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 a dream expert (yes, it's a thing) 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.
What could your dreams be 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."
That said, here are a handful of common dreams and some interpretations of what they could represent.
8 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 that involve snakes or spiders
Snakes get a bit of a bad rep in some traditions, but in others, snake dreams can represent transformation and healing. Was the snake shedding its skin in your dream? Stuck in a box or trap? Did the snake make you feel afraid, or was it non-threatening? Snakes can appear in dreams in many ways, so again, getting in touch with the feelings the snake brought up for you can give you a better idea of why you dreamed about it and what it could mean.
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.
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.
The bottom line.
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.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.