No matter how serene your sleep might usually be, it’s likely you’ve experienced a nightmare or two (or 50) at some point in your life. These haunting dreams are often elaborate, lengthy, and chock-full of imagery so terrifying that they can cause you to wake up in a cold sweat asking “What in the world just happened?”
While it can be fun to interpret more pleasant dreams, figuring out the meanings behind recurrent nightmares can feel particularly pressing for how intense and vivid they are in the moment. What does it mean to see a shadowy demon under your mattress night after night? And why is it that so many of us dream of losing our teeth when we’re stressed?
Turns out, it all depends on who you ask.
For as long as there have been humans, there have been dreams to interpret. The earliest evidence of the practice dates all the way back to 3100 BC, when priests in the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia divined supernatural insights from the night time visions of kings. In Egypt and Greece, dreams continued to hold a prominent place in the collective consciousness, with royal and lay folk alike seeking out guides to mine meaning from their cranial conjurings.
As the centuries passed, dream interpretation gradually veered away from mysticism and found new roots in science. Scholars across China, the Middle East, and Europe interrogated the phenomena, but it wasn’t until psychologist Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking The Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1900 that a full text would be devoted to the subject. And though mostly debunked at this point, the theories he put forth inspired a new generation of researchers to dig into why and how we dream.
Okay, But What About the Really Scary Ones
Ultimately, experts have yet to agree on what nightmares mean. Some say it all comes down to how you sleep, a few suggest it could be stress, while still others think they’re nothing more than random blips. However, there are some popular interpretations associated with the most common types of frightening dreams.
To see a few of our favorites, check out our top 11 scary dream interpretations below! While the meanings may be ghouslish or downright horrifying, worry not — everything’s open to interpretation, after all.
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