What Do Dreams Mean?
Author: Jonathan Warren
There are many thoughts and speculations about why we dream, but a hard and fast definitive answer remains elusive. And as to what they mean? Well, that’s even more subjective! From the musings of Sigmund Freud to the tarot columns of gossip magazines, there are hundreds and thousands of suggested meanings for certain common dreams for you to pour over.
So, what do dreams mean? Could they simply be subconscious workings of the brain while it’s getting some much needed rest while we sleep, or are dreams a visual depiction of our real life thoughts and worries to help us make sense of our waking problems? Here, we take a look at everything you need to know about why we have dreams, what they could mean, and what the population’s most common dreams could be trying to tell you!
Why Do We Have Dreams?
Dreams happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a stage of kip that we cycle through repeatedly throughout the night, as studies have shown this is when our brains are most active. And while there’s no hard and fast explanation as to why we have dreams, many experts believe that they exist to better our physical and mental wellbeing. For example, dreams can help to solve problems in our lives, help to consolidate and analyse memories, and even process emotions to help us feel better about certain situations.
What Do Dreams Mean?
Well, this eternal conundrum is still very much up for debate! The meaning of dreams has fascinated humankind for centuries. There is even evidence of dream interpretation having been discovered as far back as 3100 BC, with ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia believing dreams were crucial for divination.
In more recent history, Sigmund Freud – the founder of psychoanalysis – is a name synonymous with the topic, even releasing a book entitled “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1899. Central to his theory is the idea of dreams representing unconscious desires, thought, wish fulfilment and motivations.
But Freud’s theories only serve to confirm how little we actually know about dreams and their meanings. Many other sleep experts believe that dreams are simply a result of natural biological processes for example. So while it’s fun and interesting to try and remember how last night’s subconscious saga played out, it’s important to remember that Freud’s musings and the wider dream interpretation theory discourse are exactly that – theories!
Having said that, many psychiatrists have offered their thoughts as to the possible meanings of dreams and whether they have any significance to our daily lives. If you’re a big dreamer, check out our top pick of the most common dreams and what they could mean below.
4 of the Most Common Dreams and Their Meanings
Dreams About Teeth Falling Out
A recent study revealed that around 39% of the population have experienced dreaded dreams of their teeth falling out, crumbling or breaking. And as it happens, there are a whole host of reasons as to why we dream about losing teeth, all of which are thought to primarily stem from psychological stress. For example, these dreams could occur after an upsetting personal loss of a loved one, job or home; a prolonged period of stress or anxiety where you’ve felt a significant lack of control; a major life change that you’re worried about; a long time of feeling unattractive; or, a situation as literal as having a recently lost a tooth, grinding your teeth or impending dental treatment!
Dreams About Falling
Dreams about falling are even more common than those concerning teeth, with reports claiming that 60 to 70% of us will experience them in our lifetime! Much like before, this dream’s meaning will depend heavily on the context of the dream and what's going on in the dreamer’s real waking life. Certified psychiatrist, Dr. Nereida Gonzalazes-Berrios, M.D., suggests dreams about falling can “also indicate fear, terror, and anxiety that comes out of losing grip over significant things” and a resulting sense of helplessness.
Beyond this, it’s also interesting to interpret where you’re falling from in the dream – such as the sky, a cliff, a building or simply falling over and getting hurt – as this could indicate what your subconscious is exploring. Dreaming of falling from the sky could represent a state of limbo over an important decision for instance, whereas a dream about tripping over onto the floor could reflect a conscious fear of falling behind (possibly at work) or making a mistake in a specific scenario.
Dreams About Flying
Flying dreams are a form of common lucid dream – a type of dream where you become aware you’re dreaming, when you’re dreaming. As such, flying dreams can feel pretty vivid and real as you’re aware of your consciousness and surroundings. Pretty cool, huh? Researchers suggest dreams about flying are mostly positive ones as they can feel exciting and liberating, representing a sense of freedom and escape from the mundane stresses of real life on the metaphorical ground below. Other interpretations suggest a dreamer’s need to get a bird’s eye view of a situation, helping them to gain a broader perspective of a situation from up on high where they have more space and distance to solve a problem which may be bothering them.
Dreams About Being Naked in Public
Without wanting to sound too punny, dreams about being naked in public usually derive from situations where the dreamer feels they are on display and have to bare all. Certified dream analyst Nicole Bowman explains that “nudity is connected to the fear of being vulnerable and embracing great change”, so when we dream of being in our birthday suits, this usually correlates to a period of enormous transformation in our lives. Whether it be a new job or role, a new relationship, or a move to a new city or town, dreams about being naked in public are usually a strong indicator that you’re moving into uncharted territory where you feel exposed and apprehensive.
On the other hand, Freud described dreams of being naked in public as one that produces “a painful feeling of shame” where the dreamer “is anxious to hide one’s nakedness… but is unable to do so.” While purely a figment of the subconscious, these types of uncomfortable naked dreams tend to be rooted in shame and insecurity. These dreams could be born from feeling uncomfortable about your appearance, feeling as though you struggle to be vulnerable with others, or even feeling like you have imposter syndrome in a particular environment.