What Your Dreams Really Mean

Do you dream of falling? Or flying? Or that your teeth are falling out? Read on for common dream meanings and how they relate to you

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Common Dream Meanings

Dreams aren’t just the mind wandering during the night; dreams and dream meanings also a key part of our mental processes. “We dream so that we can organize our thoughts, feelings and memories in a space where no one will bother us,” says Mark Hagen, a clinical psychotherapist and director of the International Institute for Dream Research based in Hamilton, ON.

Dreaming occurs during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but researchers have recently found that the brain is actively working on sensitizing and desensitizing memories and improving working memory during the entire sleep cycle. “Like a computer, the brain updates itself,” says Hagen. “Whatever you experienced during the day is being ‘downloaded’ into your long-term memory during the night.”

The dreams that result from this midnight brain activity can seem mysterious. But with a few clues about their possible meanings, dream meanings can provide valuable insight on our deepest thoughts and feelings.

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Dreaming of Falling

Dream meaning: Fear of failure or loss of control

The experience of being in freefall can represent a fear of failure or loss of control in our lives. Dreams of falling can also suggest feeling unsupported or overwhelmed. In her book Dream On It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life, Florida-based dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg suggests that falling is “one of the most common warning symbols that the dreaming mind sends us when something in our life is going in the wrong direction.”

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Dreaming of Flying

Dream meaning: Ambition and self-actualization

Taking flight in our dreams can symbolize ambition and self-actualization. “It can mean you’ve answered questions such as ‘Where do I want to go?’ and ‘What do I want to do with my life?'” says Hagen.

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Dreaming of Being Naked in Public

Dream meaning: Embarrassment or humiliation

This is a very common dream and can symbolize fear of embarrassment or humiliation. “How we behave in society – and often even to ourselves – isn’t the same as who we really are inside,” writes California-based psychologist Veronica Tonay in The Creative Dreamer: Using Your Dreams to Unlock Your Creativity. “From this point of view, when you dream of yourself naked, you are expressing a feeling of being vulnerable,” she writes.

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Dreaming of Being Back at School

Dream meaning: Fear of missing out or being unprepared

Who hasn’t had a dream about being back in high school or a nightmare about being unprepared for an important exam? “The reason school is such a popular dream locale is because the dynamics of the school setting continue on into your job, career or social life,” writes Loewenberg. A dream where you’re unable to find your classroom likely represents a sense of missing out or being unprepared. Hate the class? That could mean you aren’t satisfied with your career in real life.

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Dreaming of Water

Dream meaning: Control of emotions

Water is a common dream symbol. “From a symbolic perspective, it’s very similar to how we flow through life,” says Hagen. Water has many different related meanings. According to Tonay, this universal element is a cross-cultural dream image that represents our deepest, unconscious emotions. If you dream of flooding, for example, it could suggest that you are afraid of losing control of your emotions.

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Dreaming of Teeth Falling Out

Dream meaning: Fear of aging or insecurity

Some researchers equate this dream with a fear of aging; others believe it represents losing face or looking bad in the eyes of others. According to Loewenberg, dreams about teeth are symbolic of communication, so having crumbly, cracked or broken teeth in a dream may reflect concerns over one’s inability to speak up about something. Dreams about teeth can also suggest that there are underlying feelings of insecurity or financial stress.

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Dreaming of Losing Someone

Dream meaning: Resistance to change

Losing a person is a classic anxiety dream that may symbolize resistance to change. A dream about losing track of a child in a store or park is common, especially when the child reaches a milestone. According to Loewenberg, “It’s kind of like a little death, so we mourn the rapid passage of time in our dreams.” A dream about losing your hair suggests that you’re out of ideas about what to do about someone or something.

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