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50 Hidden Meanings Behind the Most Common Dreams

Wondering what your dream last night really meant? Chances are, it doesn't mean what you think it does.

The moon in the night cloudy sky with starsKorionov/Shutterstock

What was that dream all about anyway?

Your dreams can say a lot about you and even your health. But dream interpretation can be tricky. During the day, you’re living a totally normal life, but by night your dreams may be filled with flying, get lost in strange houses, even being chased. Experts say these fantastical dream motifs can reveal a lot about your real life. “Most of us in the field of mental health today take an eclectic, or inclusive, approach to helping clients interpret their dreams, using many techniques rather than just relying on stock symbols,” says Arlene B. Englander LCSW, MBA. “There are certain dreams that tend to be frequently reported, however, and that may often pinpoint certain issues that the client is trying to work through on a subconscious or preconscious level.”

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You’re struggling to find a bathroom

This a common dream for women to have, according to Elisa Robyn PhD, an academic dean and prosperity astrologer. “This is usually about having too much to deal with and feeling that you cannot let go,” she says. This is an especially common dream for women who have both children and aging parents. Stressful, but dreaming could lower your risk of dementia—here’s how.

Close-up of female with open mouth during oral checkup at the dentist.DentistMintybear/Shutterstock

Your teeth are falling out

According to Jungian therapist Cathy Lynn Pagano, this dream means we’re not able to digest what’s going on in our lives. “Teeth begin the digestion process, and when teeth fall out, it means the tools we usually use to understand and integrate things in our lives are no longer available or useful,” she says.

Modern staircase of oak wood beside front door in contemporary home horizontalJodie Johnson/Shutterstock

You’re lost in a house

It’s really about not being able to decide for yourself a clear direction in your life,” says fourth-generation psychic medium Linda Lauren. “You’re looking for an answer in empty rooms.”

Fibroma on the male back, details, close-upIgor Ivakhno/Shutterstock

You’re naked

“Usually this is about feeling vulnerable and unprepared or not up to a task,” Robyn said. “However, sometimes it can mean a sense of freedom and new beginnings. It depends on what happens in the dream.”

front door houseDavid Papazian/Shutterstock

You’re in your childhood home

How does the dream make you feel? That may be the key to the dream interpretation here. “The feelings that are elicited may have to do with emotions [you] had then, which are recurring now, and exploring this can be very helpful,” Englander says. If you’d rather not have this dream, here’s how you can control your dreams.

RunningJacob Lund/Shutterstock

You’re being chased

“You’re running from something you have to face,” Lauren says. “A lot of people dream like that because they feel persecuted by one person or they’re hiding from something they need to reveal. It means we’re fearful of exposing ourselves.”

check watch timeGaudiLab/Shutterstock

You’re late or missing a plane/appointment/meeting

Robyn says these dreams often occur when you have to get up early for something like a flight.  “It can also mean that we are anxious about an event and worried about how it will turn out, or if we should even attend,” she says.

Portrait of young african guy standing near broken car and calling for help on mobile phonemimagephotography/Shutterstock

Your car is broken down

Pagano says this means you’re about to change course. “Our cars take us to our goals, and when we dream of them breaking down, it means the way we’re trying to achieve our goals needs fixing,” she says. “But first, check and see if your actual car needs fixing!”

Messy bed. White pillow and blanket with sunlight through window. Relaxing concept. Unmade bed.Seeme/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming about falling (or actually fall out of bed while dreaming)

Lauren says this can happen when lucid dreaming (where you gain some control over the dream and may become aware you’re dreaming). “Lucid dreaming makes us feel as though we’re not attached to everything on Earth so we feel like we’re falling,” she says. “Basically its a dream of moving too quickly, feeling insecure.”

A closeup of a dimly lit prison holding cell door with gripping the bars - 3D renderInked Pixels/Shutterstock

You dream of someone who gravely wronged you

“Survivors of trauma may dream about the perpetrators, at first feeling in a helpless position, but as time goes on, [they] may become more and more strong and able to defend themselves,” Englander says. “This may mirror improvements in their mood and sense of self-esteem as they progress in therapy.” You may also be having nightmares for these reasons.

jitters_fast food brainMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

You’re back in school, about to take a test, and didn’t study

“This dream motif happens when we’re anxious about something we have to do—about our performance,” Pagano says. “We feel as if we’re not prepared for a task or an interview and it blindsides us.”

One person looking at view high up on the Alps. Expasive landscape, idyllic view at sunset. Rear view.Fabio Lamanna/Shutterstock

You’re moving from place to place and surrounded by strange people and events

Robyn calls dreams with seemingly no context “wild dreams.” “These dreams are about trying to integrate the many aspects of our life, or feeling unable to integrate them,” she says.

new york birds eye viewPW.photography/Shutterstock

You’re flying

“Flying is a real positive dream,” Lauren says. “It means you’re getting to your goals. You’re accomplishing things, leading to success. Everything is open to you. It’s such a positive time when you dream of flying.”

Couple standing together by a gravestoneRawpixel.com/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming of death

“While these can be frightening, they usually mean an ending and new beginning,” Robyn says.

A photo of an open casket found in a funeral home,Freaktography/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming of one specific person dying

Dreaming of a person in your life dying can sometimes be a premonition, Robyn says. But other times it can have a lighter meaning, according to Lauren. “It’s a heads up to you that you have some information to help someone advance their life in the positive,” Lauren says. “It’s not necessarily a premonition. People see death as a negative, but in dreams, it’s not.” Struggling to remember your dreams in the first place? This pill could help.

USJ/Shutterstock

You’re not wearing shoes

There’s an interesting dream interpretation when you’re not wearing shoes while out and about in your night visions. “It is a lot about direction,” Lauren says. “It’s not being prepared for the direction you want to go to.”

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There’s a tornado

This is a common dream, so common that certified dream analyst Lauri Quinn Loewenberg says she’s had clients who dream of tornadoes once a week. This type of dream is often found in women. “The tornado dream is very common with people who’d consider themselves to be worrywarts,” she says. “Weather will reflect your emotions at the time of the dream. Tornadoes represent anxiety and worry that are out of control. This worry and anxiety is a destructive force just like a tornado is.”

Happy Asian pregnant woman touching her belly with care in bedroom. She canâ??t wait to be mom.interstid/Shutterstock

You’re pregnant

What it means when you’re expecting in your dreams takes on a different meaning depending on your relationship status, according to Lauren. “If you’re unmarried, it’s a wish,” she says. “If you’re married, it means it might be a fear.”

Drag racing car burns rubber off its tires in preparation for the raceToa55/Shutterstock

You’re driving or in a vehicle that’s out of control

For this dream interpretation, pay attention to who’s behind the wheel, Loewenberg says. “If you’re behind the wheel, it’s about an issue you’re trying to control. What are you having a hard time taking control of? What are you trying to steer in a different direction and it’s just not working?”

What time is it. Full length side view serious man looking at modern watch while keeping big suitcase. He waiting for train. Trip conceptOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

You’re traveling

Dreaming of plane, train, or car travel is very big, especially for young people, Lauren says. “It’s a desire for movement in your life,” she says. “It’s contrary in a lot of ways. It’s trying to keep you in balance.” This personality type tends to dream about flying more than others.

elderly woman handOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming about good times with an ex

This means you cannot stop thinking about your ex…but the feeling isn’t necessarily mutual. “It does not mean in any way, shape, or form the person wants you back,” Lauren warns. “It means you are obsessed thinking about the person in your life you dated and you just can’t get over it.”

Visiting family psychotherapist. Adult sad couple sitting on couch in front of each other and talking about his lifeYAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock

You’re fighting with an ex

Now dreams about turmoil with someone you were once involved with are a different story than dreams about happier times, Lauren says. “It’s indicative of not resolving something you feel you were wrong about and didn’t get to apologize for,” she says. “Arguments usually have to do with our regrets.”

Photographers are taking a picture of a film starYuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

You’re meeting a celebrity

When attempting a dream interpretation of a vision of a celebrity, Loewenberg says it’s important to figure out what comes to mind when you think of that celebrity. “The message that celebrity brings to you can be found in the title of the song or maybe the lyrics or the character you know them from,” she says. “There’s something your subconscious identifies from it that applies to you and your life right now.”

Portrait of a beautiful young woman lying on bed with legs up on bed at the bedroomDean Drobot/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming about sex

“That’s about isolation,” Lauren says. “People who are lonely, this dream could be an indication they need to socialize more in real life.”

bed pillows sleepAlena Ozerova/Shutterstock

You’re having nightmares

Maybe the theme changes each time, but you’re consistently having scary dreams. What’s the dream interpretation? “Nightmares, which are very common, reflect a deep fear we want to address or are releasing,” Robyn says. It could also mean you’re more prone to this disease.

woman takes off an engagement ring, family conflict, close-upDenis Val/Shutterstock

Your partner is cheating on you

If your partner has cheated on you before in reality, Loewenberg says this indicates a distrust is still there. But the dream interpretation is different if this has never happened before in real life. Many people have dreams of their partners cheating, seemingly out of nowhere, and it can say something about the relationship. “If this dream seems to be coming out of nowhere, in that case, the cheating dream does mean there’s a third wheel in the relationship,” Loewenberg says. “But it’s not another person. It’s typically another thing (work, a new baby, fantasy football)…something taking time and attention from the relationship, but applies elsewhere. You feel cheated out of time and attention. These dreams are good for you because they’re shining a light on an issue you need to work out.”

Aerial view to ocean waves. Blue water backgroundIvan Kurmyshov/Shutterstock

There’s water in your dreams

“Any time you dream of water, it’s emotional,” Lauren says. “It has to do with something new changing for you, but it’s emotional. You don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it’s an emotional time coming up.”

black lace lingerie near condom, handcuffs and condom on bed LightField Studios/Shutterstock

You’ve had sex with someone you shouldn’t have

Did you dream you slept with your friend’s boyfriend or your coworker? According to dream interpretation, this doesn’t mean you want to secretly sleep with them in real life according to Loewenberg. “It’s important to remind yourself dreams are symbolic,” she says. “Don’t look at them literally. Sex in a dream isn’t about a physical union you want, but a psychological union you need. What qualities stand out about that person that you could use right now with your life?”

confidential contentsphotastic/Shutterstock

You’re keeping a secret

If you’re keeping a secret in your dream that doesn’t apply to you in real life, the dream interpretation here still reflects on your reality. “It could be something about yourself you don’t want others to know,” Loewenberg says.”Maybe you have a low opinion of yourself. Maybe you’re insecure. Maybe it’s a personal viewpoint you don’t want others to know about you. If you’re getting that type of dream, ask yourself what is it about you that you don’t want someone to know.”

Couple on a bed, Loving couple having sex under white sheets in the bedroom.Gengwit Wattakawigran/Shutterstock

You cheated

Like dreams about your partner cheating on you, dreams about being unfaithful with no grounding in reality say something about your relationship. “There’s something your subconscious is trying to let you know,” Loewenberg says. “You know you are putting too much time and energy into. It’s taking away from the marriage.” Might sound stressful, but it’s better than the ways not remembering your dreams can hurt your health.

Keyhole in old wooden door, copy space on one side.daguimagery/Shutterstock

You’ve discovered a secret room

“This dream would indicate aspects of self that are yet undiscovered or undeveloped,” Poizner says. “Maybe the person who always hated politics becomes consumed with that interest, or the heady intellectual, at a certain age, now becomes passionate about exercise. New ways of experiencing the self, a widening or broadening of the self, interests or patterns, may be imminent. Look at what is in the room for hints about what that potential might look like.”

UFO flying in a dark skyFer Gregory/Shutterstock

You’re having an alien encounter

“Encountering aliens is a classic “shadow” dream—in that what is most “alien” to us is ourselves—our higher selves—or the part of ourselves we’ve cast out,” says dream expert Kelly Sullivan Walden. “Alien dreams reveal our deep-seated fears of rejection, loneliness, and alienation. Perhaps you are afraid of exposing your true self for fear of being thought of as weird. If your dream takes place in outer space, you are opening to a universal perspective beyond the myopia of mundane ordinary life, tapping into unexplored solutions and inspiration. If you learn to harness these dreams and not be so frightened, you can attune yourself to a higher vision to assist you with your earthbound challenges.”

Rear View Of A Burglar Entering In A House Through A WindowAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

There are intruders breaking into your house

That intruder symbolizes some kind of negative element you feel has intruded on your normal routine or peace of mind,” Loewenberg says. “Ask yourself what’s going on that’s changed your routine and intruded upon your thoughts. That’s what your intruder represents.”

sad child, stress and depressionNadyaEugene/Shutterstock

You’ve lost or forgotten your child somewhere

Walden says there are two interpretations of this dream. New parents may have it as they prepare to raise their child, but it can also symbolize a creative project that needs nurturing. “I believe this dream is alarming because it’s trying to get our attention so that we don’t forget to care for the child in our lives, as well as the child “aspect” of ourselves,” she says. Try asking yourself about new projects in your life and the best way to care for yourself through any life transition you may be experiencing, she suggests.

Hands holding broken mobile smartphoneT.Dallas/Shutterstock

You’ve broken your phone, computer, or TV

“This type of dream usually highlights a glitch in connection with someone important to the dreamer,” Walden says. “I believe this dream is trying to help the dreamer problem-solve in such a way that would ultimately make them more intuitive, compassionate. These dreams can be frustrating, but I believe they have very positive intent. They’re alerting us to the fact that there is an issue in our communication and it’s urging us to become creative, resilient, and resourceful regarding the ways that we reach people.” They can also help us come up with new technological advances just like these life-changing ideas that came from dreams.

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You’ve met an attractive stranger

“This what I call the ‘mystery lover dream,'” Loewenberg says. “A stranger in a dream, someone you don’t know, will symbolize a part of yourself.” For example, if you dream about an unknown man, it may represent traditionally masculine qualities you want to channel in your actions.

airplane takeoffSkycolors/Shutterstock

You’re in a plane crash

Planes are normally symbols of aspiration when it comes to dream interpretation, Walden says, so dreaming of a plane crash can mean you’re worried about a goal that’s gone south. “These dreams can be a nudge to drop your ego and earthly baggage, in order to be lighter, and not so heavy laden,” she says. “When our dream airplane crashes, it could signify that we’re simply not yet ready for our “dream” to take off…that we need to mourn a vision that didn’t come into fruition, get grounded and become better prepared so that our next experience on the jetway of life, we’ll be ready to take off.”

coconut on wooden floor with white backgroundnafterphoto/Shutterstock

You’ve gone on a great vacation

There are two ways to approach this dream interpretation, Loewenberg says. You’re either worked up about something and need a break from it or you’re just in need of a vacation.

Vintage lightbulb on dark background with bright yellow shining wireAlexander Kirch/Shutterstock

You’ve made an important discovery

Pay attention! Many great figures in the past have found inspiration for their greatest ideas through their dreams, Walden says.

woman hands bound. Women were handcuffed and Sitting on a chair.woman tied hand to a chair.Crime Concept.Criminality Concept.Bonded business.Nutthaseth Van/Shutterstock

You’re unable to move or speak

If this happens within the storyline of your dream, it could be caused by something happening in real life that you’re not moving on quickly enough, Loewenberg says. But if it’s happening when you’re more lucid, it could be a sign of sleep paralysis.

Cracked WindowStephen Kiers/Shutterstock

You have glass in your mouth

This dream interpretation relates to communication issues, according to Walden. “Because glass is both fragile, and when it breaks it can cut and harm, I believe if we dream of having glass in our mouth it signifies we may be angry, hurt, or fear that our words, if expressed, will harm someone,” Walden says. “Ultimately, it’s a message to learn how to vent out our unpleasant feelings (via journaling, screaming into a pillow, or sharing with a trusted friend or counselor) so that we can find a constructive (non-adrenalized) way of expressing our feelings and needs (to say what we mean, without having to say it mean).”

black gas mask on stone backgroundPRESSLAB/Shutterstock

You’re experiencing an apocalypse

Violence in dreams can indicate anger, says psychotherapist Annette Poizner, MSW, Ed.D, RSW. It’s also a common motif in the dreams of people who have been working on becoming more assertive and forceful. “Imagine the formerly inhibited person who is making changes, tolerating more awareness of anger, versus suppressing it,” she says. “That individual, re-thinking the inhibitions of yesterday, may experience violent dreams as they get in touch with their own aggressive energy. It doesn’t mean they will become violent. It means they are awakening to this forceful energy within, aware that it requires special handling. The energy is unnerving at first blush, but it will be an important resource when the former block is removed.”

Bearers a carrying a coffin into a carRobert Hoetink/Shutterstock

You’re encountering someone who has died in real life

Psychologically speaking, when someone that has died shows up in your dream, they’re going to symbolize some aspect of your own personality,” Loewenberg says. For example, if your late mother shows up in your dreams, she may symbolize your own role as a mother or, if you don’t have children, your own caring and nurturing side.

movie-cameraMichael Dechev/Shutterstock

You’re in a movie or TV show

Poizner says this implies a capacity to be more involved in the world around you, socially and emotionally whether it’s through getting involved with an organization or taking a public role. “This can be the dream of the introvert who is on the cusp of developing more extroversive tendencies, or the person who has been living an insular life that is readying to step into the limelight,” Poizner says. But while the secret room implies looking into yourself, this dream means you should come out of your shell.

Locked padlock with chain at wooden door background, vintage, Closeuptj_studio/Shutterstock

You’re being trapped or crushed

Poizner says this dream can show external pressures like work or a relationship or your own inner tendencies are manifesting in physical symptoms of stress that are similar to being crushed. This can include symptoms like muscle tension and cramping. This nightmare could also be a symptom of this common sleeping mistake.

young man sinking into the seaPhotobank gallery/Shutterstock

You’re drowning

Water is often a symbol of excess, specifically, in dreams, alluding to sensual pleasures or feelings that are overpowering the personality or other forms of excess or self-indulgence,” Poizner says. “The dream may indicate the degree of personal control has been compromised so that chaos is near at hand.” 

Portrait of wild Horseshoe whip snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis). Close up photo of exotic vibrant brown and grey snake on the ground. Shallow blurry background. Reptile species from Portugal, Europe.TheRocky41/Shutterstock

You dream of a snake

The dream interpretation of dreams of a snake depends on whether the snake is friend or foe, according to Red Mountain Resort Shamanic Energy Provider Brittney Marie. “Several people might all have a dream of a serpent, a snake. [It’s] often a symbol of shedding the old and releasing the past,” she says.

masquerade masksPodvysotskiy Roman/Shutterstock

You’re wearing a mask or someone else is wearing one

According to dreamdictionary.org, this means you’re trying to cover up something. If you’re the one wearing the mask, it could indicate you’re not happy with your appearance. If it’s someone else wearing it, it could mean there are powerful, deceptive forces around you.

white lockersND700/Shutterstock

You’re back in school

Many people dream they’re back in school, whether they’re there taking an exam for which they didn’t study or looking for their locker. Loewenberg says most people dream they’re back in high school where people felt more pressure and less control over their situation than they did in other educational settings. “It’s super common and the reason why is because most often it can be connected some kind of stress in your career and your dream,” she says. “The stress in the dream and the fear and anxiety can be directly connected to real life.”

Flock of BirdsJonathan Cater/Shutterstock

You’re dreaming of birds

Dreamdictionary.org says there are several dream interpretations of this depending on the number and type of bird. A flock can mean freedom, blackbirds mean good or bad news, a red bird can show you if you have an open heart. After you’ve interpreted your dreams, here are more dream facts you should know.

Erin Kayata
Erin Kayata joined Reader’s Digest as an assistant staff writer in March 2019, coming from the Stamford Advocate where she covered education. Prior to this, she was part of a two-year Hearst fellowship program where she covered crime and education in suburban Connecticut. She graduated from Emerson College and spent part of her undergraduate career writing for the Boston Globe. When she’s not writing articles about useful facts and pop culture, you can find Erin enjoying the local theater scene and working toward her goal of reading 50 books a year.