We’ve all woken up from a dream and wondered what the heck was going on with our brains while we slept. Teeth falling out? Suddenly back in high school? Even fun scenarios like finding a stash of money can leave you with a lot of questions.
Thankfully, there are experts out there who’ve spent long careers unpacking the most common dreams so many of us have while we snooze. Of course, everyone is different, so you might not buy into all of their explanations — but you might also be surprised by just how close their insights hit home.
Take a look below to see the potential meanings behind our most common dreams.
Unable to Find a Bathroom
Do you often find your dream-self wandering around aimlessly looking for a bathroom? Or perhaps the one you find has a distinct lack of privacy. Ian Wallace, dream psychologist and author of The Complete A to Z Dictionary of Dreams: Be Your Own Dream Expert ($15.53, Amazon) shares insight about this frustrating inability to find “relief” on his website. He writes, “In day-to-day living, the toilet is where you go to release what is no longer healthy or sustaining for you. Dreaming about needing the toilet reflects some situation in your waking reality that has become unhealthy for you.”
Wallace elaborates that this might be an indicator that you often put others’ needs before your own when awake. He recommends setting more boundaries and simply learning to say “no” to others when you need time to look after yourself. “This may appear selfish to you, but it is always much easier to look after the needs of other people when you are not always unconsciously anxious about your own needs,” he explains.
Meeting a Celebrity
Who wouldn’t love the chance to hang out with their favorite celeb — even if it’s just in our dreams? However, Lauri Loewenberg, certified dream analyst and author of Dream On It ($14.59, Amazon), claims that it has less to do with how you feel about the famous face in real life and more about what they might represent by popping up. She explains on her website, “Ask yourself what is that celebrity best known for. Is it a character they have played on TV or in the movies? Can you relate that character or show in your life right now? Is it a song? If so, does the title or the lyrics speak to you right now?”
Loewenberg also provides a helpful example of a woman who wrote into her syndicated newspaper column saying she recently had an amorous dream about Lenny Kravitz — but her dream-self kept getting distracted from actually making it to their date. After the woman revealed she had been struggling with her weight loss goals and that she remembered her dream-self “being paranoid thinking he would think I was fat,” Loewenberg connected the dots to Kravitz starring in the Hunger Games franchise at the time. “He must represent the hunger you have to deal with in order to lose the weight you want that is unfortunately taking too long to come off,” she wrote, which the woman agreed made a lot of sense.
The meaning can vary based on the celeb you encounter in your sleep, so try thinking about how they might symbolize something other than how cool it would be to meet them in real life.
Whether you dream about stumbling upon a pile of cash or winning a massive lottery, it can be disappointing to wake up and realize your bank account hasn’t been magically boosted overnight. But this dream actually has more to do with your own personal value or of those around you, not monetary gains.
“Often this dream indicates that the dreamer possesses special artistic or creative abilities that they are in the process of becoming aware of,” Wallace explains. “Sometimes the dreamer feels guilty when they find the money which may indicate that their self-esteem is currently lower than normal, and they should value themselves more than they currently do.”
Loewenberg acknowledges that it could be a reflection of real-life financial gains, but also claims it’s more likely to be about the state of your “emotional and psychological currency” — like the exchange of things like compliments, gratitude, or respect with those close to you. Basically, that stack of cash might be a sign that you’re feeling extra loved lately!
Teeth Falling Out
This is one of the most universally recurring dreams — and one that can often seem more like a nightmare. It’s even been studied by scientists who hypothesized the disturbing dreams could stem from another common issue: physically grinding teeth at night. Although they found no evidence of that specific dental ailment as the cause for their group of participants, some did report more general toothaches that could have inspired their dream-selves to conjure up grisly visions of their chompers falling out.
Jane Teresa Anderson, dream analyst and author of Taming the Unconscious to Bring Your Dreams to Fruition ($19.99, Amazon), also shed light on these troubling tooth dreams on her website. She agrees that the presence of physical teeth problems — or even being around a child who’s at the age where they start getting visits from the Tooth Fairy — could be the root of these dreams. However, she highlights a potential deeper meaning. “If the sense of loss in the dream is worrying or traumatic, the dream is processing feelings, issues, or beliefs about loss that have been triggered during the last couple of days.”
We can all probably agree that these dreams tend to be on the worrying side, so Anderson is likely onto something with signaling the need to process what’s going on around us involving loss.
Back In School
Not only are you suddenly plopped back at your alma mater, but dream-you likely realizes you have to take a test that you haven’t studied for at all — possibly because you forgot to attend that course all semester or can’t find the classroom to begin with. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you actually attended school, either. Peter Gray, PhD, shared the results of survey with Psychology Today readers that showed this panic-inducing dream occurring in people ranging in age from 20 to 77.
Dream expert Marcia Emery, PhD, shared her interpretation of these scholastic stress dreams with NBC News in 2011. “I call them ‘lost locker’ dreams,” she claimed, citing another common issue that pops up. “Their function is to get you to ask what you’re afraid of, what’s unfinished, where do you feel unprepared. They’re a wake-up call. There’s something that’s unresolved, usually an unresolved emotional problem.”
Emery elaborated that that the unresolved issue might also stem from something that happened during our academic years. “If it’s high school, it’s going back to a time when you might have felt unworthy or uncomfortable about not completing your assignments. It often goes back to the time when these feelings were first generated — when you first felt overloaded or overworked or overwhelmed.” Sounds like these dreams signal a need to give yourself a well-earned break.
“In a chase dream, you often find yourself being pursued by someone or something that appears to threaten you in some way. Normally, you would find it quite easy to escape from your pursuer in day-to-day life,” Wallace explains. For example, dream-you might be unable to move as quickly as you know you can in real life, or have the feeling of running underwater. “This is because your pursuer is some aspect of your own self and symbolizes an opportunity that you are pursuing in waking life.”
He recommends confronting your frustrations head-on when you wake up in order to feel less helpless. “Instead of feeling that you are under constant pressure, you will become the one pursuing your chosen goal.”
It could be tripping over something or feeling like you’ve slipped off the edge of a cliff, but this incredibly common dream is often jarring enough to wake us out of our slumber.
According to Wallace, this is usually a sign that we feel like we’re failing at something in our daily lives or feeling a lack of control in a particular situation. “This can be because you tend to set yourself high standards for the results you produce and may feel like a failure if you aren’t able to maintain this level of success,” he explains.
Just as our dream-selves seem to be letting go of the ground, these might signal a need to let go of an expectation of perfection or need to have total control over things we have no power over in real life. “If you are too tense, you are far less likely to notice opportunities and take full advantage of them,” Wallace claims. “The more you can relax, the more that you can influence favorable outcomes by just letting everything fall naturally into place.” Perhaps it’s time to book a spa appointment the next time you wake up from one of these jolting dreams.
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