Meaning of dreams—the most common dreams and what they really mean

The true meaning of dreams might seem a little crazy at times, but are yours trying to tell you something important?

meaning of dreams, woman lying on pillow dreaming
(Image credit: Getty Images / FoxysGraphic)

Want to know the meaning of dreams? It's no wonder. Dreams can be very strange at times. One minute you're sleeping peacefully, and the next you're fighting off aliens or declaring your love for a celebrity.

When you're tucked up in bed with your best pillow and your cosiest blanket, ready for a night of restful slumber, having dreams can sometimes but a little unsettling. The good news? Whatever you get up to when you're asleep is totally normal. We all dream – it’s part of the natural sleep cycle. While some of us don’t remember a thing about our dreams, for others, they can be a source of comfort or distress. 

"Sometimes dreams can be your subconscious mind's way of processing difficult emotions," says clinical sexologist Lucy Rowett. "At other times they can be a sign of something that isn't being expressed or a need that's not being met." 

Learning to understand what your mind is trying to tell you while you’re asleep can be revealing and, at times, helpful. Just like common nightmares, there are some common dreams we all have. 

Here's everything you need to know about the meaning of dreams and the most common ones explained...

Dreams about driving too fast 

Sometimes the meaning of dreams is not quite straightforward. Dream of driving fast? Contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t mean you’re worried about being a bad driver or being involved in an accident. In fact, cars represent our current life – the path we’re on or the direction we’re taking, whether that's related to work, family, relationships or something else.

"An out-of-control or speeding car suggests you might be veering off track or moving faster than you should be," reveals spiritual, dreams and paranormal author Theresa Cheung. "You may be heading for danger in some areas of your life. Are you rushing into a new relationship, or leaving an established one? Or perhaps you’re plunging too hastily into a big life change, such as a new job or a relocation."

If you’re not the driver of the car in the dream, it could be telling you that you ought to be. Someone may be leading you in the wrong direction, or perhaps you’re being influenced by someone else’s agenda. A driverless car on the other hand points to powerlessness, a sense of aimless drifting.

Dreams about teeth falling out 

If you’ve ever dreamed about your teeth falling out, you’re not alone – it’s one of the most common dreams. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got dental problems – it’s significance runs much deeper than that. 

"It can point to a a fear of ageing or of feeling unattractive in some way," says Theresa. "It can also symbolise fear of losing something or someone important to your emotional or material survival. After all, without your teeth you can’t eat and nourish yourself."

And that's not all. "Teeth are symbols of viability or, sometimes, power, so this could mean you are feeling neglected, frustrated, overlooked or inferior in some way," says Theresa. "It’s also worth noting that in Chinese tradition teeth crumbling or falling out is associated with telling lies or not being true to yourself."

Dreams about falling 

You’re falling through space, down a hole, or from a cliff, roof or plane. Wherever you’re falling from, the chances are it’s terrifying, and you can’t see an end in sight. You’ve probably guessed it doesn’t mean you’re afraid of heights, but what deeper message could it be trying to send you?

"Falling in a dream is a clear sign that some situation or relationship is out of your control," explains Theresa. "Perhaps you find you have no sense of stability, or it may be that you see no solution to your problems, have little support, or have a strong urge to escape a challenging situation."

Dreams about being naked

If you often dream about being unclothed, there are several possible meanings. "Being naked is a strong indicator of feeling vulnerable," says Theresa. "Perhaps you’re hiding something or not being true to who you really are, and you might have anxiety that others will see through your disguise. Or perhaps you’re trying hard to impress someone, but are afraid you’ll cause disappointment."

It could also be highlighting a tension. On the one hand, you want to be completely honest and open with people. On the other, you’re afraid that revealing your true feelings or personality will lead to ridicule or leave you exposed as a fraud.

illustration of woman reading at night

(Image credit: Getty Images / FoxysGraphic)

Dreams about being unprepared 

Have you ever dreamed about turning up for an exam or a job interview only to realise that you’re completely unprepared? No doubt you woke up feeling panicky and embarrassed. 

But what does it mean? It could point towards the fact that you feel as though you’re not meeting standards you’ve set for yourself. 

"It may appear in the dream as though you’re worried about being judged by others but, in reality, you're judging yourself – harshly," says Theresa. "Your dreaming mind wants you to feel more confident and live life on your own terms. It’s prompting you to focus more on your strengths than your weaknesses." 

Of course, if the dream corresponds literally with a real-life situation, it’s simply reflecting your anxiety about being ill-prepared.

Dreams about bugs or spiders 

Wake up dreaming that bugs are crawling over you? "Dreaming about insects, especially in large numbers, is often a symbol of negative thoughts or feelings," says environmental psychologist Lee Chambers, working with MattressNextDay. 

"This could be guilt or anxiety. These feelings are haunting you or, more metaphorically, are crawling through your unconscious mind."

Dreams about fire 

To dream of a fire can mean many things. "If you were unafraid of the fire, then it suggests you are ‘on fire’ with drive and creativity," says Lee. "If you are burned from the fire, it indicates that your temper is raging, and you are ‘burning up inside’. Alternatively, it could be trying to warn you against risky or dangerous activities of ‘playing with fire’."

illustration of hands reaching out to touch

(Image credit: Getty Images / FoxysGraphic)

Dreaming about death or dying

If you’ve ever dreamed about death – whether it’s you or someone else dying – the chances are you’ve woken up in a panic. So perhaps you’ll be surprised to learn that it doesn’t signify death – in fact quite the opposite.

"Dreams about death are typically a sign of positive change," says Theresa. "They signify shedding the past and moving forward. If you are dying in a dream, this suggests inner growth and self-discovery, or that you’re starting a new phase in your life. If someone else dies, this could mean simply that your relationship with this individual is evolving, or it could be that they represent an aspect of yourself that need to be transformed."

Dreams about seeing a ghost 

Had a spooky dream involving seeing a ghost? "While this may seem like a scary thought, it’s usually a subconscious expression that you are suffering from grief or loss," says Lee. "However, if the ghost is a deceased relative or loved one, this will feel distinctly different, and usually more positive."

Dreams about struggling to find a bathroom 

This very specific dream is common, particularly if you’re deeply worried about some aspect of your personal life, or are feeling blocked or frustrated.

"Using a bathroom is a very personal thing to do, so the dream is probably concerned with some deep aspect of your inner life," says Theresa. "It could be telling you to let go of anger, guilt, shame, jealousy, fear, hate or sadness – emotions that appear to be holding you back. It could also mean that you’re not paying enough attention to your true priorities or that you’re neglecting your own personal needs."

Dreams about being chased 

If you’ve ever dreamed about being chased you’ve probably woken up out of breath and panicky. But what does it mean?

"Being chased in a dream strongly suggests that you’re trying to avoid someone or something," explains Theresa. "Running, or feeling the need to hide or escape usually carries the same meaning, even when there’s no specific threat. When the identity of the threat is apparent, it may give clues. But if it remains vague, generalised or unknown, as it often does, the chances are it has an emotional source. Maybe you’re trying to hide from painful feelings, or perhaps you’re running away from a responsibility or expectation, either self-imposed or put on you by others."

Dreams with secret rooms

A house or home in a dream represents yourself. Just as with you, there’s an inside and an outside. So, rooms that are locked, unknown or secret could mean there are areas of your personal transformation that are not yet being expressed – whether you are not aware of them or are not capitalising on them. 

And, that's not all. "An empty room room suggests you aren’t taking steps to get to know your own strengths and talents: inspiration is waiting to happen," says Theresa. "But bear in mind that a hidden room can also be where your dark side is to be found. You need to face this aspect of yourself and come to terms with it."

Dreams about flying or floating

Flying through the air in your dreams probably feels like a positive, exciting dream – and the good news is, that’s exactly what it is. 

"It’s generally a symbol of something happening in your life that gives you a high,"  explains Theresa. "Perhaps you’ve achieved, or are about the achieve, something significant. It can relate to travel, work, relationships or a personal project. It may also come from a sense of freedom, the lifting of restrictions after a period of confinement, or perhaps a leap forward in your personal development."

Pay attention to the direction you’re flying in: upwards, or flying high, suggests spiritual growth or worldly ambitions. Downwards or flying low to the ground suggests newfound determination and strength. Plus, backwards suggests happy memories. Whichever it is, there’s very little to worry about here!

illustration of pregnant woman

(Image credit: Getty Images/ FoxysGraphic)

Other common dreams and what they meaning

Do you often have dreams that are even more bizarre? Lee explains what they mean:

  • Being pregnant 
    "This indicates feelings about some change in life, and the concerns and worries of this change."
  • Losing hair / being bald 
    Whilst this could be taken literally, it’s mostly linked to you feeling insecure or vulnerable about certain aspects of your life."
  • Seeing a dead person
    "Signifies the end of something, whether it’s a relationship, job or even phase of your life."
  • Being attacked
    "This is not usually about wanting to hurt yourself or others, but is more linked to your own unresolved internal conflict. Perhaps there is something in your life that you need to get rid of – such as a behaviour or belief you have outgrown."
  • Snakes
    "Snakes don’t always have negative meanings and can be a symbol of health or healing."
  • School
    "Dreaming about school can reflect your experience in work, highlighting anxieties as well as achievements in learning."
Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. 

Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency. 

While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned