Dreams

What 10 Of The Most Common Nightmares Actually Mean

Your subconscious is trying to get your attention.

Read on to find out the most common nightmare meanings and what they’re trying to tell you about you...
LordHenriVoton/E+/Getty Images
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

Sleep is supposed to a be a restorative time that allows our bodies and minds to recharge from day-to-day happenings. But having a nightmare changes all of that. Dreams involving scary, stressful, or triggering scenarios can leave us gasping for air upon waking up — which is obviously upsetting. But dreams are simply a manifestation of our subconscious minds, so understanding the meaning of the most common nightmares is important.

In most cases, common nightmare meanings relate to fears that we experience in our waking lives, both symbolically and directly. While some night frights are simply the result of watching too many horror movies before bed, many can actually be used as a subconscious compass that’ll point us toward areas of our lives that need some attention or healing. Discovering the meaning of your nightmares can help to illuminate your repressed or unchecked fears — and once you figure out the meaning of a bad dream and address the underlying issue, you’re less likely to experience it again.

“Nightmares are actually the most important dreams of all, as they’re caused by our most difficult and uncomfortable real-life issues,” Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, professional dream analyst and author of Dream On It, tells Bustle. “They’re shining a light on something your subconscious wants you to correct — so instead of fearing nightmares, look at them as a brutally honest best friend who may be telling you something you don't want to hear, but is [ultimately] for your benefit.”

Next time you wake up from a creepy dream, channel the stress into a subconscious study by writing down the details and doing some DIY dream interpretation work. Read on to find out the most common nightmare meanings and what they’re trying to tell you about your waking life.

Feeling Like You’re Falling

Almost all of us have been abruptly woken from sleep with the visceral (and heart-pounding) sensation that we’re falling into a bottomless void. Dreams about falling often correspond with situations in which we feel unsupported or like we’re floundering. “This indicates that something in real life is bringing you down — perhaps plans fell through, someone disappointed you, or a relationship ended,” Loewenberg says. “Whatever the case, it's a cry from your subconscious to find a way to turn these free-falling emotions around.”

Not Being Able To Speak

Being unable to speak in a dream or scream for help is often a nightmarish metaphor for feeling helpless or silenced about something in your waking life. “You are either not being heard in real life or you simply aren't speaking up,” Loewenberg says. “Where in your life does it feel like you have no say in the matter? Your subconscious wants you to find your voice, speak your truth, and be heard.”

Having Your Teeth Fall Out

If you’ve ever had a nightmare about your teeth falling out, getting knocked loose, or being missing, it could indicate that you’re feeling vulnerable about sharing a little too much information about something private. “Dreams that involve any part of the mouth (teeth being the most common) are usually connected to communication issues,” Loewenberg says. “Teeth are meant to remain fixed in our mouth, so when they fall out in a dream, it is often a side effect of loose speech in real life — meaning we may have allowed something out of our mouth that should have stayed put!” If you’re feeling insecure about any recent conversations, do your best to clear the air.

Being Chased

If there’s something important that you’re scared to deal with or a pressing issue that you’re repressing, it might manifest as a nightmare about being chased. “Running from something or someone in a dream is directly connected to avoidance in real life,” Loewenberg says. “What difficult issue are you running from? Is there something from your past you are trying to get away from? The way to make this dream stop is to face the issue.” Mustering up the courage to face the situation will likely cause the bad dreams to let up.

Dying Or Dealing With Death

Having a nightmare about your own death or the death of a loved one can be unsettling, but dreaming about dying usually just means you’re undergoing some sort of personal transformation. “To the dreaming mind, death is the end of life as you now know it, so it means something in your life is changing or coming to an end,” Loewenberg says. “These dreams allow us to recognize the changes so that we can let go of what is no longer needed and embrace what is to come.” Change, like death, is inevitable — and these nightmares can help us to better accept that.

Being Naked In Public

Realizing you’ve left the house without any pants on would be panic-inducing in more ways than one — and if this happens in a dream, it likely means you’re feeling self-conscious or over-exposed about something in your waking life. “Any sort of real-life situation that causes you to feel judged and scrutinized seems to be the main reason people dream of being naked in public,” Loewenberg says. “Pay close attention to the other people in your naked dream — you may find that no one else seems to notice or care, which is a reminder that you are giving way too much thought and energy to how others perceive you.”

Seeing A Dead Person

Whether it’s a nightmare about a ghost, a dead body, or a loved one who has passed on in real life, having a Sixth Sense-esque “I see dead people” moment in a dream is super creepy — and it can mean different things, depending on the context. “A corpse in a dream would symbolize something in your life that is now over and done with, that you can now bury and move on from,” Loewenberg says. “If you dream of a person you know who has died, then it could either be part of your grief process or that person could represent some quality that you identify with.” You’ll have to analyze your own dream symbols to figure out what your subconscious is telling you.

Creepy Clowns

Coulrophobia (aka the fear of clowns) is very real — but whether or not their painted-on grins and ominous cheer give you the heebie-jeebies in real life, a nightmare about clowns can help you get more serious about life. “Clowns in dreams usually represent a part of yourself or someone you’re currently dealing with that isn’t taking something seriously enough,” Loewenberg says. “Ask yourself where in your life you need to buckle down and be more disciplined.”

Being In A Car Crash

Most of us have to drive everyday to get to work, run errands, and live life — but dreaming about a car crash or being at the whim of an out-of-control driver can make the mundane feel morbid. “This kind of dream can be caused by feeling like you have no control over something in waking life,” Loewenberg says. “What situation, behavior, or relationship is not going in the direction you want it to? Time to figure out if you need to change tactics or just let go.”

Creepy Crawlers

Dreaming about spiders, snakes, or other creepy crawlers is really common. Whether you’re being bitten, chased, or crawled on, these insect- and animal-laden nightmares often represent a human being — likely someone that has a negative or threatening energy. “Both spiders and snakes are common symbols for a toxic person in your life,” Loewenberg says. Think through your relationships and the context of the dream and figure out if there’s something in your life who’s making you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or like you’re crawling in your skin.