Think your dreams are crazy? Chances are they’re more normal than you think.
As you recount a strange dream to a friend, it doesn’t take long to realize how illogical and silly it can sound. The surroundings change without warning, the plot twists faster than a soap opera, and even the people in the dream seamlessly transform into a different characters in bizarre ways. With all this nonsense, you have to wonder—is there true meaning to your dreams? What’s the best way to interpret your dreams? Can certain dream symbols shed light on what’s happening IRL?
According to Natalie D. Dautovich, PhD, of the National Sleep Foundation, dreams occur during the REM cycle of sleep, or Rapid Eye Movement. (Learn more about different sleep cycles and why they matter here.) And yes, if you peek at someone sleeping and see their eyes shifting from side to side, there’s a good chance they’re dreaming—although the dream may not be about anything interesting or memorable. While we like to try to figure out what dreams mean, some dreams are simply mundane activities, like cooking, cleaning, or other everyday tasks.
However, some dreams might benefit from a more thorough dream interpretation, although it’s easy to make the wrong assumptions about what your dreams mean. “Most of us have no idea how to take a look at a dream,” says Carder Stout, PhD, a Los Angeles-based depth psychologist and dream analyst. Here are some of the surprising ways he says you can interpret common types of dreams:
What do dreams about flying mean? If you’re flying up in the sky during a dream, this could mean you need to gain a different perspective on things or you’re in the process of starting to look at things a different way.
What do dreams about being chased mean? While dreams about being chased by something or someone can be scary, consider it a message that there’s something you need to take a look at—something that’s trying to get your attention. This kind of dream can often lead to an “aha!” moment, says Dr. Stout.
What do dreams about being naked in public mean? This kind of dream represents the fact that you are shedding your protective layer and are extremely vulnerable in some capacity at that moment in your life. Dreaming about being naked can occur when you’re entering into a new relationship, say, or other situation where you’re worried about being vulnerable, says Dr. Stout.
What do dreams about your teeth falling out mean? This is actually a positive dream, says Dr. Stout. In real life, your teeth fall out when you’re going through major transitions--from being an infant to being a big kid. Dreaming about your teeth falling out is really about growing and evolving to a new place in life.
Surprisingly, Dr. Stout’s dream interpretations find that many dreams actually have more positive meanings than you might think. While a dream may feel like a nightmare, a dream analysis shows that you tend to have them while experiencing natural stress or anxiety about big changes or upcoming events. These changes could actually be a positive thing in your life and could be a sign for you to take a more active approach in managing your stress (we recommend some light exercise to help with stress relief).
Dr. Dautovich is the National Sleep Foundation's Environmental Scholar. She is also appointed at Virginia Commonwealth University as an assistant professor of counseling psychology in the department of psychology. She received her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Florida and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of South Florida.
In Your Dreams. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on March 7, 2017 at https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/your-dreams.)
Dreams and Sleep. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on March 7, 2017 at https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/dream-and-sleep.)
What happens when you sleep? Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation, 2017. (Accessed on March 7, 2017 at https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep.)
Nightmares and Sleep. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation, 2017 (Accessed on March 7, 2107 at https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/abnormal-sleep-behaviors/nightmares-and-sleep.)