Bad dreams the night before taking an exam may very well improve your performance on the exam the next day. This seems like a strange assertion to make but research reported in Psychology Today seems to confirm this finding among college students.
This study focused on medical students and it turns out that a majority of medical students dream about an exam the night before it’s scheduled. Most of those dreams involve some kind of frustration or failure in the exam. Students dream of being late for the exam, discovering that they are unprepared and are unable to respond correctly to specific questions. These dreams cause considerable anxiety during sleep and will sometimes wake the student up and may result in a period of sleeplessness.
Why should such an experience actually improve performance the next day? There is a thing called “threat simulation theory” in which practicing the threat ahead of time tends to curtail its negative impact when the threat actually appears in reality such as when one actually sits down to take an exam. It’s like getting the anxiety out of the way the night before so that relative calmness can prevail during the exam itself.
Of course there is an alternative explanation for this phenomena. It could be possible that those students who have anxiety dreams before exams are those students that care the most and are the most driven and have therefore done the most studying. And that’s why they succeed at a higher rate than non-dreamers. So as always things are not as clear as they might at first seem. But the results do suggest that at the very least, having failure dreams before an exam does not predict a catastrophe and perhaps predicts the opposite of a catastrophe.