9 Common Dreams and What They Might Mean (2024)

Most of us have had that dream. You know, the one where you're being chased by someone you may or may not know. You're likely running at full speed until you realize you've run right off a cliff. You scream, but nothing comes out, and suddenly, wake up in a pool of sweat. But what did it mean?

The subject of dream interpretation has been of interest for many years, and for good reason. Understanding the deeper meaning of dreams can help us realize how we feel and think, which can be good for providing personal insight.

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Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring therapist and dream interpreter Jesse Lyon, shares science-backed strategies that you can use to better understand your dreams. Click below to listen now.

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Understanding Dream Interpretations

Famed psychoanalystSigmund Freuddescribed dreams as the "royal road" to theunconsciousand suggested that by studying the obvious content of dreams, we could bring to light the hidden and unconscious desires that lead toneurosis.

Analyzing dream symbols and ascribing meaning to them has become a source of both entertainment and self-reflection in popular culture. Do dreams mean anything? Can you learn your unconscious wishes and desires by interpreting your dreams?

Dreams are the time in our life when we're creating new neural connections and processing the experiences we've had in our waking life.

What your dreams tell you and whether they reveal your true feelings depends on various factors. While some modern theories of dreams suggest that the answer is no—that dreams may have a more biological component or even be due to sleep position—this hasn't stopped interpreters and analysts from attempting to identify what common dream themes and symbols mean.

7 Most Common Dreams

Researchers have found that the seven most common dreams involve being attacked or chased, being late, loved ones dying, falling, flying, school, and sex.

Let's take a closer look at some of the most common dreams and what dream interpretation books have to say about them.

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9 Common Dreams and Their Interpretations

Dreams About Falling

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Dreams about falling from great heights are very common. While there is a popular myth that if you hit the ground in your dream you will die in real life, it simply is not true. So what exactly could dreams about falling really mean?

According to many popular dream interpretations and at least one study, falling dreams are a sign that something in your life isn't going well. It might suggest that you need to rethink a choice, for instance, or consider a new direction in some area of your life.

"Dreaming of falling is very common. It is a symbol of fear in real life— perhaps of failing at work or in your love life," says Russell Grant, author of "The Illustrated Dream Dictionary." He adds that "Falling often expresses a need to let yourself go more and enjoy life more."

Dreams About Being Naked in Public

Have you ever had one of those awkward dreams where you show up at school or the office in your birthday suit? Don't worry. Dreaming about being naked is hardly unusual.

Penney Peirce, the author of "Dream Dictionary for Dummies," suggests that dreaming of public nudity might indicate that you feel like a phony or that you are afraid of revealing your imperfections and shortcomings.

Dreams About Being Chased

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Dreams that feature being pursued by a known or unknown attacker can be particularly terrifying. And many people experience these types of dreams. But what do dreams of being chased say about what's going on inside your mind?

Dream interpreters often suggest that such dreams mean that you are trying to avoid something in your daily life. Tony Crisp, the author of "Dream Dictionary," suggests that being chased in a dream might indicate a desire to escape from your own fears or desires.

The key to understanding what such a dream might mean depends partly on the identity of your pursuer. If it is:

  • An animal: You might be hiding from your own anger, passions, and other feelings.
  • An unknown chaser: If your pursuer is a mysterious, unknown figure, it might represent a childhood experience or past trauma.
  • A member of the opposite sex: Crisp suggests this means you are afraid of love or haunted by a past relationship.

Dreams About Losing Teeth

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What do dreams mean if your teeth fall out? Penney Peirce, the author of "Dream Dictionary for Dummies," suggests that dreaming about losing teeth can have multiple meanings.

It might mean that you are worried about your attractiveness or appearance, for instance. It may also indicate that you are concerned about your ability to communicate, or that you are concerned that you might have said something embarrassing.

"The real essence of teeth is their ability to bite through, to cut, tear, and grind," she explains. "If your teeth fall out, you lose personal power and your ability to be assertive, decisive, and self-protective."

Dreams About Dying

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Death is another common subject of dreamsand one that can be particularly disconcerting. Dreamers sometimes dream of the death of a loved one or even of dying themselves. Popular dream interpretations suggest that such dreams reflect anxiety about change or a fear of the unknown.

"Like death, change can be scary because—also like death—we do not know what is 'on the other side' of the change, which is why the dreaming mind equates change with death," suggests Lauri Loewenberg in her book "Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life."

Like death, change can be scary because—also like death—we do not know what is 'on the other side' of the change, which is why the dreaming mind equates change with death.

Loewenberg also believes that dreaming about the death of a loved one can reflect a similar fear of change, especially about our children. As a child grows up, a parent's mind begins to wonder where the younger version of the child went. Dreams of dying, therefore, reflect a sort of mourning for the passage of time.

Studies have also shown that those approaching the end of life and loved ones around them experience significant and meaningful dreams, often relating to a comforting presence, preparing to go, watching or engaging with the deceased, loved ones waiting, distressing experiences, and unfinished business.

What Does It Mean When You Dream of Someone Who Has Died?

Dreams About Taking a Test

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Studies have also found that dreams of test-taking are common. According to Craig Hamilton-Parker, author of "The Hidden Meaning of Dreams," taking an exam in your dream might reveal an underlying fear of failure.

"Examinations are stressful experiences in which you are made to face up to your shortcomings," he writes. "To dream of failing an exam, being late for one, or being unprepared shows that you feel unprepared for the challenges of waking life."

Dreams About Infidelity

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Dreaming that your spouse or partner is cheating on you with someone else can be super stressful. In some cases, we might even start to wonder if the dream might really be true. Does dreaming that your partner is unfaithful mean that it might happen? Or that it is already happening?

While these dreams might be the reflection of fears of infidelity, such dreams probably don't mean that your spouse is cheating or will cheat, say Trish and Rob MacGregor, authors of "Complete Dream Dictionary: A Bedside Guide to Knowing What Your Dreams Mean."

"This is another 'what if' dream–you are testing the limits of reality," the authors suggest.

Eve Adamson and Gayle Williamson, authors of "The Complete Idiot's Guide Dream Dictionary," posit that dreams about infidelity indicate issues with trust, loyalty, and communication in a relationship. "If you or your partner cheated in your dream, one of you isn't getting what you need from that relationship right now," they write.

Dreams About Flying

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Many people experience dreams about flying. Flying dreams can be exciting and even liberating,but they can also sometimes be quite frightening (especially for those afraid of heights).

According to Tony Crisp, author of "Dream Dictionary," dreams about flying often have two very different sides. They can represent feelings of freedom and independence. On the other hand, they can also indicate a desire to flee or escape from the realities of life.

"Flying alone occurs most frequently," he writes, "showing the independent aspect of flying. But because it often involves positive feelings of pleasure, flying may depict our sexuality…especially aspects of it expressing freedom from social norms and restraints."

Dreams About Pregnancy

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Dream interpreters often suggest that dreams about pregnancy represent everything from creativity to fear. David C. Lohff, the author of "Dream Dictionary," believes that pregnancy dreams might sometimes represent a woman's fears of being an inadequate mother.

Author Tony Crisp, has a different take, suggesting that pregnancy dreams indicate that the dreamer is developing some area of potential or deepening a relationship. Dream interpreter Russell Grant writes that these dreams presage difficult times.

More Common Dream Themes

There are other dream themes that tend to be fairly common. They include:

  • Discovering new rooms or passages
  • Being dressed inappropriately
  • Being unable to find a toilet
  • Arriving someplace late
  • Having a massive wave approaching you
  • Finding money

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does it mean when you dream about someone?

    Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that if you dream about someone close to you or someone who is important to you, that might represent how you feel about that person in real life; whereas if you dream about a person you are not close with (such as someone in your past) or an unknown person, that person is more symbolic.

    Sigmund Freud suggested that the environment around the person you're dreaming about may matter as well, such as dreaming of your parents in places you would normally find a king and queen, which would be a sign of your respect for them.

  • How accurate are dream interpretations?

    There is no way to answer this question with any certainty as dream interpretations are both individual and subjective. They are individual in that the meaning of dreams for one person may not be the same for another. Dream interpretations are also subjective in that they are based on the meanings that you assign them, and these assigned meanings can also differ from one person to the next.

  • Why are dream interpretations important in psychoanalysis?

    The self-organization theory of dreaming implies that dreams are a reflection of one's physiological and psychological activities, thus providing important information about the person's thoughts and emotional state. Psychoanalysts can then use the person's dreams to better understand what is going on in their mind, perhaps on an unconscious level.

  • What do sexual dreams mean?

    Some studies suggest that having sexual dreams is a result of your thoughts and fantasies when you're awake, with more frequent thoughts about sex contributing to more of these dreams. Others connect dreaming about sex with a desire to be in a sexually stimulating situation. These types of dreams are common, with more than 95% of people reporting having dreams that are erotic in nature.

  • What do recurring dreams mean?

    Some researchers theorize that regular, recurring dreams represent being frustrated about psychological needs that are unmet. Recurring dreams are also common after experiencing a lot of mental distress, such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Learn More:Understanding Recurring Nightmares

  • What do vivid dreams mean?

    In some cases, having vivid or highly intense dreams is a result of major trauma, with some studies showing increases in these types of dreams post-9/11.

    Dreams that are vivid generally occur during REM sleep and could also be due to fragmented sleep, sleep deprivation, a sleep disorder, stress, pregnancy, or a medication you are taking.

Keep in Mind

Do some of these dream interpretations seem accurate? If not, don't worry—your dreams are unique and highly personal. In all likelihood, the things we experience in our dreams probably reflect the concerns we face in our daily existence or of recent events.

How do you analyze a dream? The first step is to write down everything you can remember as soon as you wake. Dreams are often quickly forgotten, so jotting down the details can help aid in recall. Next, look at the dream's contents and think about what it might mean in your life. What association do you have with the events of the dream? What kind of feelings did it evoke? In many cases, you may find that your dream reflects the events or concerns of your waking life.

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9 Common Dreams and What They Might Mean (2024)
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