Daydreaming is a normal experience for a lot of people, but it can become intrusive and frequent, causing issues with everyday tasks at work, school, or leisure time.

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When daydreaming becomes intrusive and stops you from engaging in normal social activities, it is known as maladaptive daydreaming.

Though not an official condition, it may be a way to help you cope with or means to escape an unpleasant reality.

In 2002, Professor Eli Somer described maladaptive daydreaming for the first time as a possible escape or coping mechanism from trauma or abuse. This form of daydreaming may involve long periods of structured fantasy that can interfere with work, school, and other functions.

According to a small 2018 Polish study, maladaptive daydreaming has some similarities to behavioral addictions. Behavioral addictions involve a compulsion to engage in activities despite negative impact on a person’s mental or physical health or ability to function in the community, work, school, or home.

Despite the similarities to diagnosable conditions, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR)doesn’t have an entry for maladaptive daydreaming. Due to its potential to interfere with a person’s life, some experts are calling for maladaptive daydreaming to get a specific diagnosis.

Still others suspect that it may result from an unidentified clinical syndrome or possibly share characteristics of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

What is maladaptive daydreaming caused by?

Some possible reasons a person may engage in maladaptive daydreaming include:

  • finding it rewarding enough to not want to stop
  • an attempt to escape your real-world trauma or abuse
  • dissociative tendencies or excessive focus on your internal thoughts
  • seek it as a way to find a way around real-world issues that seem insurmountable

Maladaptive daydreaming is still not a recognized medical condition. This means that you may find doctors or others familiar with its occurrence describe it with some different symptoms.

Possible symptoms you may experience if you have maladaptive daydreaming could include:

  • distress or stress that your daydreaming is interfering with daily life
  • finding that you’re not as engaged with work, school, or other activities
  • sleep interruption or trouble falling asleep
  • finding that your daydreams start due to triggers, such as watching a movie or TV show
  • experiencing vivid daydreams
  • having trouble focusing on tasks at hand, which may be similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Difference between daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming

Everyone daydreams from time to time. For example, you may find it difficult to focus on work or school on a Friday as you prepare for your time off over the weekend.

While daydreaming occurs on occasion and may affect your focus and productivity for a short time, maladaptive daydreaming may happen much more frequently. According to 2016 research, the main distinctive features include:

  • the content of your daydream
  • your ability to control the dreams
  • frequency of daydreaming
  • your own experience, which includes feeling distressed over their occurrence
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Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t a diagnosable condition, which means a doctor can’t provide a formal diagnosis of the condition.

If a doctor, psychologist, or other mental health professional suspects you may have maladaptive daydreaming, they may use the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale. This 14-point scale is self-graded and helps you or a healthcare professional determine to get a gauge of abnormal fantasizing activity.

Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to classify the condition as a psychiatric disorder, but people may engage in detachment from reality similar to a formal disorder. But people who engage in it often realize they’re daydreaming.

Because mental healthcare workers can’t formally diagnose you with maladaptive daydreaming, there’s no formal course of treatment.

In fact, there’s little evidence to support the use of formal medical treatments for the condition.

Coping strategies

You may find you can take some informal steps to manage your daydreaming if you find it is a problem. Some tips include:

  • get enough sleep each night
  • try to figure out and avoid your triggers
  • pay attention to your own symptoms
  • try to identify when you’re engaging in daydreaming

If these fail, you may find that speaking to a mental health care professional may help.

Even if they can’t formally diagnose you with maladaptive daydreaming, they may be able to provide you with additional coping strategies or help rule out other possible causes.


The drugs used to treat anxiety or OCD may be effective in reducing the symptoms of daydreaming. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional about medication options if the above strategies don’t work.

Cognitive behavior therapy

Some evidence suggests that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or mindfulness meditation may help. In a 2018 case study, researchers found that the person reduced their daydreaming by about 50%. Similar to the use of fluvoxamine, this may not apply to a broader population.

Maladaptive daydreaming occurs when you have trouble controlling your daydreaming. They often occur spontaneously and frequently. When it occurs, you may find that you experience less productivity at home, work, or school.

Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t a formal mental health condition. You can’t get diagnosed with the condition, but mental health care professionals may be able to identify and help you cope with the condition.

This may include formal therapies, like cognitive behavior therapy, or coping strategies like avoiding known triggers.