11 Of The Most Common Nightmares And What They Actually Mean

Recently, the folks over at Sleepopolis reached out to me because they discovered my previous article about anxiety-induced nightmares, and they created a very interesting infographic about some of the most common nightmares and their meanings, which you can check out at the bottom of this article. They included both the scientific interpretations and the dream translations that are mostly rooted in psychoanalytic traditions of Sigmund Freud.


Dream Translation: Dreaming about spiders usually means someone in your life (typically a parent or mother figure) has been quite overbearing, and “weaving webs” into your life. You may feel like an outsider in a certain situation, or maybe you’re trying to keep your distance and stay away from something tempting.

Scientific Interpretation: Spiders are one of the most common types of hypnagogic hallucination, which is a vivid, dream-like sensation that an individual hears, sees, feels, or even smells that occurs near the onset of sleep. 10% of the population experiences a sleep-related hallucination at some point.

Drowning/Tidal Waves

Dream Translation: Oceans represent emotions, so when you dream of drowning in the ocean, it typically means you’re completely overwhelmed by the emotions you’re holding in. You’re feeling overworked, you have way too much on your plate right now, and you’re struggling to keep up with everything.

Scientific Interpretation: To dream you’re drowning could actually mean you’re having difficulty breathing while you sleep, potentially have sleep apnea, or are experiencing a hypnic jerk, or an involuntary muscle spasm that occurs as a person is drifting off to sleep.


Dream Translation: To dream you’re falling means you’ve been feeling a sense of failure, or that a current situation in your life may seem to be getting worse. You also feel like you might not have much control over things or you’re stuck in a downward spiral trying to climb back up.

Scientific Interpretation: The sensation of falling could actually be a result of fluid passing in your inner ear. If you experience the sensation of falling plus a muscle twitch, you’re actually experiencing a hypnic jerk.

Teeth Falling Out

Dream Translation: You’re having difficulty in communicating how you feel or expressing yourself. Your teeth falling out in a dream is usually a sign of insecurities or concern with self-image. It could also mean that you are making a huge compromise or you’re not willing to make an important decision in your life. You feel like you have a lack of control over a situation.

Scientific Interpretation: While the Freudian dream interpretations signify a lot of punishment for “self-love” centered around this dream, scientifically, to dream about your teeth falling out has a direct correlation with anxiety.

Being Chased

Dream Translation: To dream you’re being chased means you may have been feeling helpless in a certain situation, or you’re avoiding (running away) from a real-life problem or issue that you don’t want to face. You may be avoiding something painful or fearful. If you continue to dream you’re being chased, it’s probably a sign that it’s time to face the problem or issue you’re avoiding.

Scientific Interpretation:
Your fight-or-flight response has been activated. In a study of 1,000 German adults, 26% experienced being chased in a dream.

Being Late

Dream Translation: You have way too much on your plate right now and you’re completely overwhelmed. You may be feeling as though you missed out on an important opportunity in your life. You feel unprepared, and you’re most likely going through big changes in your life in which you’re having a difficult time adjusting to.

Scientific Interpretation:
In the same study mentioned above, 24% of German adults experienced being late in a dream.


Dream Translation: To dream you are frozen means something in your life has been rejected, denied, or suppressed. It could also suggest your emotions have been more cold or bitter than usual.

Scientific Interpretation:
Usually a result of an abnormal sleep cycle, sleep paralysis has been mentioned since ancient times, and science explains the frozen nightmare as just that. Roughly 5% of the population experience sleep paralysis regularly.

Taking a Test

Dream Translation: You’re worried you may not be taking care of your current responsibilities, or that you’re anxious about being success or failure.

Scientific Interpretation:
Some scientists believe that dreaming happens while the brain is cataloging or storing information, which is why this dream is more common in those who are currently attending school.

Being Naked in Public

Dream Translation: Dreams of being naked in public symbolize having a lot of anxiety, and feeling self-conscious or that you’re unable to truly be yourself. This dream means you’re feeling very vulnerable.

Scientific Interpretation:
Anxiety-driven dreams are one of the most common examples of recurring dreams, and have been experienced by 60%-75% of adults.

Out-of-Control Vehicle

Dream Translation: You don’t have a sense of control in your life, and you’re trying to gain control over a situation in which you may feel helpless. You’re not ready to take on certain responsibilities. If you’re a passenger, you may feel like you’re giving the control to someone else and you are uneasy about this. You aren’t ready to let go of the control.

Scientific Interpretation:
If you’ve been in a car accident, this dream stems from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the event, and it’s your brain’s way of trying to work through the trauma.


Dream Translation: To dream of your own death signifies big changes are happening in your life, or are about to occur. It’s usually a positive symbol of new beginnings, self-discovery, or inner changes. Also, dreams of death could represent the symbolic end of something in your life like a relationship or job.

Scientific Interpretation:
If someone in your life has died, the experience of having vivid and meaningful dreams is a key part of the bereavement process. It is your brain’s way of coping with the sadness and trauma. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

I hope to help others by sharing my experiences through writing.

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