While recent neurocognitive theories have proposed links between dreams and waking life, it remains unclear what kinds of waking thoughts are most similar in their phenomenological characteristics to those of dreams. To investigate this question and examine relevance of dreams to significant personal concerns and dispositional mental health traits, we employed ecological momentary assessment and trait questionnaires across 719 young adults who completed the study during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time marked by considerable societal concern. Across the group and at the level of individual differences, dreams showed the highest correspondence with task-unrelated thoughts. Participants who self-reported greater COVID-19 concern rated their dreams as more negative and unconstructive, a relationship which was moderated by trait rumination. Furthermore, dreams perceived as more negative unconstructive and immersive in nature associated with increased trait rumination beyond variation in rumination explained by waking task-unrelated thoughts alone. Together, these results point to similarities between perceived characteristics of dreams and task-unrelated thoughts, and support a relationship between dreams, current concerns, and mental health.
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