57 Hidden Meanings Behind the Most Common Dreams, Decoded by Experts

March 26, 2023
17 mins read
57 Hidden Meanings Behind the Most Common Dreams, Decoded by Experts

Dream analysts share what these common dreams *really* mean.

Research shows we forget most of our dreams. But the dreams we remember often stick with us. At best, some can be confusing. At worst? They’re downright distressing.

Why were my teeth falling out in my dreams? Is my partner cheating on me IRL if they were during my dream? Why was I back with my first love? I’m definitely not pregnant, but I dreamt I was—WTF? Fortunately, we’ve reached out to experts who are pros at decoding common dreams and their meanings.

Looking deeper into a dream’s meaning not only clears your mind and consciousness (you’re not pregnant or cheating—phew). It can also provide valuable insights you can apply to your waking life.

“It’s important to decode your dreams because dreaming is a thinking process,” says Lauri Loewenberg a dream analyst. “They are very often a brutally honest illustration of what you are going through in your life and what you are currently feeling about it. It’s a commentary on how you react and behave.”

But the illustration isn’t always literal. Some of the characters and elements in common dreams—such as a first love or boss—are symbolic. 

“I have found that the most effective way to analyze a dream is to help the dreamer see the symbols and actions in their dreams as metaphors for their own waking lives,” says Megan Marya dream specialist. “When we combine our unique symbolic dream language with our authentic feelings experienced in the dream, we are able to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, our hopes, our fears and ultimately our life purpose.”

Experts share that dream meanings can vary based on the person having them—their past, present, future, hopes and fears all come into play. But they can provide some generalizations. Consider this your official dream decoder.

Related: Is It Bad To Sleep By Your Phone?

57 Common Dreams and Their Meanings 

1. Tidal Wave

A beach day gets interesting—and not in a good way—when a tidal wave comes racing toward you.

“The overhead element of the tidal wave is what’s in play,” says Loewenberg. “It’s over your head, so you may feel something very heavy in your life is having overhead. The concern is threatening to sweep you away from your normal peace of mind and daily routine.”

It could be that you’re overwhelmed at work or home. But sometimes, you’re so underwater that you’re not confronting emotions.

“A tidal wave is a message that we have been suppressing our emotions, and they are just like, ‘Enough. We’re going to take you out if you are going to keep avoiding us. We’ll overpower you until you are forced to deal with this,'” explains Kelly Sullivan Walden, a dream ambassador and author. “Some of us don’t have time to feel. We’re on such a fast track. It’s inconvenient to be emotional.”

2. You missed an exam

You graduated years ago, but in your dream, you’re panicking. You had an important test, and you didn’t show up.

“Exams are conveyors of judgment,” Mary explains. “They challenge us and then grade us on our performance. To dream you missed an exam can symbolize anxietyabout being judged in your waking life and a lack of self-confidence. It could also speak to concerns about choices in the past, perhaps missed opportunities.”

The dream can be anxiety-inducing, but Walden says it’s your subconscious giving you a back-handed compliment about your work ethic.

“I’ve never met a slacker who has had one of these kinds of dreams,” says Walden. “It’s people who are driven and doing well in the school of life who have these dreams.”

3. You made the exam, but you didn’t study for it

In this dream, you got to the testing site on time. Though this dream is a plot twist from missing the exam altogether, it has a similar meaning. We’re being judged.

“This could be a life lesson,” says Mary. “It could be giving us a message that something is coming up that we are not quite prepared for. There is something in the stress of not being prepared that gives us hyper-vigilance, so we become more hyper-alert.”

4. You’re back at your first job

Careers take twists, turns and detours. But you’ve traveled back to your rookie year during your sweet slumber. Mary says the message in the dream depends on whether or not you liked your first job

“Either way, it is a harkening back to a time in your past that somehow relates to a situation in your current waking life,” Mary says. “Think about if you liked that job or not, how you felt at that job and who was around you. How do you feel now that you are back at this job? Is this feeling missing in your waking life?”

You could also be about to climb the ladder, either with a promotion or a step up at another company.

“The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next,” explains Walden. “Even if we are well-balanced in our careers, there’s always the next challenge, and we may feel like we are back at square one.” 

5. You quit your job

Your subconscious listened to Queen Bey, and you said, “peace out,” to your current employer. Except you actually like your first job (and need the money).

“If that dream is coming out of nowhere and you have no desire to quit, it’s something else,” Loewenberg says. “What else do you want to stop doing that you feel is your job?“Is it your job to constantly please your partner? It’s your subconscious saying, ‘You need to quit doing that.’”

6. You’re being chased

Walden says this dream is one many people remember and fret over.

“It’s so visceral,” Walden says. 

Mary notes that whatever is chasing you, which you may or may not be able to see, is a metaphor.

“Being chased in a dream could be related to something you are not facing in real life,” Mary says. “It could be a situation, a person or a feeling.”

7. You’re naked in public

Loewenberg notes the dreamer is often the only one who notices they’re doing their best Emperor’s New Clothes impression.

“This is usually connected to you caring way too much about what others think of you and how others see you,” Loewenberg says.

Maybe you’re panicking about having your in-laws over for dinner or are overthinking a work situation.

8. Your teeth fell out

They say the smile is the window to the heart. In your dreams, yours just took a detour. You look in the mirror, and your pearly whites are falling out.

“Everything in the mouth is related to expression and communication,” Walden explains.

Loewenberg says people with this recurring dream often communicate too much.

“This dream is often had by people who do not have a filter,” Loewenberg says. “You are allowing things out of your mouth that really need to remain in there permanently.”

9. You died

Dying in a dream can be troubling—is it a premonition? Experts say no.

“To die in a dream does not mean you are or will die in waking life,” Mary says.

Loewenberg agrees.

“Don’t take it literally,” Loewenberg says. “It is symbolic of something in your life that is ending…in order to help us understand the finality of what is no longer needed and embrace what is to come.”

10. You kill someone

You’ve never even owned a fly swatter. But your not-so-sweet slumber last night involved you transforming into a cold-blooded killer.

You may have preferred to dream you were the one who died. The two dreams are similar in meaning.

“It is about changes or ending,” Loewenberg says. 

Still, there’s a critical difference.

“Death is natural, but murder is connected to a forced change or end,” Loewenberg says. “You may get the dream of you murdering someone when you are forcing a change, like quitting a habit like smoking or changing your diet. What ending are you forcing in your life?”

11. You’re being cheated on

Loewenberg says the meaning behind this dream depends on whether or not you’ve been cheated on in the past by a current or previous partner. In these cases, she says the remnants of the experience are still within you.

If you haven’t had to deal with an unfaithful partner, this dream can feel like it’s coming out of left field.

“It is usually connected to your feeling like there is a third wheel in the relationship that makes you feel left out,” Loewenberg says.

Often, Loewenberg says this dream happens to people with main squeezes who work too much or spend a ton of time with their friends and family. The dreamer feels left out.

12. You’re the one cheating

You love your partner but hook up with someone else while off in dreamland.

“Anyone and everyone in the dream is an aspect of self,” Walden says. “It could be about releasing and expressing a desire.”

Don’t feel bad—cheating in a dream doesn’t count in waking life.

“Dreams are the ultimate hall pass,” Walden says. “You don’t have to feel guilty about this.”

13. You’re back with your first love

This dream gets a bit more specific than a random one-night stand because it involves your first true love.

“It’s not necessarily about the first love but what the feeling was like—the excitement, being desired, wanting to be together, everything is wonderful,” Loewenberg says.

People might understand this if their current relationship is in a rut or if they haven’t dated in a while. 

“The psyche is saying, ‘Remember this feeling? What can we do to bring this back?'” Loewenberg explains.

14. You meet your idol

A dream come true—in your dreams. You meet one of the people who you admire most.

“Meeting a famous person in a dream many times can symbolize the aspect of that person that you admire or idolize,” Mary says. “What is it that you hold in high regard about that person? Are you integrating those aspects into your self-identity in waking life?”

15. You’re in jail

You try to stay on the straight and narrow while awake. But in your sleep, you’re in a bit of a pickle behind bars.

“To dream that you are in jail symbolizes that you feel punished or at least that you are being denied your freedom,” Mary says. “Have you put yourself in metaphorical jail in waking life? Is there someone or something in your life that is encroaching on your freedom or that you feel guilty about?”

16. You see an old friend 

You haven’t seen a childhood friend in ages (other than Facebook), but they show up in a dream.

“Seeing an old friend can be a comforting experience in a dream, although it does place some emphasis on the past,” Mary says. “What does this friend remind you of, and how would you describe this friend in three words? Your dream may be telling you to integrate these aspects or feelings from the past into your waking life.”

17. You dream about someone who really hurt you

The Regina George of your past rolls up in your dream. 

“Dreaming about a frenemy is exploring the emotions you felt when this person hurt you in the past,” Mary says.

Does it relate to your current situation? Perhaps you’re doing the same hurtful act to someone else (or yourself). It could be your subconscious raising a flag, Mary warns.

18. You see someone you really hurt

This dream could be another alarm from your subconscious.

“Are you about to exhibit the same behavior that caused you to hurt your friend?” Loewenberg suggests asking yourself.

19. You’re back at your childhood home

“Who says you can’t go home?” But your childhood home is more of a symbol when you’re back there in dreamland.

“It’s not about the actual house but who you were when you lived there and what life was like when you lived there,” Loewenberg says. “What part of you from back then do you need to bring back into your current life?”

20. You lost a limb

“To dream that you lose a limb symbolizes that you feel you may, or have already, lost part of yourself,” Mary says.

Loewenberg notes that the specific limb you lose in the dream matters.

“The foot, for example, represents your ability to stand up for yourself,” Loewenberg says. “Your hand represents your ability to handle a difficult situation.”

21. A natural disaster unfolds

Generally, natural disasters represent strong forces in your life, Mary explains. And Loewnberg adds that natural disasters are out of our control—an important element to keep in mind.

“What, in real life, feels like a disaster beyond control?” Loewenberg suggests asking yourself.

Related: Sleep Experts Agree This Is the #1 Worst Habit for Sleep

22. Public speaking

A nightmare during waking life takes on a more symbolic meaning in dreams.

“if you don’t have a public speaking engagement and this feels out of nowhere, this is about communication in real life,” Loewenberg says. “What do you need to speak up about? What feeling and idea do you need to speak up about?”

Mary says the dream can also be similar to the naked-in-public one.

If you are confident and everyone is clapping, this is a positive-reinforcing dream about your strengths and successes,” Mary says. “If you are anxious, insecure and flustered and everyone is staring, this is a negative experience that speaks to your weaknesses and insecurities.”

23. Your pet dies

Ugh, could there be anything more depressing?

Like other death dreams, a pet dying represents change. Dogs and cats represent different elements in dreams too.

“Dogs are almost always connected to a relationship where there should be loyalty and friendship,” Loewenberg says. “A cat, especially to women, a cat will represent your reproductive and sexual self or your ability to be independent and not give a f–k because cats give zero f—s.”

24. You can’t find your phone

Total nightmare. How will you doom scroll first thing in the morning? You didn’t really lose your phone, though. Your subconscious is sending you a message, and not of the text variety.

“Phones are tools for communication, but in this modern age, they are also our identity,” Mary explains. “Our lives are in our phones.”

Mary says losing it could symbolize that finding your identity is challenging or it represents an inability to advocate for yourself.

25. Binge eating 

Binge eating can represent a need to self-soothe, Mary says. How you feel in the dream matters.

“It could range from satisfaction to self-loathing and regret,” Mary says. “Ask yourself if there is anything you are overdoing in your life or denying yourself.”

26. Hiding something

If you’re hiding a literal thing in a dream, you’re likely doing the same in the figurative sense while awake.

“Are you hiding your opinion? Are you hiding some sort of information?” Loewenberg asks. “Maybe you are pregnant and don’t want people to know. Maybe someone you know is having an affair.”

27. You can’t find a bathroom

When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. But you passed potty training with flying colors years ago. Unfortunately, dream-you cannot find a bathroom.

“This one is about holding in frustration,” Loewenberg says. “The toilet, in particular, represents your ability to release, let go and relieve yourself of frustration. Your subconscious is telling you that you are holding in too much and need to find your release.”

28. Your car breaks down

This dream could have a couple of meanings.

“This can be connected to an emotional breakdown, but it can also be connected to losing your drive or motivation to continue forward with something, a relationship, a goal,” Loewenberg says. “You lost your ability or desire to keep moving forward.”

29. You’re falling, falling, falling…

A super-common dream involves falling—either into thin air, from a tower or even while walking.

“This one is most often connected to letdowns in real life,” Loewenberg says. “Plans fall through. The downward movement is what is at play here.”

30. You’re flying

The opposite of falling, Loewenberg says people often experience flying dreams when they’re having success in life.

“You are feeling powerful and elated about reaching the high goals you set for yourself,”  Loewenberg explains. “Maybe you broke free from something weighing you down and making you feel stuck.”

31. A specific person dies

This dream is very personal.

“It could be a part of ourselves, or a relationship or situation in our lives,” Mary says. “Think of three words you would use to describe the person that dies in your dream, then consider if those words relate to anything in your life that has ended or should end.”

32. Someone who died is living again

It depends on the situation.

“If this person is someone you are close to, and their death is in the last year, that’s part of your grief process,” Loewenberg explains.

If it’s been longer, the dream is probably more symbolic.

“That person represents a part of you, some personality trait, something you have in common that you need to bring to life,” Loewenberg says.

33. You’re pregnant

There’s no way you’re really pregnant. But there you are in your dream, bump and all.

“Pregnancy dreams are about something in the growing and development phase in real life,” Loewenberg says. “Maybe you are working on a degree or project you wish to bring to life.”

34. The car you’re driving is out of control

You don’t own a Tesla, but your dream car (not the Mercedes type, either) is out of control.

“This is a really good indication that you do not feel like you have a good handle on something in real life,” Loewenberg says. “You are having a hard time steering something in the right direction or taking control of it.”

35. You’re in a car accident

This dream could be the culmination of the last one. Or, it could stand alone.

“To dream that you are in a car accident could symbolize dangers you anticipate in your waking life,” Mary says.

Your role and your feeling in the dream will factor into its meaning.

“Are you the driver, or are you trapped at the whim of someone else?” Mary recommends asking yourself. “Are you injured, or do you injure someone else? What negative feelings are you harboring from your waking life that could cause you harm?”

36. Aliens invade your dreams

Life from somewhere other than the earth has set up shop in your dream world. What gives?

“Aliens represent something in our life that we have not encountered before, something that feels very alien to us,” Loewenberg says.

37. Zombies

Zombies are “the undead” and, therefore, represent something different than aliens in dreams, Loewenberg notes.

“Zombies are usually symbolic of grudges—something to be dead and over with, but we are keeping it alive,” she says.

38. An intruder breaks into your home

This one is harrowing—and the meaning is too.

“[It] symbolizes your concerns about your personal thoughts, emotions or self being violated,” Mary says. “Perhaps you are afraid of revealing your inner self, or perhaps you are afraid of the risks involved in exposing yourself to unfamiliar situations.”

39. Your child is missing

A parent’s worst nightmare: their child is missing.

This dream can have a few interpretations.

“One is separation anxiety, like when your child goes off to school,” Loewenberg says. “They’re missing in the dream because we miss them. You can also get this dream when there are communication issues. They are missing the point.” 

40. You broke an electronic device

These devices don’t come cheap, and dream-you has to shell out for a new one. The type of device affects the meaning, Mary says.

“If it is your phone, it could symbolize your inability to voice your feelings,” she explains. “If it is your television, it could symbolize a breakdown in your ability to connect with others. If your electric oven breaks and you cannot make dinner, it could symbolize your inability to nourish yourself. Perhaps you’re neglecting self-care in waking life.”

41. A plane crash

Not the most fun dream to get—particularly if you have a flight coming up. If you’re not afraid of flying and looking forward to watching movies, this dream can leave you feeling shaken.

Loewenberg says plane crashes typically represent letdowns—specifically career ones.

42. You’re having the best vacation ever

A pleasant dream with a positive meaning.

“Something in your life has suddenly become a lot easier,” Loewenberg says.

43. You can’t move

Are you dreaming or in the “in-between” state where you’re just waking up? If it’s the latter and you’re struggling to move, you’re not dreaming.

“It’s a physiological reaction,” Loewenberg says. “Your body hasn’t caught up to your mind.”

But if you can’t move in an actual dream, there’s meaning behind it.

“To be immobilized often represents being stuck or unable to move through or within a situation or emotion in your life,” Mary explains.

44. There’s glass in your mouth

Mary says this dream can be upsetting. Again, mouth dreams represent communication.

“Are you putting your foot in your mouth?” Mary asks. “Is there something you are not allowing yourself to say to someone else or yourself?”

45. It’s the end of the world

And you may or may not feel fine.

“[This dream represents how] the world around you, as you know it, is moving or changing,” Loewenberg says.

This dream often happens if you’re experiencing a career change, having your first baby or moving cross-country.

46. You’re in a movie or TV show

Lights, camera…what the heck? You’re the lead character in your life and dreams. But your acting career is limited to playing a crayon in your pre-school Halloweenskit.

“You are feeling like all eyes are on you and you have to put on a performance,” Loewenberg says.

47. You’re drowning

Water can symbolize emotions.

“If you are drowning, you are overwhelmed by your emotions,” Mary says. “There may be emotions you are not dealing with or acknowledging in waking life.”

It may also signal you need to pare down your schedule.

“You have way too much on your plate,” Loewenberg says. “What is causing you to feel like you can’t give your head above water?”

48. Snakes

You haven’t been looking at T-Swizzle’s Instagram account during her Reputation era (which brought on part 97 of her feud with Kanye and involved a whole bunch of snake emojis), so what gives?

“Snakes and fires are often connected to narcissists,” Loewenberg says. “Someone is exhibiting toxic, poisonous behavior.”

Related: Taylor Swift Might Have Embraced the Term, but What Exactly Is a ‘Covert Narcissist’?

49. You’re wearing a mask, and not the N95 kind

Loewenberg says this one is pretty cut and dry.

“It’s the face you put on to show the world when you don’t want to be truthful,” Loewenberg says. “Are you masking your feelings?”

50. Birds

This dream represents the freedom and independence you may be experiencing (or craving).

“Birds typically are about your ability to feel free, to free yourself from a situation that was causing you to feel held down or caged,” Loewenberg says.

51. You win the lottery 

Loewenberg says you may be acting out a fantasy if you play it. If you don’t, it’s a metaphor.

“What is going on in real life that is making you feel like you just won?” Loewenberg asks. “What or who is making you feel very valuable?”

52. You’re wading in water

This water dream is actually encouraging.

“It’s your subconscious showing you, ‘Maybe you are in a situation that was feeling overwhelming, but you have the ability to survive it,'” Loewenberg says.

53. You’re placing wagers at a casino

You may fill out a March Madness bracket, but gambling isn’t your thing. In your dream, you’re at a casino with money to spend.

“You’re taking a chance on something and doing something risky,” Loewenberg says.

Related: Can’t Sleep? Experts Have 16 Ideas To Help 

54. You’re being X-rayed

Sticks and stones may break your bones. But you’ve encountered neither, so why are you being X-rayed in your dream?

“To dream that you are being x-rayed could indicate you feel like you’re are being judged or examined in your waking life,” Mary explains. “It could also symbolize your own self-reflection, to attempt to ‘see through yourself’ to the authentic you.”

55. You’re riding a horse

Loewenberg says that horses have two primary meanings: health (‘healthy as a horse’) or comebacks (‘back in the saddle’).

“Perhaps you picked yourself up after a big setback or letdown,” she says.

56. You’re experiencing something historical—long before your time

It’s been a while since you sat in a history class. But in your dreams, you’re experiencing a historical event you weren’t around for, like a war or election. The event plays a significant role in the meaning, Mary and Loewenberg explain.

“Historical events that are playing out on your dream can be connected to your personal history,” Loewenberg says.

For example, Loewenberg explains that the Civil War could represent family conflict.

“Consider the significance of the event and your emotions as you experience this historical event, and then ask yourself if it reminds you of anything in your waking life,” Mary suggests.

57. You’re having the same challenging conversation with someone

You had a tough conversation with someone during waking hours. You thought it was over. But your subconscious has other ideas. You have the conversation again while catching Zzz’s. There’s a “type” that gets this dream.

“This is about people who typically rehash things in real life,” Loewenberg says. “But also, the dream will make you relive something to help you learn from it.”

As with other dreams, Loewenberg says you can use these lessons in your waking hour as you try to be the best version of yourself.

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