As soon as you hit the pillow for shut-eye, there’s no telling what type of nighttime adventure your brain is going to take you on. The mind creates some seriously bizarre scenes as it enters the deeper stages of sleep. If you keep having dreams about falling, for instance, it can reveal some interesting things about your psyche.
These dreams, which are particularly common, tend to feature the dreamer (you) falling from high places — like off a cliff or building — or just falling forever through the sky for no reason. “The exact meaning and relevance of falling dreams depend upon the context of the dream, the waking life issues of the dreamer, and the emotions they might have felt after waking up from such a dream,” Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, M.D., a certified psychiatrist, tells Bustle.
In general, a dream about falling tends to signify a loss of control over an important situation. “It also indicates fear, terror, and anxiety that comes out of losing grip over significant things,” Gonzalez-Berrios says. The feeling of falling may represent a sense of helplessness. But again, you’ll be able to interpret your dream more accurately if you take a few other clues into account, such as where you’re falling from, why, and how it makes you feel. Read on for how to decode different nighttime falling scenarios.
Dreams About Falling From The Sky
Ever have a dream where you’re falling helplessly through the sky? This one’s most likely to happen when you’re going through a major life change, Dorothy Chambers, a sleep expert at Sleep Junkie, a sleep product review site, tells Bustle. It can be interpreted as “falling into the unknown” or feeling out of control.
It’s also common to have a sky-falling dream but in slow-motion — kind of like a movie. “A slow fall from a high place can indicate that you are between crossroads and can’t make a decision,” Chambers says. It means you’re essentially in limbo as you fall.
Dreams About Tripping & Falling
Another common falling dream is that weird one where you trip over something and lurch forward or put your foot down but nothing’s there. Chambers says this dream may indicate that you’re worried about falling behind, possibly in your career. You may even be so stressed about tripping up or making a mistake that you end up manifesting the literal interpretation of that in your dream.
Dreams About Falling Off A Cliff
A falling dream that’s definitely on the nightmare end of the spectrum involves those where you lose your footing and fall, perhaps off the side of a cliff. This could mean you’re worried about “losing contact” with an important area of your life, Kirsty Lynn, a dream interpreter, metaphysician, and founder of dream dictionary resource Luciding, tells Bustle. “Your friends might be drifting away and making new friends,” she says. “Or maybe you are losing sight of that promotion you were hoping for.”
A dream where you fall off a cliff can also represent anticipatory fear. “You don’t know exactly what will happen in a situation, but you are nevertheless afraid of the outcome,” Chambers says.
Dreams About Falling Off A Building
Another scary scenario is dreaming about falling off a building, which can be similarly revealing. Gonzalez-Berrios says these also signify a “fear of the unknown.” If you dangle off the side by one finger before slipping and letting to, it may be a sign you’re disappointed in yourself or that you failed to reach a goal.
Dreams About Falling & Getting Hurt
If you fall down and seem to experience pain in your dream, it very well may mean you’re suffering in some way in your waking life, Gonzalez-Berrios says. And if you fall and get hurt because someone pushed you, it likely indicates that you feel betrayed — so it could be a sign to examine the relationships in your waking life for any issues your psyche wants you to address.
Dreams About Falling Down An Elevator
Nightmares about falling down stairs or an elevator shaft (quite the unpleasant falling dream variation) can indicate that “your emotional state is declining quickly,” Chambers says. “You need to sit down and carefully examine what has happened to you recently and try to regain confidence.” These generally can indicate your self-esteem has taken a fall.
Dreams About Seeing Someone Else Fall
If you’re worried about someone — like a friend or family member — you might dream that they’re the ones falling. Here’s the deal with those: “Perhaps their health isn’t good,” Chambers says, or they’re going through a tough time financially.
Feeling Like You’re Falling While Drifting Off To Sleep
Have you ever woke up suddenly and felt like you were literally falling, and your body actually braces for it? Note that this experience is different than the other falling dream scenarios. According to Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, the former is something many people experience as they drift off to sleep and feel like they’re falling. “This sensation is triggered by an involuntary muscle movement called a hypnic jerk,” she tells Bustle, which can quite literally yank you awake.
“This happens when your body is transitioning between wakefulness and light sleep — or the hypnagogic state,” Schiff says. “Your body is entering a state of deep relaxation in preparation for sleep, but the brain can misinterpret it as the body falling and therefore being in danger. So the hypnic jerk serves the purpose to knock you back into full consciousness.”
It really will seem like you’re falling, even though you aren’t. Once you go back to sleep, that’s when you’ll enter into the deeper stages, Schiff explains, like REM sleep where the mind is very active and dreams can occur.
What To Do If You Keep Having Falling Dreams
To get a better handle of your falling dreams — especially if you keep having them — grab a notebook to use as a dream journal and jot down all the details as soon as you wake up. Gonzalez-Berrios recommends including what type of falling dream you had, how you felt about it, and if anyone else was there with you. Read it over and try to relate the dream theme to the people, places, and events going on IRL. You might end up uncovering a worry or stressor you didn’t even realize you had. And from there, you can begin figuring out how to face it.
If you keep waking in a panic from these nighttime scenarios, Schiff suggests speaking with a sleep specialist, a general practitioner, or a qualified mental health provider to determine the underlying cause. They’ll guide you towards identifying where your stress is coming from or the areas of your life that are making you unhappy, and offer tips to help you strike a better balance. “With this self-awareness, insight, and ability to reflect, you will be able to better deal with your dreams and grab control of your life at the same time,” says Schiff.
It may also help to avoid stress right before bed by turning off the TV and not reading the headlines, and putting your phone away. You could even do a few deep breathing exercises or listen to soothing music, Gonzalez-Berrios says. While you ultimately can’t control what you dream about, it helps to go to bed with a more relaxed state of mind.
Shrivastava, D. (2014). How to interpret the results of a sleep study. Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4246141/
Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, certified psychiatrist
Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist
Dorothy Chambers, sleep expert