Falling. Being chased. Being back in school and unprepared for a major exam. Flying. Having all your teeth fall out. These are just a few of the many recurrent dreams most commonly reported in a recent survey of over 2000 participants by Amerisleep. In fact, over half of those surveyed (54 percent) have dreamed about repeatedly falling, making it the top most common repeating dream. So what does it all mean? Are they falling out of bed, and not noticing? Metaphorically losing control of their lives? We reached out to psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook for some extra insight into the meanings of these recurring dreams, trying to interpret why some people have multiple nights meeting a celebrity, drowning, or forgetting a child.
Cook explains dreams, which occur during the REM stage of sleep, can have as much or little meaning as you feel they should. “Many theories about dreams have been shared, and at the end of the day, no one really ‘knows’ what they mean. As a psychologist, I place as much or as little focus on dreams as my clients wish. If someone is bothered or wants to try to understand their dreams, we will explore their potential meaning in session,” she says. “I’ve found that if my client feels the dream is meaningful, the ‘dream work’ results in powerful realizations. If someone does not place much clout in dreams, exploring the meaning never yields much, if any, insightful moments for the client.”
She does say they often stem from a traumatic experience, and if that’s the case, it can be beneficial to analyze the dreams with the help of a mental health provider. But not everybody needs to “do something” about recurring dreams, she says. “If it doesn’t bother them, nothing. If it bothers them, they need to assess how much emotional turmoil the dream creates for them. Depending on that answer, they could do anything from buy a self-help book to book a session with a psychologist or someone who specializes in dream work.”
In addition to the above, multiple other dreams were commonly recurring, including being lost, being late, being unable to speak, dealing with spiders and other creepy crawlies, and experiencing an intruder breaking into your house. For over 38 percent of participants, these dreams started way back in their childhoods.
Interestingly enough, your occupation might be connected to the type of dreams you keep having. For example, transportation drivers are more likely to dream about being chased, and journalists are more likely to dream they are back in school. Cook explains, “All careers have a common ‘skeleton structure’ of what people have to learn/demonstrate to earn the title X. This results in a shared emotional, cognitive, and psychological journey with others going through the same hoops,” she says. “A journalist’s career relies on their ability to repeatedly produce information in writing/video which is flawless (or close to); school is a large part of children’s lives where mistakes are pointed out and highlighted.”
Women’s recurring dreams air on the anxious side, while men’s are on the more adventurous, the survey shows. For example, women were more likely to have teeth issues, be chased, or encounter creatures, while men are flying, meeting strangers, and coming into surprising wealth.
Regardless of the type of dream you are having, if it’s recurrent and bothering you, it’s worth considering what it could be about, either through personal reflection or with the help of a mental healthcare provider.
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice. She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest, Parents, Women’s Health, and Insider.