Common Nightmares: What Do They Mean?

scared woman in her bed in the clouds at night
Tired of bad dreams? You're not alone, friend. Let's talk about some of the most common nightmares, what they mean, and how to get better sleep tonight.

According to Medium, about 50% of adults deal with nightmares occasionally, with around 1% claiming their bad dreams are upsetting enough to seek medical and psychiatric help. While nightmares do cause sleep disturbances, they don’t have to. In most cases, alleviating them is within your control. The first step to a better night’s sleep is knowing what your nightmares might mean.

While dreams will always be somewhat mysterious, understanding the meaning of common nightmares may help you prevent them. After all, our nightmares are connected to what we fear, both consciously and subconsciously. So if you have a better understanding of the things you’re afraid of, you’ll be better able to address and overcome them.

Also, not all nightmares should be viewed as “bad,” even though they’re certainly not pleasant. Various experts say some unsettling themes in dreams are a sign of something good on the way, especially positive change. And good or bad, dreams can always be informative, so pay attention.

Here are some of the most common nightmares, their general meanings, and how to take more pleasant trips to slumberland, more often than not.

You’re Being Chased

woman running away in high heels

Being chased is one of the most common recurring nightmares on earth. Experts say that no matter who (or what) is chasing you, these dreams indicate feelings of nervousness or concern about a lack of progress in your life. Is there a goal you’re worried you won’t reach? Are you falling behind at work? If you’re bothered by a feeling of not moving fast enough in any area of your life, your chances of being chased in a dream are probably high.

First thing’s first, it might be time to give yourself a break. Experts say that dreams about being chased are most commonly related to heightened stress, ongoing stress, and self-induced pressure. If you’re literally running from something in your dream, you are avoiding it, whatever it may represent.

Are you afraid to confront something? Your brain is initiating this chase, so perhaps deep down, you know it’s something you need to (or will have to) face.

Your Teeth Are Falling Out

woman holding her jaw in pain and confusion

It might sound strange, but dreams where teeth fall out are incredibly common for adults. And they’re also incredibly disturbing, for that matter.

Maybe they all fall out in the sink or maybe you notice one tooth is coming loose when it shouldn’t be and you wiggle it around. No matter how many teeth fall out or how, these dreams are most commonly believed to be self-esteem related. Also, many psychologists associate teeth-related dreams with worries about losing your power.

And here’s a fun, yet freaky fact: women in the early stages of pregnancy often report dreams where they swallow their teeth, oftentimes before they even knew they were pregnant. Chew on that one for a minute.


a light blue nocturnal snake on a dark blue background hissing

There are a lot of theories for why we dream about snakes, but anxiety is at the root of most of them. According to professional dream analysts, this common dream archetype typically represents someone in the dreamer’s life who exhibits toxic, threatening, dishonest, or poisonous behavior.

Aside from the somewhat obvious symbolism, it’s important to note how the snakes made you feel to understand their meaning.

According to experts from The Cut, if the dream was terror-inducing, it relates to the threat of a toxic person. If you felt calm, it may relate to a health issue or healing. And if you encounter multiple snakes, you might be dealing with a complex situation in your everyday life that is causing you ongoing stress.

You’re Falling

woman having nightmare with hands in the air

Dreams about falling are ranked as one of the most common nightmares of all time, and of people of all ages. Often, you’ll wake up with a jolt, as if you’ve suddenly dropped to your bed. But there’s usually a fairly logical, not-so-scary explanation for most dreams like this.

Various sleep experts believe these nightmares are most commonly caused by your brain mistaking the sensation of your body relaxing as the feeling of falling. If you’re under stress, it can also be a sign that you’re feeling out of control in some way.

Again, look at how the dream made you feel when it was happening to make even more sense of what’s really going on.


woman in surrealist concept with her whole living room filling up with water and tropical fish

Have you ever had one of those dreams where it starts to rain and soon, it’s flooding? How about a room that fills up with water? What about the dream with one natural disaster after another? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Then Tsunamis? Oh my.

The good news is, the reason for it likely has nothing to do with horrific weather on the way. A flood of any kind tends to represent repressed thoughts and feelings, or your tendency to repress things. In our minds, the sight of one natural disaster often triggers another, especially as we began to panic or become distressed within the dream. Have you ever been in a nightmare that turns from bad to worse, and then somehow, even worse? It’s usually caused by our emotional responses to the negative occurrences in the dream itself.

Floods are believed to be the most common because of the idea of “spilling out” and “overflowing.” Natural disasters, and water-related disasters in particular, are thought to represent new beginnings. Because while mother nature’s fury may be seen as destructive, it’s also a natural shift in motion. In other words, a negative situation may be coming to an end very soon. The rainbow after the storm, if you will.

You’re Naked

woman with eyes wide open with surprise hiding lower face behind blanket in bed

Have you ever dreamed that you’re naked in an inappropriate place at a completely inappropriate time? Or at the very least, missing your left shoe?

This type of dream is believed to indicate that you’re feeling vulnerable in some area of your life. Take note of how you feel and where you’re at. Are you giving a presentation at work in your underwear? Are you back in your middle school in your pajamas? We’ve all been there.

These wardrobe malfunctions or lack of clothing all have similar themes, including feeling embarrassed, feeling out of sorts, being afraid to make mistakes, and above all else, feeling overexposed in some way. As for the time-traveling to high school or a house we no longer live in, you may be psychologically returning to a time in your life when you also felt vulnerable.

You’re Trapped

woman trapped behind railing holding onto the bars

This is another common, and pretty self-explanatory, occurrence for many adults. Perhaps you’re stuck in a room with no windows or doors, or maybe you’re in a plane that’s about to crash. The common denominator is: you feel restricted and you cannot escape.

So if you’re dreaming about being trapped, examine your day-to-day life. Where do you feel your hands are tied? Are you behind a gate? On a moving train? Or even in your bedroom? What is holding you back from getting where you need to be? The nature of your dream entrapment might hold the answer, so think about it. And it’s never a bad time to start a dream journal. You will likely get to the bottom of it.

Getting Lost

woman lost in woods grabbing her head in confusion

Nobody likes to feel lost. But nightmares about it are incredibly common. According to an expert from the Huffington Post, “Dreams about being lost or searching for something that is lost usually denote anxiety. They evoke feelings of confusion and frustration, or even a sense of feeling you don’t fit in.”

If the dream is about a missing object, consider what the object might symbolize. And again, write it down. You may not know what it means today, but the answer might hit you when you least expect it, especially as you continue to keep track of your dreams, both good and bad.

Also, if you find yourself lost but it doesn’t feel nightmarish, don’t try to find your way out just yet. Stay there. Some experts suggest setting an intention before bed to allow yourself to be lost in your dreams for the sake of discovery. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.


family of spiders in orange pot in front of Christmas decorations

According to Cosmpolitan, your dreams about spiders could be more important than you think. Spiders, like snakes, have carried their own spooky symbolism for centuries now, especially in our dreams. They are believed to represent things like lying, cheating, deceit, dishonesty, destruction, betrayal, and of course, the tangled webs we weave.

But spiders, also like snakes, relate most directly to fear and generally negative energy. If you are seeing a spider, ask yourself what you might be afraid of in your daily life. If you come up empty-handed, it might be time to address your own levels of negativity, which can be toxic to your health.

Have you ever heard of hypnagogic hallucinations? It’s something that happens where people hallucinate spiders right before they fall asleep or immediately after waking up. It’s considered a “sleep hallucination.” While it can be caused by substance abuse or new medication, it is most commonly associated with anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

Point being, seeing spiders that aren’t there, in your waking or dream life, most commonly indicates the need for a lifestyle change of some kind for the sake of your sleeping patterns.

Overcoming Nightmares

woman sitting on bed with sun rising

Obviously, our nightmares tend to mirror our emotions. Sometimes, the explanation for what we are seeing has to do with our own association with the symbol. If you are afraid of snakes, and you’re feeling afraid already, snakes may start to appear everywhere. It may be as simple as that. But if a dream happens repeatedly, that’s when you might want to pay attention and deal with what is in front of you. After all, you’re showing it to yourself.

While there are many theories about our nightmares and their meanings, bad dreams may simply be a symptom of not getting adequate sleep. The best way to cure them may be to reevaluate your sleeping habits and lifestyle. For example, you might want to cut back on alcohol or caffeine, especially right before bed. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise throughout the day. Maybe try some relaxation techniques before bedtime, such as meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, or a warm, soothing bath. Also, don’t eat right before bed. Your raised metabolism can trigger nightmares and generally unsettling dreams.

No matter what, try to keep a routine sleep schedule for better sleep. The better you’re sleeping on a regular basis, the sweeter your dreams will probably be. If your recurring nightmares won’t stop, there may be a deeper emotional or psychological problem at play. So don’t dismiss how those dreams make you feel too quickly. And if you don’t feel like sorting it out alone, talking to a counselor or psychologist can do wonders.

Above all else, remember that your nightmares are only as powerful as you allow them to be, dream weaver.

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