From teeth falling out to being chased down a dark alley, the majority of us will experience recurring nightmares at one time or another.
But what do they mean?
A recent study by hybrid mattress brand OTTY has found that, over the past seven years, searches for nightmares have risen by 146% in the UK. The sleep experts from OTTY have reached out to dreams expert Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on it, and psychic Inbaal who specialises in astrology, palm, and tarot reading, to help those suffering from bad dreams figure out what exactly their subconscious is trying to tell them.
Why are we so curious about what our dreams really mean?
When it comes to the urge to understand our dream patterns, Loewenberg explains that: ‘We get nightmares when the subconscious wants to help us correct an upsetting or difficult issue in our life. So, as frightening as nightmares are to experience, they are good for us because they are shining a light on something that is wrong, something we have been ignoring, mishandling or that has been overpowering us in some way.’
Psychic Inbaal says: ‘Dreams can be lots of different things. They’re a way for our subconscious to communicate our own fears and hopes to our conscious selves. They can be a way for us to go over the days’ events and make peace with some hard moments, or understand the reasons for some other difficult experiences.
‘I believe that sometimes dreams will be spirit messages – for example, if you have a dream about a person you have a romantic attraction to and, at the same time, they are also dreaming about you.’
Looking at monthly searches around disturbing dreams, OTTY has ranked the top ten nightmares from around the world.
Below, Lauri Loewenberg breaks down each nightmare and offers an expert explanation of what they mean:
The nightmare: Snakes | Monthly searches: 9,200
Our associations to specific symbols in our dreams need to be applied when trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind a dream, but there are what we call ‘archetypal’ meanings that can typically apply to most of us. That being said, snakes most often represent a toxic person in our life. Someone who is exhibiting low-down behaviour that could either be harming us or has the potential to harm us in some way.
The nightmare: Teeth falling out | Monthly searches: 5,500
Dreams that involve a doomed trip to the dentist are most often linked to communication issues in our real life. Losing teeth during a nightmare is most often connected to allowing something out of your mouth the previous day that you shouldn’t have, like a secret or someone’s personal business.
If you regularly say things without thinking first, if you don’t have a filter, or if you tend to say things you instantly regret, you are likely to experience this dream.
Another common element of this dream is how you’re going to look with missing teeth. This tends to be tied to the conscious concern about how others perceive you after what you have allowed out of your mouth.
The nightmare: Being chased: Monthly searches: 1,500
This dream is caused by avoidance and most commonly experienced by those who run away from issues instead of tackling them head-on. This dream is letting you know that the longer you run from the issue, the longer it will continue to cause you problems.
The nightmare: Falling: Monthly searches: 1,100
The downward motion is what is at play here. This dream tends to happen when we are feeling let down by someone or something in real life. When plans fall through when something you had high hopes for doesn’t work out, or whenever something brings down your general mood, the subconscious result could be a dream where you’re falling from a great height and heading into the unknown.
This is also a common dream for people that suffer from mental health issues and can be a warning from their body that they are about to ‘fall’ into another depressive episode.
The nightmare: Dying: Monthly searches: 1,000
Death is the end of life, but to the dreaming mind, death is simply the end of life as you currently know it. You can dream of death when something in your life is coming to an end or significantly changing, like when a relationship ends, when you change careers, or when you first find out you’re pregnant. These are life-changing moments that the subconscious will equate with death – the end of the old you.
If you dream of someone else dying, then there is likely some sort of change happening with that person or a shift in your relationship with that person. It is common to dream of our child dying when they reach different phases of life: when they start walking, when they go to school, when they learn to drive, when they get married, etc.
Death dreams allow us to recognise changes in our lives so that we can let go of what we no longer need and become more open to the change to come.
The nightmare: Drowning: Monthly searches: 600
A drowning nightmare occurs in those feeling in over their heads with something, such as responsibilities, debt, or emotions. Like the falling dream, there is the downward pull at play here, although there is a bit more control involved with a drowning dream.
So pay attention to the struggle you experience trying to stay above or get to the surface of the water. What struggle in your real life feels similar? That’s what your dream is commenting on. What in your real life would serve as a life raft for you?
The nightmare: Bugs| Monthly searches: 400
When something or someone is annoying or ‘bugging’ us, we may find that bugs start to infest our nightly dreams. The more bugs in your dream or the larger the bug, the bigger the problem is in waking life.
Bugs have been a prominent symbol in many people’s dreams since the pandemic started. We often refer to sickness as ‘a bug that’s going around’ that we don’t want to be bitten by.
The nightmare: Being cheated on | Monthly searches: 300
If you’ve previously experienced infidelity in a relationship, dreaming about it in the present indicates that there are still levels of distrust within you that need to be addressed.
However, if infidelity has never been an issue for you and this dream seems to be coming out of nowhere, then it is likely alerting you to something in your current relationship that feels like a third wheel. Your partner may be working too much, spending too much time on a side hustle, dedicating too much of their free time to gaming, or maybe a new baby is taking up all the time and attention you used to have for each other.
Whatever it is, your subconscious is bringing this to the surface so you two can figure out how to make up for lost time.
The nightmare: Killing someone | Monthly searches: 300
Whereas death is a natural ending, murder is a forced one. So if you are murdering someone in your dream, you are probably actively working to change or end something negative in your real life. If you’ve recently quit smoking, initiated a break-up or divorce, or if you’ve changed eating habits and have begun to lose weight then you are likely to dream of murder.
The nightmare: Being lost | Monthly searches: 250
This dream is often caused by indecision or uncertainty in real life, and the idea of not knowing ‘which direction’ to take to reach a goal. We tend to say: ‘I’m lost’ when we can’t figure out directions or when trying to keep up with a confusing conversation. Our dreams have a neat way of bringing figures of speech and metaphors to life.
But why do we have the urge to understand our dreams?
‘I think it is because dreams are a constant and renewable resource of curiosity. We keep having them every night. They are bizarre and they are emotional and they affect us all.
‘Sometimes we do very disturbing things in our dreams and we wonder if something is wrong with us. We naturally want to understand ourselves. It is human nature to be curious and figure things out, which is why we are the only species on this planet that has been able to create and continuously advance technologically.
‘We think. We wonder. We dream. We figure things out.’ according to Lauri.
Psychic Inbaal says: ‘Dream interpretation is as old as humanity itself, and the desire to make sense of our dreams would have been one of the few sources of entertainment in centuries past.
‘Apart from entertainment, the urge to understand dreams would have stemmed from a time that people had to figure out “messages” to figure out how to live their lives.
‘What did it mean if there was an eclipse? What did it mean if all the birds flew south earlier than usual? Interpreting the randomness of nature helped people understand patterns and consequences.
‘Dreams were part of the need to receive and understand messages. If someone in an ancient tribe dreamed of victory in war (as mentioned in the Greek Odyssey story), that was taken as a sign to enter a battle with true confidence.’