Common Nightmares and What They Mean

We've all been there: You wake up in a cold sweat, frantically turn on the lights, and realize you've just been the victim of a terrible dream. When it happens, you immediately start to wonder, "What does my nightmare mean?" If you've been waking up scared and confused night after night, get some answers with this list of the most common nightmares, and the dream meanings behind them.

When nightmares attack, it may be a comfort to know that you're not alone. What are the most common nightmares? Your teeth falling out, getting chased by a shadowy figure, or suddenly noticing that your totally naked are a few that rank among the top. Check out this list to find out what they mean for your waking life, and what you can do to stop having them.

Photo: Banalities / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

  • You Are Being Chased


    The Nightmare:  You are being chased by a large animal, monster, generic bad guy, shadowy figure, or some other equally scary attacker.

    What It Means: If Freddy Krueger is after you, you’re watching too many horror movies. More likely though, you are avoiding something, often your own emotions! If you are ignoring feelings of anger or hate, your subconscious is telling you that it’s time to confront those feelings, and say goodbye to them once and for all. As Yoda said “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to nightmares about monsters chasing you.” Okay, so maybe that’s not quite what Yoda said, but you get the picture. Then again, a different reason for this nightmare could be that you are avoiding responsibility. In that case, it is time to empty your calendar of anything unnecessary and take care of business.


  • You Are Falling


    The Nightmare: You are falling for what feels like forever. Or if you’re lucky, you’re just slipping or losing your balance.

    What It Means: Have you ever felt your muscles jerk when falling asleep? That’s called a “myoclonic jerk” and it often happens during a falling dream, which occurs during the first phase of sleep. The key to understanding a falling dream is to understanding how you are falling. If you are losing grip and about to fall, you need to let go of a situation or relationship you are trying too hard to control. If you feel clumsy, then your life is out of balance - perhaps you are working too much or giving too much of yourself in a relationship. If you are falling straight down, this represents fear of failure. If you are slipping or tripping, that means you are afraid of making a mistake. If someone has pushed you, you feel threatened by someone in real life, perhaps a demanding boss or gossipy relative.

  • You Fail a Test

    The Nightmare: Studying for a test you are stressed out about, or failing a test.

    What It Means: Kids in school and adults who've long since graduated both dream about taking or studying for a stressful test, and this common dream may actually help us to achieve success in life. Basically, when we think we are going to fail, we work doubly hard. This dream also allows our brain to take a timeout for a “self exam,” in order to deal, well, you know... life and stuff.

  • You Are Naked in Public

    The Nightmare: You are giving a work presentation, walking down the street, or having a conversation with a friend, when you suddenly realize that - gasp! - you’re naked.

    What It Means: Feeling vulnerable, exposed, or uncomfortable in your own skin? Hiding something or trying to keep a secret? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there’s a good chance you’ll dream about being naked or half-naked somewhere in public. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable in your birthday suit, you are probably a very secure person, and wouldn't consider this a nightmare at all.

  • Your Teeth Fall Out

    The Nightmare: Your teeth fall or crumble apart.

     What It Means: This dream is so common, there is a whole website dedicated to it:! Losing your teeth can be a symbol for losing your youth, money, self image, security, masculinity, mojo, etc, but more often than not, it means you are just going through a big life change like switching jobs or moving houses. Not a biggie. 

  • You Die

    The Nightmare: You or someone you know is dying or severely injured. You may suffer from a deadly disease, or your loved one may get in a fatal car crash.

    What It Means: Don’t worry, just because you dreamed about dying, it doesn’t mean you’re going to die. In reality, dreaming about death just means a new beginning in life. Maybe you are kicking an old habit, selling your home, or changing jobs. So what does it mean when someone sees dead people in their dreams? Mystics believe dreams give us a glimpse to the other side, so it may mean that you're being visited by ghosts. Then again, psychologists claim that dreams simply help us to deal with the tragic deaths of loved ones.