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People Tell Us About Their Work Nightmares

Turns out porn stars, doctors, and bouncers have very different work-related stress dreams.
Sleep photo by Taylor Harding/Unsplash

Every single time it goes down the same. I’m up on stage, doing my best to DJ to a mostly satisfied crowd, and it’s time to find the next record. The song I’ve just put on is not making too many people happy. Nightclub patron grumpiness abounds. I’m frantically searching for the next album in my crate, but all the albums I packed for that night are either unrecognizable, or some sort of CanCon garbage I haven’t listened to since high school. Damn it. Nobody here wants to listen to Hawksley Workman. Why did I even bring that to the club? I think to myself through a tsunami of panic. With time quickly running out, I find a suitable song to play next. I pull out the record, and crushingly, the vinyl inside does not match the sleeve. The song playing runs out. Dead air fills the nightclub. The crowd boos and groans. Then, the lights come on, everyone empties out, and curiously the booming voice of my boss from the wine store I worked at when I was 18 comes over the PA “Trevor Risk is no longer allowed to be a DJ.”


This is my recurring dream I’ve been having about my primary occupation for the last decade and a half. Recently, I asked some of my fellow DJs if this is common with them. Evidently, from the sample size of my query, this is a dream many people with my profession have. It got me wondering: Do most people have a persistent dream about their job, and is it the same as their colleagues’? I asked a bouncer, a trauma surgeon, a comedian, a porn performer and a few others to help me find out.

Nathan, 31
ER doctor

My work nightmares consist of either being too tired to properly work or my pager going off.

It's not uncommon for me to dream I've been woken up from sleep and rushing to an emergency, only to find that I'm just too tired to stand up, let alone lead a resuscitation. Everyone is asking me what to do next and I keep falling asleep on my feet, unable to articulate my plan. Then I wake up.

The second common nightmare is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, scrambling around my room for my pager—except it's a Saturday, I'm at home, and I realize there is no pager going off. It wasn't even turned on.

Many other residents I work with have some sort of variation on both of those themes. Having a nightmare about a situation that you should be able to handle but, for some reason or other, just can't. Hearing alarms ringing endlessly throughout dreams until you wake up to see if it's real isn't uncommon either.


Chelsea, 26
Porn filmmaker

I have frequent nightmares about traveling to set and missing a flight or forgetting my camera gear. Like there would be really hot babes waiting for hours just sitting there bored because of me. I think I travel a bit more than most people in my field, so hours of anxiety worrying about flight delays is fairly unique to me.

Rempel, 31

I don’t remember my dreams unless I’m stressed which isn’t often. When I do remember them, they stay with me for a couple of sleeps, which is annoying to have something/someone affect me so greatly. Any time I have a client come back to me for a redo (when they want an adjustment to something they dislike about their hair) I will dream about everything I could have possibly done differently to their hair to produce the desired outcome until I see them. It’s horrible and incredibly helpful at the same time. On the rare occasion I have an asshole in my chair, that personality haunts me for weeks. Usually that nightmare isn’t that client in the salon, just in a nightmare situation. Like I’m being hunted and that client is who’s hunting me. Ugh.

Other nightmares include: putting in highlights in a client’s hair but never reaching the end of it, where it feels like you’ve worked a whole shift and then you wake up and feel like you’ve never left work and now have to return. It’s so boring that it almost feels like real life. One of the best ones that feels like a true nightmare that my boss told me revolves around putting a client under the dryer and when you check on them, their hair falls out and their scalp is burnt, pus-filled and disgusting.


Courtni, 23
Porn performer

I guess the most frequent work nightmare I have is literally shit. Like, that I'm shooting an anal scene and I end up accidentally pooping everywhere. One dream continued beyond that to the shoot actually being released as is and it became so popular I ended up only getting scat work after that. (No judgement towards people who shoot scat scenes, get your freak on.)

Graham, 37

I will have dreams where I'm onstage and I'm telling a joke that is going really, really well. It's a joke I've never done before, but it's the best joke I've ever told. This joke is the career maker. Then I wake up and I cannot remember word one of the joke. It's heartbreaking every time.

Virginia, 27

The recurring nightmare I have is that I come out on stage and all the people sitting there are friends and customers from my old daytime job. Everyone is sitting there looking at me, the music is too quiet and I keep tripping over myself trying to strip. I can't get my clothes off properly and I keep falling and everyone is laughing. As for colleagues, I've never heard this exact one but similar scenarios with familiar faces (family, fathers, uncles, friends) for sure.

Samara, 28
Flight attendant

In my dream land, be it on the plane or in my hotel room, I’ve panicked more than once remembering that someone wanted water, snacks or service of some sort. I’ll be lounging on my layover and the striking thought enters my mind, “Oh NO! 26 Delta didn’t get her water!” The feeling of true panic in the dream is not far from reality, a feeling I’d only relate to missing a flight or burning my only pizza, and I often wake up thinking “I’m a bad flight attendant” as a result. It doesn’t take long to realize I was only dreaming, though I’ll often think and giggle about it during service later in real time.


After waking up in a sweat thinking about everything I forgot to do while on active shift I’ve come back to work to tell my crew about the hilarity of feeling panicked over forgetting water. I’ve gotten a multitude of stories in response, also around the theme of forgetting and being a bad flight attendant. There’s a lot of pressure in this job and I think it comes from insecurity that we aren’t perfect. Either way, I’ll try not to forget your water.

Christine, 29

Recurring nightmare: That I've shit myself on stage, but haven't noticed, and everyone is too polite to tell me.

Laine, 22
Nightclub bouncer

The only nightmare I've had about work is that I find a couple having sex in the nightclub and I can't remove them. They are usually underneath the stage in the club's storage area. I draw back the curtains the cover the entrance to the area—which is easily accessible from the dance floor—and, no matter what I do, I can't part them. They usually resemble a ball of mating snakes. Eventually, I wake up while struggling to escort them out.

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