A Beginner's Guide To Dream Interpretation & 8 Common Dreams
Dreams can be elusive, and at some point we've all wondered, what do they mean? Do they mean anything? While there's no clear answer to these questions, we consulted dream experts to get a better understanding of what goes on when we shut our eyes every night and how to interpret it when we wake up in the morning.
19 common types of dreams and what they could mean
Dreams about teeth falling out
There are lots of theories on what teeth falling out could represent in a dream, but one idea equates teeth to confidence and self-esteem. Many would feel embarrassed if their teeth suddenly fell out, so it's possible someone who dreams about this might be dealing with shame. Again, as Naiman says, it's about what feelings the dream evokes in you.
Dreams about falling
Falling is one of the most common dream themes that people report. It could relate to feeling a lack of control. Perhaps you're dealing with a sizable personal struggle, and the stress is carrying over into your dreams. Ask yourself how it felt to be falling in the dream, and then consider any issues in your life when similar emotions are present.
Dreams about being chased
When considering being chased in a dream, the most obvious explanation could be that you're running from a problem. Something you're afraid of is at your heels, and you're avoiding it. In this way, your subconscious mind is almost encouraging you to face whatever it is you're running from.
Dreams about pregnancy
Not necessarily a sign that you or someone you know is pregnant, pregnancy dreams are often thought to represent change or growth. Is there something in your life that's growing and evolving, perhaps a project or relationship? Pregnancy is all about development, so look out for that theme in your waking life.
Dreams about snakes
Just as a snake sheds its skin, dreaming about a snake can deal with transformation, healing, and rebirth. It can also, however, represent a toxic person or situation, change or the unknown, and simply a fear of snakes.
"In the South American countries, the most common dream is of snakes," therapist and dream expert Leslie Ellis, Ph.D. tells mindbodygreen, adding, "This may be less about symbolism (e.g., garden of Eden, shedding skin, etc.) and more about survival because the snake dreams show up most often in countries where dangerous snakes are most common."
Dreams about spiders
Themes around spider dreams include deceit, lies, criticism, an untrustworthy person, and a fear of spiders.
According to professional dream interpreter Lauri Loewenberg, spiders in dreams archetypically represent "some sort of deceit or web of lies surrounding you." As she previously told mbg, a spider's web can also signify that you're feeling trapped and your subconscious is "trying to warn you about a situation or relationship that could trap you."
And lastly, we have premonition dreams. Have you ever dreamed about something and then shortly thereafter your dream "came true," in a big or small way? You wouldn't be the only one! While difficult to rationally explain, if you frequently experience premonition dreams, you might want to lean into it and consider exploring your intuitive abilities further.
Dreams involving nudity
If you're naked in a dream and feel shame upon waking, it could be a sign that you feel exposed or embarrassed in some part of your waking life. If you're super confident in your nudity dream, on the other hand, it could be a sign that you're fresh off a breakthrough and are feeling free and unencumbered.
Having a sex dream about someone doesn't necessarily mean you actually want to have sex with that person. More often than not, it's a sign that the other person has some personality trait or value that you're jealous of or want to embody.
Dreams about death
Death dreams often indicate fear, the unknown, life transitions and change, an identity crisis, as well as transformation. They can also be a part of the grieving process if you've experienced a loss.
In fact, one study by dream researcher Joshua Black, Ph.D., shows dreams can help us process the trauma of a loss, serving as a way to maintain connection with the deceased, and/or help regulate emotions. As Ellis previously told mbg, "One of the most interesting things is when we lose a loved one or pet, the vast majority of the dreams we have about them are comforting."
Dreams about being in school
Dreaming about being back in school is a common stress dream and can involve anything from being late to an exam you never studied for, missing class, or not being able to find your locker or homework. According to both Ellis and Loewenberg, school dreams do often indicate stress and can relate to a problem you're facing, and/or your work life or career.
"For example," Loewenberg explains, "if you can't find your class or your locker, it can be because you're stressing out about the fact that you are not where you feel you should be in your career."
Dreams about your old home
It's not uncommon to dream about your childhood home, given how much of your early life (when your subconscious was shaped) was spent there. Dreams that take place in your childhood home can indicate you're growing or evolving, and/or reclaiming a part of your past.
"Ideally, we attach to our childhood home because of the memories we have of being loved and supported," Ellis says, adding that there are also cases where our childhood home doesn't bring back happy memories but rather memories of difficulty and even trauma, which could be coming up in these dreams.
Dreams about bees
Dreaming about bees, according to Loewenberg, often relates to feeling "the sting" of someone's actions—or even more so—their words. If you've been stung by a bee (or multiple bees) in a dream, Loewenberg says it may translate to a real-life feeling of emotional pain—of someone making stinging or biting remarks toward or about you.
"And then, of course, the more bees there are, and the more stings there are, the more of an emotional impact it's having on you," she says, adding, "It can also be that there's more than one person you're feeling the sting from."
Dreams about traveling
From driving in a car to flying in a plane, travel dreams often relate to craving freedom, but they can also represent some sort of movement or momentum happening in your life. "Traveling usually represents forward movement—progress in some area," Loewenberg previously explained. And as Ellis adds, this "movement" could be personal or professional, as well as literal geographical movement.
Dreams about fish
Fish are a very common spiritual and religious symbol, and when fish show up in dreams, that symbolism can often come across. Loewenberg previously told mbg that fish dreams can relate to pregnancy or fertility, "fishing" for something in your life, and even feeling like a fish out of water, depending on what the fish is doing.
Fertility can also relate to creative fertility, she notes, with the fish in this case representing something you're creating from your emotional landscape (with water being the emotions).
Dreams about dogs
As Loewenberg previously told mbg, dogs are the most common animal people dream about in her experience with clients (followed by cats and snakes). She says that dreaming of dogs often relates to three key themes: relationships, friendship, and loyalty.
"Dogs are typically going to represent a relationship or the dynamics that are going on within a relationship," she notes, adding, "And that could be any relationship—friendship, an intimate relationship, work relationship, family relationship—any relationship where there should be loyalty and companionship, all these qualities that we attribute to dogs."
Dreams about tornadoes
Up next we have tornado dreams—which, according to Loewenberg, are one of the most common dream symbols. These dreams typically have one of two ways of unfolding: Either the tornado strikes, or you can see it in the distance. In the case of seeing a tornado in the distance, she explains, you're wondering if some real-life stressor (symbolized by the tornado) is going to catch up to you. If the tornado is actively striking in the dream, she notes, you feel like you're in the thick of it in real life, in terms of whatever is stressing you out.
Dreams about alligators
Generally speaking, alligator dreams tend to relate to one of two themes: biting criticism, and having a thick skin. As Loewenberg explains, alligator dreams are a common one, noting that "Across the board, any sort of creature in a dream that has a big mouth, sharp teeth, and is known for biting—like alligators or even sharks—will most often be connected to criticism and biting remarks in real life,"
Dreams about fire
Last but not least, we arrive at dreams about fire. Themes around fire dreams can include anger, rage, and a sense of urgency but also passion and/or transformation. Something could be enraging you in real life, or you could be feeling a push to transform and be "born again" from the ashes.
And as Loewenberg adds, "We'll use the expression 'I have to put a few fires out' when we have things that need to be tended to, so it [can also represent] something in your life that needs to be taken care of and extinguished ASAP."
How to interpret your dreams
So, how can you determine what your dreams are telling you? There's no definitive answer, but the theories range from "dreams don't mean anything" to "dreams are more important than our waking existence," explains psychologist and dream expert Rubin Naiman, Ph.D.
"A lot of contemporary neuroscientists believe during REM sleep, the brain is involved in maintenance tasks, and it accidentally 'kicks up dust,' visually. At that end, dreaming is considered totally meaningless," he explains. "The other end is that dreaming is more substantial than waking. And we see this in 'dream cultures,' such as the indigenous people of Australia, who believe dreaming is intrinsic to our spiritual existence."
Most psychological theories surrounding dreaming fall somewhere in the middle. One of the most generally accepted ideas is the notion of dreams as memory consolidation, where the dream is a reflection of waking life, "almost like a funhouse mirror," Naiman says. "From that perspective, dream interpretation is about decoding the dream. It enlightens us and expands our awareness psychologically," offering an "expansion of consciousness."
The key here, he says, is not to try to interpret the dream literally through its symbols and visuals but rather to feel into the emotions it evokes, asking, What is this bringing up for me emotionally? "We need to learn the dream language; we don't always have to translate it into waking."
How to remember your dreams
From Naiman's perspective, modern society is dealing with "an epidemic of dream loss." Everything from stress to processed food to alcohol can reduce time we spend in REM sleep and thus, the time we spend dreaming. So, what is there to do if you consistently struggle to remember your dreams?
One thing to consider is easing up on alcohol consumption, especially right before bed. Another option is to linger in your morning grogginess and purposefully stay in that half-awake, half-asleep state for longer. "Grogginess is an exquisite hybrid state of consciousness," Naiman notes. "Most people jump into their day when they wake up, immediately pushing the dreamy mind away. To remember dreams, we simply have to linger, without intention [...] We're not chasing the dream, we're kind of waiting. It will come."
And when the dream does come back to you as you wake up, even if it's just one thing you can remember, write it down in a dream journal or make an audio recording of what you recall. This will help you get into the practice of "bridging the dream into waking life," as Naiman puts it.
How do you find out what my dreams mean?
To find out what your dream means, try to remember as many specifics about the symbolism as you can, as well as how you felt in the dream. Those same feelings are likely present in (and related to) your real life.
What is the spiritual meaning of dreaming about dogs?
Dogs in dreams typically represent a relationship, or the dynamics of a relationship, where there should be loyalty, companionship, or other qualities as associate with dogs.
What's the most common dream?
The three most common dreams are falling, being chased, and having your teeth fall out.
Dreams are complex, personal, and always up for individual interpretation. When looking for the answers, Naiman says the popular dream dictionaries aren't the place to turn. Check in with yourself instead. Getting in touch with the emotions behind your dreams can help you learn your unique "dream language," and better interpret the intuitive messages that come to you in your sleep.
RELATED: The Psychology Of Dreams: Why They Happen + What They Can Teach Us
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.