreams is a gateway to communicating with your subconscious and understanding deep-rooted emotions.

Related: 14 Best Books to Decode Your Dreams

Daydreaming strengthens your problem-solving skills.

Stepping away from your problems to daydream and thoroughly think of your situation will allow you to come up with solutions. Daydreaming revitalizes your mind, which is necessary for approaching a problem with a fresh perspective.

Daydreaming enhances your creativity.

We can’t force inspiration to come out regarding our passion. But when we daydream, we can tap into our inner creativity and have time to brainstorm ideas for our art journey. Ideas tend to come out naturally when our minds wander; that’s why famous artists make sure they have time for daydreaming.  

Daydreaming helps you achieve your goals.

Just like astral projection, daydreaming is a great tool to focus and think of our life plans and how we will achieve them. In this busy world, finding time for ourselves is hard, but through daydreaming, you can slip outside reality, even if for a short period.

Related: 16 Best Books on Astral Projection You Must Read

The Risks of Daydreaming

Daydreaming is risky when done excessively. It can harm your personal and professional life by robbing away your productivity and focus on reality. Daydreaming might twist your worldview if you let yourself be consumed by it.

And while it’s true that spontaneous thoughts are great for the mind to creatively wander through varying ideas, an article from Clinical Psychological Science shows how they can result in negative consequences. 

Intrusive thoughts can also look like daydreaming; that’s why it’s important to be mindful of your thoughts.

Is daydreaming a mental illness?

Daydreaming is not a mental illness, but excessive engagement in one can trigger other mental health problems or lead to maladaptive daydreaming. 

Maladaptive Daydreaming

According to Cleveland Clinic, maladaptive daydreaming is a mental health problem that causes people to lose themselves in complex and recurring daydreams.

Eli Somer, Ph.D., a clinical psychology professor in Israel, coined maladaptive daydreaming in 2002.

Those who suffer from this mental health problem use daydreams as a coping mechanism for other mental health conditions, situations, and even nightmares.

Though maladaptive daydreaming is still not officially recognized, it’s necessary to be aware of this prevalent mental health issue.

Who is affected by maladaptive daydreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming is most common for patients with conditions that affect their mental health or certain aspects of brain functions. The conditions common with maladaptive daydreaming are:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD)
  • Certain Types of Depression

Age also has something to do with maladaptive daydreaming. Some researchers have suggested that it is more common for younger people, especially children, teenagers, and young adults.

Furthermore, some people with a history of trauma and abuse, especially during childhood, can experience maladaptive daydreaming.

Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming

The symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming are all related to daydreaming. The symptoms tend to be categorized into two: a person’s daydreaming behavior and how they feel when they daydream.

Person’s Daydreaming Behavior

These daydreams are more detailed and vivid, more than normal daydreams.


Daydreams like this typically have elaborate plots and involve characters that the person imagines repeatedly.


Maladaptive daydreams often last for so long, exceeding the duration of a normal daydream.


People experiencing maladaptive daydreaming often do this intentionally to escape reality or their stressors.

Detachment from the world around them

Maladaptive daydreams are so strong that the person disconnects from their surroundings.

Situations like this are similar to dissociation, a coping mechanism used by people who experience depression and severe anxiety and have a history of trauma and abuse.

How They Feel When They Are Daydreaming
Interference in hobbies, work, and other activities

Maladaptive daydreaming can hinder a person from accomplishing their work and daily activities. Reaching their goals can be challenging, too, because they constantly get pulled away from accomplishing their task.

Compulsively daydreaming

People experiencing maladaptive daydreams often have the impulse to daydream and might get upset if they lose the chance to do so.

Attempts to stop daydreaming

They may force themselves to reduce or stop daydreaming, which often can be challenging.

Disruption in social activities

For people who suffer from maladaptive daydreaming, spending time in their daydreams might feel better than socializing with others.

Feeling guilty and ashamed

They might feel bad about experiencing maladaptive daydreams, especially when it hinders them from having a normal life.

How does maladaptive daydreaming affect the body?

Although maladaptive daydreaming is an issue that directly affects our mind, it also has effects on our brains, the physical part of our body that generates our mind.

Experts suspect that the brains of people who experience maladaptive daydreaming are different from those who don’t. But this fact still needs further research to confirm its credibility.

Treatment for Maladaptive Daydreaming

Cleveland Clinic stated that there’s no standard treatment for maladaptive daydreaming since it isn’t an official diagnosis yet. But it doesn’t mean that we cannot treat maladaptive daydreaming. Currently, healthcare providers treat maladaptive daydreaming by approaching it based on related conditions.

Mental health therapy (psychotherapy) is the main treatment for maladaptive daydreaming. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  is one of the most common therapy for conditions like anxiety, dissociative disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. 

If you’re suffering from maladaptive daydreaming, it’s best to ask for the guidance and assistance of your healthcare provider. From them, you’ll be able to have an in-depth plan on how to overcome maladaptive daydreaming based on your health records, circumstances, and conditions.

Why Do We Daydream?

According to Professor Eric Klinger, our thoughts are directly or indirectly connected to one of our goals. Most of our goals are extremely basic, and plenty of them are short-term.

When we think of our goals, new thoughts and ideas emerge, which can lead to daydreams. 

Thinking of the future

Most of our daydreams are focused on what should be accomplished for the future. Sometimes they contain our anticipation, fear, and anxiety about what will happen. 

We tend to drift from reality by thinking of the future. We try to picture what awaits us and how we will act when these events happen.

Daydreaming can be a source of creative inspiration as well. We form new ideas on how we will execute our projects and what elements we’ll incorporate into them.


Our minds tend to wander when we procrastinate and drift off our tasks. Especially if it’s beyond our capacity, there’s a great possibility that we’ll daydream, hoping it will take us away from our tasks or how we will accomplish the project. 

Our daydreams contain our dark side

Daydreams may occur because of our intrusive thoughts. We might imagine doing things we cannot do in our waking life. It could be legally unacceptable or things containing our deepest desires. 

Daydreams representing our dark sides may include imaginations of rebelling against society and deviating from our constitutional rules.

Lucid Dreaming and Daydreaming

Daydreaming is often associated with lucid dreaming. Just because both occur while you’re aware that you’re dreaming doesn’t mean that these two are the same.

Lucid dreaming occurs during sleep, while daydreaming happens when you’re awake. Also, daydreaming is more superficial and performed easily. Your imagery is less realistic and vivid, while you have a great sense of your physical environment.

Related: 14 Best Books on Lucid Dreaming 

Surprising Facts About Daydreaming

You turn off some parts of your brain.

It’s important to remember that our brain has two main systems: an empathetic part that enables us to relate to others and an analytic part that helps us formulate rational decisions.

According to Anthony Jack, the empathetic part of your brain becomes less active when you daydream. Your brain requires it to turn off to get the cognitive task done. 

It means that if you’re engaged in a demanding cognitive task, it doesn’t leave any room for empathy. That’s why when you’re daydreaming, you’ll notice how you seem immersed in your thoughts, not hearing or seeing anything around you. 

Your mind naturally switches through varying modes of thinking, and during this time, your empathetic and analytic parts of the brain tend to turn each other off.

We daydream less as we age.

Peter Delaney notes that daydreaming is often about how we anticipate the future, especially when we fantasize about things. It means that as we get older, we attain the things we daydreamed of in the past, so it’s not necessary to dream about them anymore.

For instance, a young boy fantasizes about becoming an architect, and when he grows old and becomes an architect, he doesn’t have to daydream about it anymore.

You become more creative.

Daydreaming helps trigger your creativity. When your mind drifts off to nowhere, you create scenarios, characters, settings, and even characters that take part in your short play. You create countless possibilities in your brain that can give you inspiration for your creative journey.

You don’t blink when you daydream.

You don’t blink when you daydream because your brain is focused on fulfilling its analytical duties. Daydreaming consumes your thought processes because you’re creating many ideas and imaginations in your mind. 

Stress may cause more daydreams.

When stressed out, our brain’s immediate action is to comfort us. Daydreaming becomes a coping mechanism of the brain to help us escape reality. Escaping reality might not solve any problems, but through daydreaming, you might be able to come up with solutions to your problems.

Your brain talks to itself when you daydream.

Because you’re not wholly into an empathetic or analytic mode, the two can explore the same problem. Both sides of your brain work together to develop solutions and ideas.

You tend to forget things when you daydream. 

Daydreaming tends to make us lose track of things. After you wake up from your daydream, you’ll often realize that you’re supposed to do something but can’t identify it.

Daydreams don’t last long.

Our daydreams are short and sweet. You may think that daydreams take minutes, but an average daydream lasts fourteen seconds.

Daydreams can improve your sense of self.

Daydreaming teaches us mindfulness which is a key to self-awareness. The mindless activity is a mindful one. Eve Blouin-Hudon points out that daydreams mirror what is important to us. They represent hidden aspects of yourself, deep-rooted feelings, and desires. The sky is the limit when you have self-awareness.


Daydreaming is a double-edged sword that you can wield to your advantage. It is the portal that takes us beyond the confines of our reality, offering infinite possibilities of ideas and future creations.

Although it was deemed more negative in the past, we now see the benefits of daydreaming thanks to contemporary studies. It boosts our creativity and skills in solving our problems. It’s our relief when we’re troubled by reality, and it makes us hope for the future. 

Wield it correctly, and you’ll be able to achieve your ultimate goals.

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