Waking up from a vivid dream can be alarming, especially when you’re not sure what your dream was supposed to mean.
Sometimes they play out as picture-perfect reenactments of your life, but, other times, you wake up with no idea why your dreams are playing out surrealist narratives, or why they involve people you haven’t seen in years.
Unfortunately, that uncertainty can nag at you all day, leaving you craving resolution and meaning. What does it all mean? How should you interpret your dreams to find out what they truly mean — and do they truly mean anything in the first place? The good new is: people have been asking these questions for centuries.
History of Dreams
Humanity has been dreaming for as long as written history, but how we’ve interpreted those dreams has changed throughout the ages.
For many cultures, dreams were interpreted as divine messages that revealed more about the world than it did the dreamer’s own personal perceptions. Ancient Mesopotamians kept records of the symbols and themes that appeared throughout their dreams, hoping to decode messages from the gods. A wise elder was usually consulted to interpret dreams. Likewise, Ancient Greeks believed in a god named Morpheus who carried messages to mortals in their dreams, and many other civilizations have similar beliefs.
Aristotle, however, was one dissenter from this belief. He held that dreams were the product of your sensory organs’ movement while you were sleeping, and that they were basically meaningless. Many Ancient Greeks rejected this idea, and the notion that dreams were divinely inspired continued to be supported by other civilizations.
Various philosophers and physicians have debated over the purpose and cause of dreams, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Both would agree that dreams have more to say about the individual than they do about some large cosmic picture, but they would disagree on what exactly that might mean to said individuals. Freud believed that dreams spoke to repressed desires, mainly sexual. On the other hand, Jung saw dreams as a source of creativity, not necessarily related to repressed desires; instead, they were a way for the brain to solve complicated problems while asleep.
Today, we still disagree about the purpose of dreams. We know that dreams occur only during REM sleep, but where do dreams come from, and why we have them? We’re still not entirely sure. Some people continue to believe that dreams carry a deeper meaning than they may present on the surface, whether that’s within the context of the wider world, or only pertinent to the individual’s own psyche and interpretation.
Common Dream Meanings
When you are attempting to interpret your own dreams, consider where you’re at in your life. If you’ve had a major shift in your priorities or living conditions, you should take that into interpretive account. For example, it’s been shown that pregnant women tend to have similar dreams. However, there are some trends, symbols, and themes that pop up consistently in the world of dreams.
Dreams About Death
If you’ve had a dream in which you or someone you know dies, don’t panic! It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is in danger.
Dreams about death usually happen right after the end of something important, whether it’s a stage of life, a relationship, or a job. This might be your brain’s way of processing that change.
Dreams About Someone
Dreaming about someone particular in life can be awkward. People become anxious if someone they know was in the dream in a unusual context — fighting with a friend, kissing a coworker, or lecturing your professor, for example. That doesn’t necessarily reflect on your actual relationship with them. Instead, it just shows that this person was on your mind that day. You were probably thinking about them before you fell asleep.
To the surprise of no one, flying dreams are usually interpreted as representative of a desire for more freedom in the dreamer’s life. Dreaming about flying is usually a sign that you are being constrained by something, and are ready to break free.
Teeth Falling Out
Visits to the dentists are hardly anyone’s favorite activity — so much so that they can even be nightmare-inducing. However, dreaming that all your teeth have fallen out is not a sign that you’re afraid of dental care, or that you’ve been neglecting to floss.
Rather, this type of dream is a sign that you are stressed out, usually with regards to your self-image. Perhaps your confidence has fallen recently, or maybe you focus too much on your flaws. Whatever the case may be, having this dream is a sign that you need to start thinking about yourself in a more positive light.
This is sort of the opposite of flying dreams, so it makes sense that its meaning follows suit. Falling in your dreams is a sign that you’ve lost control over some aspect of your life, and that you feel threatened by it. After you wake up from this sort of dream, take a minute to plant your feet on the ground, and think about how to ground yourself metaphorically, too.
How To Dream More
If you want to have more dreams, you’ll need to get more REM sleep. That’s the only time that you’re able to dream. In order to sleep more soundly, take some time to wind down before bed, don’t stare at screens beforehand, and get yourself a comfortable mattress. Doing so can help you sleep better for longer.
Additionally, you might be having dreams already during your REM cycle that you’re forgetting. We often forget our dreams if we don’t write them down right after waking up. Keep a dream journal next to your bed in order to better remember the dreams you’ve already been having.
Dreams are complicated. Unfortunately, there’s no comprehensive dream dictionary that can cover all scenarios. That doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to interpret them, though. Examining dreams can help you understand yourself and your place in life, which might be their purpose after all.