14 Common Dream Interpretations and What They Actually Mean (2024)

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Dreams can feel stunningly real, leave us shaken, and surprise us with their surreal storylines. But do they actually mean anything? Sigmund Freud, the famed neurologist and founder of modern-day psychoanalysis, had a lot to say about how we might interpret the visual, emotional, and cognitive sensations we experience while asleep. He believed our dreams are actually the disguised representations of our unconscious desires, thoughts, wishes, and motivations. It's a theory is still very much alive today.

“Throughout history, there has been both fascination and debate about what dreams are, what causes them, what they mean, and the benefit they may carry,” wellness astrologer and author of “The Complete Book of DreamsStephanie Gailing explains. “Since antiquity, they have maintained a very important role in cultures across the globe, revered for their visionary wisdom.”

The act of trying to suss out the possible meaning of dreams can be traced as far back as the ancient Sumerian civilization, when many people used them as prophetic guides and to help them make important decisions. According to Gailing, it wasn't until the early 20th century—and the birth of modern psychology—that dreams were seen as a reflection of the subconscious. Nowadays, it's common to interpret dreams in order to better understand our overall well-being.

Thea Gallagher, PsyD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, breaks down dreams, which typically occur in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage where images or stories play out in our minds, into three types: a pleasant dream with an ideal outcome, one with a less preferred outcome (or oftentimes a bizarre one), and a nightmare. What these dreams mean is personal and can vary; it all depends on the dreamer.

“Dreams can show us things that we are experiencing in waking life but are not acknowledged in our conscious minds,” explains Gailing. “Either because we don’t have space to process them or we don’t want to deal with certain feelings or thoughts.”

Though the interpretation of dreams will be different for everyone, there are universal themes that pop up and are worth looking into if you're trying to figure out what you're own dreams might mean. Consider this your crash course in basic dream analysis—or, a handy little dream dictionary, just for you. Read on for 14 of the most common types of dreams and what they could mean for you.

Dreams of Being Pregnant

Depending on what is going on in your life, being pregnant in a dream can mean totally different things. Gailing says it’s important to look at the details of your dream to help flesh out the overall meaning. You’ll also want to explore how you’re feeling after the dream; she says your emotional reaction can provide insights into what the dream might mean to you personally.

“For example, if you have a dream about being pregnant, and you have been working hard on a creative project, the dream may relate to this period of creativity you are experiencing and how you feel about it,” she explains. “It’s always important to take the dream into context of what is happening in a person’s waking life.”

Dreams of Falling

If you’re dreaming about being in a free fall, Gailing says it could mean that you feel out of control and don’t “have steady footing” in some aspect of your life. On the other end of that spectrum, however, she says that if you find yourself falling in a dream but then start flying, it could represent freedom and trusting the timing of your life.

Dreams of Being Chased

Someone chasing you in your dreams is another sign that you might not feel in control. Gailing says it could signify a couple of different fears, such as concern that someone is out to get you or that you’re avoiding certain responsibilities.

Dreams of Flying

Whether you’re dreaming of flying like a bird or cos-playing your favorite Marvel superhero, Gailing says that the vivid dream of flying symbolizes freedom and a need for adventure. However if the dream turns into you falling as you fly, it could also mean you feel ungrounded. So remember to try to pay attention to what’s going on in the dream and how you feel.

Dreams of Death

An obvious reading, Gailing says, of dreaming about death is that it could signify your internal fear about dying. But here’s another way she says that you can look at it: it could just be giving you a sense that a chapter or situation in your life is coming to an end—and that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

Dreams of Your Teeth Falling Out

One of the most common dreams people tend to have is one that involves teeth falling out. Gailing says that there are three main dream interpretations for this. First, it could signify some sort of rebirth and transformation, as you’re releasing something old and making space for something new. The other two are more introspective and could signify feeling some sort of loss of control or internal concerns about how you present in public.

Dreams of Being Late or Missing a Deadline

These habits of tardiness showing up in your dreams usually shows some sort of worry you have internally. Gailing says that it could represent worrying about a lost opportunity or stress around your relationship with time. It could also show that you’re overwhelmed by being overcommitted with responsibilities.

Dreams of Being Naked in Public

Have you recently fallen flat on your face while walking through a crowd? Or accidentally liked an old photo of an ex while on a social media (read: stalking) deep dive? If you’re not one to brush it off and keep it moving, those embarrassed feelings may manifest in dreamland as you sleep. If you find yourself dreaming about being naked in public, Gailing says it’s most likely connected to a recent embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in.

Dreams of Infidelity

The good news: dreaming of infidelity isn’t necessarily a sign from the universe that you’re with the wrong person or that you’re tapping into some psychic ability to predict the demise of your current relationship. The bad news: you might be dealing with trust issues in general and operating from a place of fear. Both Gallagher and Gailing say that if you’re not feeling secure or have been betrayed in the past, it’s normal to have those subconscious feelings of distrust creep up. Maybe you’re having this dream because a partner has cheated on you in the past or you’re scared something will ruin a beautiful current connection. Just remember, it’s important to ground yourself rather than lash out over this particular dream.

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“Relationships are one [thing] that can conjure up a lot of uncertainty because we don’t know…there’s so many things that could happen in a relationship,” says Gallagher. “I think if it’s really something that has no evidence based in the present, it’s about saying ‘I got to live my life’ and engage with this without knowing every possible outcome.”

Dreams of Phobias

No one wants to see insects, snakes, or any sort of creature they’re afraid of while they’re sleeping. So why is your unconscious mind doing you dirty in your dreams? Gailing says that if you’re dreaming of your phobias, you’re most likely afraid of not having control in some situation in your life. “[You’re] face to face with something that haunts or scares you,” she says.

She adds that certain animals and what those animals are doing represent different types of fears. For example, a snake in your dream shedding its skin could mean you are going through a transformation or releasing an old version of yourself that no longer suits your current timeline. A rat, on the other hand, could reflect that you’re hiding or shunning something.

Dreams of Your Ex

Don’t let the TikTok tarot cards fool you: a dream about your ex isn’t their way of manifesting you back into their lives. So before you undo all that healing by breaking the “no contact rule,” both Gailing and Thea want you to take a step back and evaluate your feelings surrounding that dream. “Were you thrilled, horrified, or puzzled that your ex starred in your dream? Also, what’s your relationship with your ex? Do you never want to see them again [or] do you pine for them? Do you regret or feel shame that you broke up? The context is super important here in understanding what the dream is revealing,” says Gailing.

Once you process your feelings about the dream (and your ex), you can then determine whether or not you're harboring any unresolved emotions about the relationship. Gallagher says it’s normal to think about people in your past who you’ve had a significant relationship with, but it doesn’t always have to a deeper meaning about the specific person. “What do you want to do about [the dream]?” asks Gallagher. “Sometimes people struggle with ‘I regret that I broke up with this person’ or ‘I feel sadness that they cheated on me.’ [They also think], ‘I just feel like it was the wrong time, wrong place, and what could have been.’ I think processing those feelings is really important with our relationships.”

Dreams that Feel Like a Premonition

Better known as precognitive dreams, Gailing says, “These are the ones in which you dream of an event that has yet to occur, only for it to happen later. Some people [believe] that they are able to foretell the future through their dreams while others don’t sense that their dreams are precognitive until after an event that they dreamed about occurs.”

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But not every dream is a precognitive dream and you shouldn’t live in fear thinking you’ve predicted your future every time you sleep. Instead, she says to just take note of times when your dreams come into fruition and “Embrace the power of [your] intuition and ability to hone in on subtle perceptions of awareness,” she says. In other words, this is a great way to “further develop this skill.”

Gallagher agrees and says to have fun with it. “It doesn’t have to be that serious or deep,” she says. “I think [it] could be something that’s kind of neat and fun. [It could] sometimes make us feel connected to a greater sense of our consciousness.”

Dreams of Seeing a Loved One Who Has Passed Away

When Gallagher’s sister passed and visited her in a dream, Gallagher says she focused on the fact that it gave her a chance to create another memory with a person she misses dearly instead of trying to figure out whether her sister was sending her a message from the great beyond. This is something she encourages others to do as well. “Sometimes it's really nice to have that experience where you maybe connect with someone you've lost in a dream,” she says. “It was such a beautiful experience to have this kind of dream with my sister in it.”

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed after being visited by a lost loved one in your dreams, Gallagher recommends working through those feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. It might prove to be a meaningful moment of reflection and insight. “Dreams reflect things in our lives that are very much connected to strong emotions; it's no surprise that sometimes those will show up in our dreams,” she says. “I think that can be a beautiful thing.”

Nightmares

While not pleasant, nightmares can clue you in to any unresolved emotional conflicts that you might be carrying around. “[They] shine a light on what it is you are fearful of,” says Gailing. “They give us the opportunity to process unprocessed feelings.”

For the most part, you don’t have to be too concerned with having a nightmare. But Gallagher says that if you’re having recurring dreams of a traumatic event that has happened to you, you should seek out professional help to work through it. “It’s a clinical symptom,” she explains. “[A recurring nightmare about a traumatic event] could be indicating that you have some ‘unfinished business’ that you have to process, which is really important in healing from PTSD.”

If it’s a nightmare that you’re scared will come true, she says it’s normal to feel a bit uneasy. But she encourages you to speak with someone so that the fears don't affect how you live out your personal life.

Both Gailing and Gallagher encourage those interested in interpreting their own dreams to keep a dream journal; this will help recall the dreams and make sense of what they might mean to you in the present moment. It might just prove to be emotionally helpful, as well. “A dream journal offers you a deeper level of understanding about yourself and/or the world around you,” explains Gailing. “Even if a dream is full of fancy or nothing more than a recounting of the day’s events…I think that opening up to our dreams can leave us in awe and inspire us to feel more awe at the complexity and mystery of life.”

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14 Common Dream Interpretations and What They Actually Mean (2024)

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