6 Common Nightmares: Exploring the Depths of the Night

Jonathan Warren

Author: Jonathan Warren



6 Common Nightmares: Exploring the Depths of the Night

At Time4Sleep we like to focus on the positive aspects of sleep and how to make the most of your time tucked up in bed. But unfortunately, not all sleep is the peaceful, restorative kind we want and deserve!

Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as "a very upsetting or frightening dream", nightmares plague sleepers of all ages. But what are the most common nightmares? We've been on the hunt for the most common nightmares which have left us waking up in cold sweats, exploring what they mean and how they can be managed.

Understanding Nightmares

A bad dream can occur for a variety of reasons which often relate to how we are doing emotionally and how we process things psychologically. Stress, anxiety, poor mental health or traumatic events can all lead to us experiencing nightmares. As uncomfortable as they might be, a nightmare could be a clue as to what you are struggling to deal with during the day. 

If you are struggling with nightmares, writing your experiences down could be a gateway into understanding your subconscious a little better and opening up about the challenges which are keeping your brain a little too busy at bedtime.

Common Nightmares

We've taken a look at the most common bad dreams which may be keeping you from a peaceful night’s sleep. Whilst dreams are subjective, understanding you are not alone and what certain dreams might mean could be the first step on your journey to banishing nightmares for good.

Dreams of falling

An absolute classic nightmare, the sensation of falling is sure to dampen your chances of an uninterrupted night's sleep. Whether it's from the top of a tall building, off of your chair or into a blackhole, the sensation of falling is a nightmare which could indicate you are experiencing feelings of helplessness. If a fall has woken you up, you might find the nightmare is representative of a lack of control in your waking life and maybe it is time to focus on yourself.

Dreams of being chased

If you're waking up from recurrent nightmares of being chased, they could be indicative of something you are running away from in real life. Perhaps you are avoiding a big decision? Or maybe there is a particular stressor in your personal or professional life causing you angst? Whether it is your boss chasing you down the road or an unknown presence which won't leave you alone, a nightmare like this is a good excuse to take time for yourself and work out what you have been avoiding and what has been causing you stress.

Dreams of teeth falling out

Unless you’re a young one getting excited about receiving some money from the tooth fairy, your teeth falling out will always be a cause for concern. Although a common nightmare, the sensation of thinking your teeth are falling out has a wide range of interpretations for sleepers out there.

For some it can be representative of loss of something valuable or indicative of change. Perhaps you are starting a new job or realised that you and an old friend have grown apart? For other sleepers, this nightmare can be a general indicator of anxiety and street, or it could be linked to actual dental issues.

Dreams of death

Death is a constant and sad feature in our lives. Whether you are dreaming about your own death or the passing of a close relative or friend, a nightmare about death could represent a variety of different feelings.

If you are the one dying in your dreams, perhaps you are going through a period of transition in your life? Change can be a frightening thing, so your nightmare could be your brain letting those worries loose.
On the other hand, whilst bad dreams involving the death of a friend or loved one could also be representative of feelings towards change, such nightmares could be the result of actual grief if the person in your dreams has already passed or is facing serious illness.

Dreams of being late

We've all been there. A shocked glance at a watch that we didn’t realise stopped the night before, a queue of traffic at a standstill and a missed exam or special occasion. Being late is never pretty and that doesn't change when it comes to sleep. Whether it is getting into the office later than planned or missing something a little more important, dreaming of being late could be representative of feeling behind or feeling anxious. Whatever the rationale, nightmares like these are good reasons to ensure you are checking in with yourself and facing those anxieties head on, regularly and robustly.

Dreams of an evil presence

Ok, this is a creepier one and more of a “classic” nightmare. If you've ever felt something is coming to get you or somebody is lurking in the corner of your room, you are not alone! The presence of something evil is never going to be conducive to a good night's rest but it featuring in a nightmare may mean different things to different people. For some it could be a reminder of a traumatic event, but for others it could be related to an overwhelming sense of anxiety or of repressed negative emotions.
If you aren't sure why your sleep is being haunted by an evil presence, writing everything down in a dream journal when you are rudely awoken could help you to understand a bit more about your nightmare and help you to piece together why it is happening.

Psychological Interpretation

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that the dreams we experience are a means of subconscious communication with our conscious minds.

Like Jung, Sigmund Freud also believed that dreams had meanings and could be interpreted, while other psychologists like Rosalind Cartwright and Professor G William Domhoff thought dreams are tied to real life experiences. Though, it should be noted Professor Domhoff also argued that some dreams might not have any meaning as many of them are forgotten.

So, when it comes to nightmares, a good step in trying to prevent them is to explore what they might mean. They could be a one-off experience which does not mean a great deal or they could be a gateway into exploring your true subconscious fears and anxieties. Ultimately, this process could be rather cathartic and lead to a better sense of wellbeing and security.

Tips for Managing Nightmares

Waking up because of a bad dream can obviously have a detrimental impact on your sleep and, ultimately, on your health and wellbeing. While we all might have a bad night's sleep because of a one-off nightmare, if you are having regular nightmares or repeat occurrences of the same bad dream, then there are some steps you can take to help keep the ‘scaries’ at bay.

If you regularly find yourself waking up from a bad dream, then journalling or counselling could also be a good way of fending off nightmares. Writing things down or discussing them with a professional (or even friends and family who are good listeners) can be helpful when dealing with anxieties or traumatic events. Helping yourself to process those things during the day could help free your mind when it comes to bedtime.

On the other hand, if you are having a few one-off nightmares, then perhaps you are not getting enough quality sleep. Sticking to a routine which champions minimal screen time before bed and creates a calming atmosphere for you to relax and embrace sleep will help your circadian rhythm and boost your chances of having a restorative night's rest. Avoiding nicotine, alcohol and caffeine later in the day can also increase your chances of having a nightmare-free sleep. Simple steps like these might also help to decrease any concerns you are harbouring which might be causing your bad dreams.

You can read more about managing nightmares in our blog about how to avoid bad dreams.

Lucid Dreaming

A lucid dream is where we become aware that we are dreaming whilst in a sleeping state. This awareness means during a lucid (or vivid) dream, we can manipulate aspects of the dream, like the people in it, where we are or what is happening.

Lucid dreams can be a fantastic tool if you struggle with nightmares as they offer the opportunity for the dreamer to confront their fears and anxieties or to deal with traumatic events. Dream journaling and meditation can be great devices to encourage lucid dreaming and could be the answer to your prayers if you suffer from nightmares.

For more information on lucid dreaming, why not check out our blog on what it means to have vivid dreams?


There is plenty to unpack when it comes to nightmares. For the one-off occasion, it could be a case of brushing it off, improving your sleep hygiene and heading to bed a little earlier the following evening to catch up on some extra sleep.

However, for any recurring nightmare, you may want to consider dream journalling or counselling to fully delve into why you are experiencing your bad dreams. Just because there are lots of common nightmares, including our top 6 listed above, doesn't mean they are not personal to you and exploring yourself could be the way to enjoy a peaceful night's sleep.

For more advice and insight, explore our handy Help & Advice Blog and improve your sleep quality today.