Dreams have been a source of curious speculation since the beginning of humankind. Many believe our dreams can predict the future, unlock hidden desires, or unveil the solution to complex problems. Even if you don’t subscribe to those beliefs, it’s hard not to wonder whether there’s a deeper purpose to our dreams, especially after a night of particularly vivid dreaming, or worse, a nightmare.
Despite our varied life experiences, well-known dream themes are shared among groups of different people. Understanding these themes can help you make sense of confusing or unsettling dreams. You may also identify the possible root of recurring dreams, and address underlying issues that are plaguing your subconscious.
If you have trouble remembering your dreams but would still like to explore this area of your mind, consider keeping a dream journal. Write down your dreams first thing in the morning. Waking up naturally (without an alarm) and playing your dreams back in your mind when you first get up can improve your ability to recollect. These are some of the dreams often reported by people from all walks of life.
Dreams About Falling
Falling usually represents a loss of control. However, sometimes falling dreams are just the natural consequence of falling asleep. When our bodies sense that we’re entering into an altered state, they may jolt us back awake with what’s called a myoclonic jerk.
Falling dreams can also happen if you’ve been engaging in reckless behavior or are headed down a dangerous path. You may feel that there’s a lack of stability in your life. Not having control over your present circumstances, due to feeling overwhelmed or anxious, can also produce falling dreams. If you’ve heard the old wives’ tale that hitting the ground in a falling dream can result in death, don’t worry. Fortunately, this is not actually true.
Being Naked in a Dream
Have you ever felt the shock and shame of discovering yourself nude in a public place? If you remember your dreams, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with this scenario. Dreams about nakedness are common and typically represent vulnerability or feeling overexposed. Trying to impress others, being unprepared for a big event, or risking rejection and ridicule can lead you to wind up naked in a dream.
On the other hand, not all dreams of nudity are caused by anxiety. If you’re naked in a dream but not embarrassed, you may merely be living out a newfound sense of freedom. The carefree attitude of being naked is just a reflection of the lightness you’re experiencing. Nudity may also symbolize attention-seeking behavior. Considering the overall mood of your dreams will give you a better understanding of what they mean for you.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable types of dreams to have is a flying dream. Instead of falling, flying represents control and the ability to take hold of your own destiny. The sensation of flying is the ultimate symbol of liberation. The freedom to soar and reach new heights represents conquering the impossible and gaining a broader perspective.
A flying dream could vary in meaning, from feeling invincible to escaping the pressures that once held you down. You may sense that you’ve attained a higher spiritual connection or that you’re looking down on those beneath you. Flying backward may be associated with reminiscing, while floating just above ground can signify contentment.
Getting Chased in a Dream
Dreams about chasing are a little more diverse in their possible origins. If you’re the one doing the chasing, you could be trying to catch up with someone else, or you might be running after a goal. The act of chasing after something is a manifestation of your ambition and drive.
If you’re getting chased in a dream, it can mean you’re afraid. Being able to get away from the thing that’s chasing you means you are gaining control over the situation, or it’s improving on its own. Inversely, not being able to run fast enough may mean you feel the threat is intensifying. Being chased can also represent avoiding a confrontation. Instead of facing an issue head-on, you feel the need to run away from it.
Understanding and Preventing Nightmares
Nightmares occur most often when we’re deep into REM sleep, usually early in the morning or during the middle of the night. We’re more likely to have nightmares when we’re overtired or stressed out. Going through a significant life change can trigger nightmares. For kids, this might be starting school; for adults, it could be a divorce or move. Certain medications, having a fever, or dealing with post-traumatic stress may also increase the likelihood of nightmares.
Night terrors are a similar but different experience. These usually happen within the first few hours of falling asleep, and although they cause fear, night terrors are not the result of dreams. As a result, people can’t trace night terrors to a storyline or nightmare; they just experience a strong sense of terror.
Getting the underlying cause of your nightmares will help you make changes to prevent them. Some people notice a greater chance of nightmares when they eat late at night before bed. Eating can increase brain activity and lead to nightmares. Check your medications to find out if bad dreams are a possible side effect. Getting into a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at the same time each day) can also reduce your risk of nightmares.
If you’re under a lot of stress or suffer from PTSD, talk to your doctor about getting help. Nightmares can also signal a chronic sleep disorder, like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. A sleep study can help you identify these issues to learn about treatment options.
Everyone has terrible dreams once in a while, but if nightmares are an ongoing issue for you, it’s important to do something about it. A good night’s sleep is essential for good health. Sleep that’s disrupted by frequent nightmares can lead to more significant health problems like heart disease and diabetes. A lack of sleep can also exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Luckily, we can have a big impact on our nightmares by making a few simple changes. About 70% of adults who suffer from nightmares can resolve the issue by adopting behavioral changes. Reducing your intake of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol is an excellent first step. Consider taking up yoga or meditation as part of your bedtime routine to minimize stress.
Another treatment option for PTSD-associated nightmares is called Imagery Rehearsal Treatment. Nightmares can be altered by mentally preparing for the way you want them to play out. There are four steps to this treatment method. The first is writing down the typical narrative of your nightmare. Next, you’ll rewrite the story with a positive ending. Before going to sleep, there are specific phrases you can use to reinforce the plan for your dreams. Once you have effectively changed your dream, the final step is celebrating your success. For more information, you might be interested in this article from Psych Central.
Take Dream Interpretation with a Grain of Salt
Although dreams share common themes, they inevitably mean different things to different people. One person’s dream about falling could be terrifying, while another’s falling dream may be slow and peaceful. Dream interpretation is intriguing; however, dreams can also be misleading. If you’re searching for guidance or support on life’s issues, seek outside assistance from a qualified professional, like a therapist, doctor, or Grief Recovery Specialist.