Whether you remember them or not, we all have dreams.
Prominent psychologists from the late 19th and early 20th century, like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, had many thoughts on dreams and what they meant, but it’s safe to say that psychology has evolved since their time. Since we’re supposed to spend a third of our day sleeping, it’s important to know what your dreams mean. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common types of dreams and what they possibly mean for you.
1. Dreams about Losing Teeth
I’ve never met someone who has never had a dream where their teeth fall out. Psychologists have a few theories about this dream, including self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and being insecure about your appearance. With high rates of anxiety and depression among young Americans, it’s not surprising that this is such a common dream.
It can also be about a sense of losing control, as psychiatrist Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios says, “It may feel like you’ve lost control and power over your life or certain events.” However, having this dream doesn’t mean you’re a control freak. Sometimes something like the death of a loved one can cause these feelings (I had this dream all of the time when my grandparents passed away), as it’s a traumatic loss you had no control over and would likely want to change.
2. Dreams about Running Late
Another very common dream, dreams about running late usually relate to stress (that’s definitely a common theme among weird and recurring dreams) or the anxiety that comes along with something important like a new job or an important speech at school. Dream expert Pam Muller says, "While each dream has an individual interpretation or meaning based on the dreamer [themself], I would suggest that in general, running late in a dream can be an expression of anxiety or stress related to time in waking life." We have many fears when it comes to major events, and showing up late is a big one when it can be detrimental. Dreaming about being late is your subconscious way of processing this fear.
3. Dreams about Showing Up Naked
This dream is often about – you guessed it – anxiety! Similar to dreams about running late, it can be an expression of anxiety relating to an important event. Even worse than running late is showing up naked, so your brain likes to envision the worst-case scenario. Rev. Connie L. Habash, author of Awakening From Anxiety, believes it’s also related to self-doubt. She says, "This is often an out-picturing of the feeling of vulnerability, of being exposed. It helps to have a good friend or a therapist who can listen to you and compassionately support you as you express vulnerable emotions, so that you can feel safe in sharing vulnerability."
This makes sense because what’s more vulnerable than being naked in front of a crowd? If you have these dreams frequently, it’s a good idea to take Habash’s advice and talk about it with a friend or therapist. Sometimes vocalizing your feelings is enough to let your fears leave your subconscious.
4. Dreams about Falling
Dreams about falling can be related to many things, and it ultimately comes down to where and how you’re falling in your dream. Dreams about tripping and falling can be about a fear of not being good enough, dreams about falling from great heights can be related to anxiety, and dreams about falling while trying to fall asleep are related to your brain trying to protect your body from falling.
Ever have the feeling you’re just about asleep and then your whole body jerks and suddenly you’re wide awake? Clinical psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff says, “This sensation is triggered by an involuntary muscle movement called a hypnic jerk…This happens when your body is transitioning between wakefulness and light sleep – or the hypnagogic state. Your body is entering a state of deep relaxation in preparation for sleep, but the brain can misinterpret it as the body falling and therefore being in danger. So the hypnic jerk serves the purpose to knock you back into full consciousness.” In short, this dream is more biological than psychological, but it’s never a fun one to have.
5. Dreams about Flying
One of the few dreams that has nothing to do with anxiety, dreams about flying are often related to wanting something more out of life. Psychotherapist Jeffrey Sumber says, "Usually, they occur when we are dealing with issues of freedom, momentum, or a lack thereof. These dreams can be purely informational in the sense that they highlight an experience we are having, but have not yet been conscious of." It’s the “there must be more than this provincial life” of dreams.
6. Dreams about Discovering a New Room
Similar to dreams about falling, the meaning behind dreams in which you discover a new room depends on where and how you have the dream. Dream expert Stephanie Gailing says these dreams point to where you’re learning more about your own fears and desires or are yearning to grow and expand.
She says, "If you're in your own home, maybe it would say that there's something in your own turf or the places that feel more close to you that you can discover something is hidden. If it's in some foreign or unknown place, then it may be a more generic concern or focus, rather than something more internal and more emotional."
7. Dreams about Sex
Like some of the other dreams on this list, the meaning of these dreams depends on the setting or person you’re having sex with. If the dream is about infidelity, depending on who’s doing the cheating, you’re likely either insecure in your relationship or want something more out of your relationship.
If you’re dreaming about sleeping with someone you shouldn’t be sleeping with, it doesn’t mean you actually desire to have sex with this person. There’s a good chance that you’re just close with the person (*cough* your ex's best friend) and your dream is a way of your brain manifesting it, so as long as your intentions are pure when you're awake, you shouldn’t overthink this type of dream.
Alternatively, you could just be ovulating! A Journal of Sex Research study discovered that women have more sex dreams around the time of ovulation. Make sense, as your libido would naturally be at its height!
8. Dreams about Being Chased
These dreams are both common and distressing, and there are several possible reasons why we have them, including intense stress, anxiety, and “avoiding something you’d rather not face.”
According to therapist and dream expert Leslie Ellis, it’s a mix of all three. She says, "Being chased is an image for the 'flight' part of the fight-or-flight response – our body's initial reaction to threat. It's fair to say the dreamer is activated and feeling threatened in some way." I remember having these dreams at the beginning of the pandemic because I felt a strong sense of uncertainty, and my anxiety often caused me to avoid responsibilities. It’s best to discuss these dreams with a therapist, as getting to the root of these scary dreams is key to making them go away.
9. Dreams about Pregnancy
Dreams about being pregnant can have to do with a desire to become pregnant in the near or distant future, but there’s also a chance that it has nothing to do with a baby. Dream expert Theresa Cheung says, "Your dreaming mind may be suggesting to start with self-nurturing. Look within yourself for loving acceptance rather than externally."
It can also represent something new coming into your life. Dream expert Lauri Loewenber says, “If you’re not pregnant nor trying to get pregnant and you dream that you are, it means something new is in the works in your life. To the dreaming mind, it represents ‘a new life’ for you.”
10. Dreams about Spiders and Snakes
Spiders and snakes are creepy IRL, but they find a way to be creepier in our dreams. Dreams about spiders often have to do with feeling trapped (hence the spider web) or generalized anxiety. Psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg says, “While they are typically small in size, spiders are so creepy (and crunchy!)...[they can] invade our personal space, or worse, crawl onto our bodies. For this reason, dreams about spiders are indicative of subconscious anxiety about feeling vulnerable and out-of-control of some aspect of our lives.”
A dream about a snake (or, even worse, snakes) can mean several different things. It could be a wake-up call about something toxic in your life, your subconscious letting you know that you should listen to your gut. They don’t call sketchy or shady people snakes for no reason, so always listen to your gut when you have a bad feeling about someone.
Dreams can have many meanings. Some are literal (like when you’re dreaming about trying to find a bathroom and then wake up because you actually need one) and some are symbolic, but they can almost always tell you something about yourself. Though psychology has evolved since the days of Freud and Jung, they both made a good call by focusing on the deeper meaning of dreams.
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