Maladaptive Daydreaming: Symptoms, Treatment & More

April 2, 2024 | Casper Editorial Team

Fact checked by Jonathan Eilenberg, CPE

Maladaptive daydreaming is a mental health condition characterized by excessive, immersive daydreaming that can interfere with daily life. It is often considered a coping mechanism for individuals with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Your mind wanders, whether you’re aware of it or not. 

Daydreaming is a natural part of daily life. It’s useful for passing dull hours during a car or plane ride, or for relaxing your mind after a long day at work. 

But daydreams lose their glamor when they last for hours at a time, sucking up all your attention and preventing you from performing important tasks. For some, this is what’s known as maladaptive daydreaming.1 

If your excessive daydreaming is taking over your life, you’re not alone. 

Read on to learn more about maladaptive daydreaming symptoms and causes, and how you can seek treatment to feel more connected to the present moment.  

Daydreaming: Why Do You Do It?

The term “daydreaming” actually covers a much wider scope of cognitive activity than most people think. Daydreaming, or “mind wandering,” is any time when your mind drifts off and thinks about something other than the present moment.2

Consider how often you find yourself thinking about a memory or a future event instead of working on a task; most people spend about half their day doing just this.2

Daydreaming often has a positive association with it. When you think of someone daydreaming, you might envision a teenager musing over a crush, or a genius writer working out their next masterpiece. Some scientists have argued that your unconscious mind, while daydreaming, can solve creative and personal problems with more ease than your conscious mind.2

Whether or not daydreaming can actually help you solve problems is up for debate, but daydreaming does serve important purposes.

So why do you daydream? There are a few possible reasons2:

  • To give your brain a rest – When daydreaming, your brain enters a state of inactivity known as the “default network.” Your working memory shuts off temporarily, allowing you to surf the waves of your subconscious with more freedom than when performing a task. 
  • To make boring tasks more enjoyable – If you’ve ever had to perform a long, tedious job that doesn’t require much brain power, you may have used daydreaming to get you through. Transcribing notes or plugging numbers into a spreadsheet becomes much more bearable when you can let your mind wander to more stimulating topics. 
  • To plan for the future – Also called “autobiographical planning,” this time spent introspecting about yourself and your future needs can help calm your mind and motivate you. 

But while daydreaming is necessary for short brain rests and sparking creativity, it can potentially make you more unhappy in the long run.2

Constant and excessive daydreaming is connected to2:

  • Lower concentration and intelligence
  • Increased risk of errors in work
  • Lower working memory capacity

But where’s the line between normal daydreams and maladaptive ones? 

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

The occasional daydream won’t disrupt your day, apart from missing the last line of dialogue in a movie, or making you lose your place while reading. But daydreaming can become harmful when it impedes your ability to focus on important tasks or personal relationships. 

Maladaptive daydreaming differs from normal daydreaming in that it is1:

  • Vivid and complex
  • Compulsive, and often repetitive
  • Long-lasting
  • Excessive

These intense daydreams occur for long stretches of time, sometimes hours, and are often difficult to surface out of. It may begin as an intentional practice, but can quickly become something you rely on as a coping mechanism or an escape from real life.1 

There are also negative emotions tied to maladaptive daydreaming that regular daydreaming doesn’t typically produce. A maladaptive daydreamer may feel guilty and isolated because they’re constantly daydreaming instead of working or socializing, and they may even feel like they’re addicted to it.1

Maladaptive Daydreaming: Potential Causes

No one knows exactly what causes maladaptive daydreaming, but it’s been linked with other common mental health conditions, including1

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – People with ADHD struggle to concentrate on tasks, make decisions, and plan ahead, also known as “executive dysfunction.” Maladaptive daydreaming is often a way that people with ADHD shift focus and disconnect from reality. 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – Another symptom of maladaptive daydreaming is the repetition of certain phrases or body movements, as well as whispering or pacing, which overlaps with symptoms of OCD. People with OCD also tend to fixate, or ruminate, on certain details, which is why they may be more likely to daydream. 
  • Anxiety disorders – People with anxiety struggle to complete tasks or enjoy social situations due to fears and worrying. Maladaptive daydreaming is often used as a coping mechanism to distract from anxious thoughts and escape distressing situations. 
  • Dissociative disorders – There’s a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding dissociative disorders like dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder. These disorders are typically brought on by trauma, and create a disconnect between you and the outside world,3 which is why there’s much overlap with maladaptive daydreaming. 

There is a very high comorbidity rate between maladaptive daydreaming and these disorders. 

In one study, it was found that over 50% of people suffer from both maladaptive daydreams and another mental health disorder, with that number reaching as high as 80% for those who suffer from maladaptive daydreaming and ADHD.4

In addition, maladaptive daydreaming is often used as a coping mechanism by those who’ve experienced childhood trauma or abuse.1 It’s a way for a maladaptive daydreamer to dissociate from reality and escape painful memories. For this reason, maladaptive daydreaming tends to affect children and teens at higher rates.1

When Maladaptive Daydreaming Becomes Serious

Maladaptive daydreaming can quickly turn into a compulsive, even addictive behavior. In the short run, it may offer maladaptive daydreamers a reprieve from the pressures of life, but eventually, it’s possible to grow to depend on it. And it’s incredibly hard to break this habit once it’s solidified.

If this resonates with you and your situation, it may be time to seek treatment from a mental health professional. 

Treating Maladaptive Daydreams

The term “maladaptive daydreaming” was only coined at the beginning of the 21st century, and currently, it’s not recognized as its own mental health condition.1

But that doesn’t mean it’s untreatable. 

Since maladaptive daydreaming is connected to other mental health conditions, professionals can use diagnostic tools intended for things like ADHD and anxiety to help get to the bottom of your condition.1 

There are also two tools specific to maladaptive daydreaming that can help you and your doctor better understand how it affects you and the best ways to treat it:

  1. Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale-16 (MDS-16)1
  2. Structured Clinical Interview for Maladaptive Daydreaming (SCIMD)5

The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale is a self-reporting tool, while the second is a script doctors can use to determine whether you suffer from maladaptive daydreams. Professor Eliezer Somer, who also came up with the term “maladaptive daydreaming,” designed both.5  

Mental health therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help relieve maladaptive daydreaming symptoms and reduce your dependence on it as a coping mechanism.4 

CBT is a common talk therapy that focuses on self-reflection—discussing your thinking and behavioral patterns to better understand the way your mind works, and finding positive ways to change it.

If you’ve lost control of your thoughts due to maladaptive daydreaming, CBT therapy may be able to help you regain it. 

How to Seek Help for Maladaptive Daydreams

Getting help for any mental health condition is often easier said than done. And since maladaptive daydreaming does not have a formal diagnosis, it’s even more difficult to find proper care. 

Some doctors aren’t familiar with maladaptive daydreaming, but with the high rates of overlap with other common conditions, there are many who will understand. When looking for a therapist or psychiatrist, check which conditions they specialize in. Those who are experts in anxiety, OCD, or ADHD may be able to help you more effectively than others.1

If you already see a mental health professional for a separate mental health condition, consider asking them about your maladaptive daydreaming and what they would suggest to treat it. 

Maladaptive Daydream Prevention and Home Remedies

In combination with therapy and medication, there are some at-home strategies you can use to reduce and prevent maladaptive daydreams. You can4:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene for better sleep quality
  • Develop healthy habits, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly 
  • Reduce stress by doing calming activities or practicing breathing exercises
  • Lean on friends and family for additional support when you need it

By seeking treatment and making lifestyle changes, not only will you be able to lessen the effects of maladaptive daydreaming, you’ll be able to relieve other mental health conditions that may be causing it. 

Casper Helps You Sleep Soundly, to Live in the Moment

Maladaptive daydreaming poses a threat to your overall happiness and well-being. But you have the power to take back control of your mind by developing positive sleep habits. 

Leave the dreaming for when you’re asleep by practicing better sleep hygiene: 

  1. Follow a consistent bedtime and sleep schedule
  2. Do calming activities before bed
  3. Make your sleeping environment as comfortable as possible, starting with a good mattress. Learn how to choose a mattress in our guide.

Casper makes it easy to get quality night’s sleep with mattresses, pillows, and bedding designed for maximum comfort and support. If you need help finding the perfect fit, chat with one of our Sleep Specialists today. 


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Maladaptive Daydreaming. 
  2. The MIT Press Reader. Daydreaming and Concentration: What the Science Says. 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Dissociative Disorders. 
  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Maladaptive daydreaming: What it is and how to stop it. 
  5. Healthline. Maladaptive Daydreaming. 
  6. Cleveland Clinic. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.