While fast asleep, some people experience new narratives beyond their waking life.
But what does this mean exactly? And how come some dreams are easier to remember than others? Let’s start with the latter.
REM sleep is when many dreams occur, and if you get a full night’s sleep, you should have entered REM sleep multiple times throughout the night.
“The final period of REM sleep and dreams occurs in the morning just before waking. This is the longest REM period of the sleep cycle, where dreams with vivid imagery and memorable narratives are more likely to take place,” Tzivia Gover, a certified dreamwork professional and the education director for the Institute for Dream Studies, tells TODAY.com. This vivid imagery along with powerful emotions lends itself to likelier dream recall.
Then there’s the case of repetitive dreams. These may be a sign of stress or indicate that you haven’t acted on what the dream is telling you to do, according to Gover.
If you want to remember your dreams, she suggests writing them down as soon as you wake up before the memory has time to slip away. Think about if the dream is emulating a real-life situation or if you feel similar emotions when you wake up as you do when dealing with a current problem. Once the dream’s meanings become clear, it should disappear or evolve as you work out the issue.
Speaking of dream meanings, there are many interpretations of the most common ones, ranging from love to anxiety and fear. To clarify things, we spoke with experts in the field to determine what your dreams mean for you.
"Whether soaring above a canopy of verdant trees or levitating just above the dance floor in a dream ballroom, flying dreams generally feel joyful and liberating,” Gover says. “Before interpreting these dreams, it’s worth savoring the experience! Then ask yourself if there’s an area of your life where you are feeling freed up, light, or like you are finally taking off.”
However, Gover notes that if flying feels more like a nightmare, it’s good to consider why. Is there a leap you want to take but are scared to make? In some cases, it may result in a lucid dream, aka a type of dream where the dreamer is fully aware of what's happening.
You know, the one where you’re laying in bed and suddenly jerk awake with the sense that there’s no longer any support beneath you. According to Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst and author of "Dream on It," falling in a dream can be a sign of feeling letdown, whether emotionally or financially.
“The rapid downward motion is what is at play here, so the action to take is to identify that which is rapidly going in the wrong direction in waking life and redirect it. Is your self-esteem falling? Start working on your health or a new skill, something that makes you feel good about yourself," Loewenberg says. “Is a relationship falling apart? Might be time to reassess if it’s worth salvaging or if your worth in the relationship is being respected.”
Spiders and snakes
According to Gover, the appearance of animals in your dreams can be frightening but also inspirational. Yes, it may be as simple as you’re terrified of spiders or snakes — who isn’t? But it may also be an invitation to look at how you can use these creatures’ abilities to better your experiences.
“In the case of a snake, you might think about how a snake stays close to the earth and how perhaps staying grounded might help you,” Gover says. “Or perhaps you need the snake’s ability to shed its skin to help you move through changes in your life more easily.”
The sensation of being trapped often mirrors feeling stuck in real life. “This dream is giving you a visual, emotional, and seemingly physical representation of your current waking life circumstances so you can take it more seriously,” Loewenberg says. She recommends taking the time to determine which part of your life feels stuck — there may be more than one — and start taking small steps to get it moving or go down a new path.
In some cultures, the sensation of running while dreaming can symbolize an attempt to start a new life, free from past sins, according to Jordyn Mastrodomenico, LCADC, LAC, CTP, the clinical director at Choice Point, a co-occurring addiction treatment center. It can also mean you’re looking to avoid being held responsible for something or confronting another person.
“The thing about this dream is that what or whoever is chasing us is behind us. That’s a big clue," Loewenberg adds. “The way to make this dream stop is to face the issue, have that confrontation, face the past, whatever the case may be.”
Teeth falling out
Maybe they fall out one at a time, or they drop all at once. Either way, losing teeth is nothing short of a nightmare.
“There are varied theories about what it means,” Gover says. “As with all dream imagery, the only interpretation that’s true is the one that’s true for you."
Gover suggests asking yourself: "Are you failing to ‘bite into’ a challenge or opportunity in your life?”
It can also signify any stress or anxiety you’re feeling, according to Mastrodomenico.
Drowning typically slips into your dreams when you’re overwhelmed by emotions or responsibilities, according to Lowenberg.
“Like the falling dream, there is the downward pull at play here, although there is a bit more control involved with a drowning dream because you can sometimes reach the surface,” she says. “Pay attention to the struggle you experience trying to stay above or get to the surface of the water. What struggle in your real life feels similar?” At the same time, think about who could help you or take some things off your plate.
Being naked in public
There’s a reason the advice “picture your audience in their underwear” is so faulty: No one wants to be unintentionally naked in public. Clothes represent a barrier from others and offer a unique way to present yourself to the world.
“When we see ourselves without clothes in dreams, it may suggest that we are afraid people will find out what we think about them,” Mastrodomenico says. "They will figure our intentions out and see through us.”
There's nothing more unsettling than watching yourself or someone you love die — only to realize it's a dream.
While disturbing to wake from, they stand as more of a symbol of endings than actual death. “Death is the end of life, but to the subconscious dreaming mind, death is the end of life as you now know it. Our dreams show us the changes and endings in our life in the form of a death so that we can let go of what is no more,” Loewenberg explains.
If you dream that someone else dies, then this change is "happening with that person or within the relationship you have with that person." For example, parents may have a dream that involves their child dying when they're about to reach a major milestone, signifying the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.
The next time you dream about a person you know dying, consider your relationship with them and if anything has changed recently or will soon shift.
Unlike dreams about death, murder often demonstrates a forced change or end. “Identify what is changing or ending and then do a deep dive into how you truly feel about it and if this change or ending is something that might actually benefit you or not,” Loewenberg says. “You may find that simply adjusting your emotional reaction and logical perspective will make all the difference.”