Recurring Dreams, What do they Mean?

Posted by Darian Dozier on Jan 25, 2023 6:27:00 PM

Add a heading-Jul-11-2022-02-19-50-12-AM

Do you ever find yourself have the same dream over and over? One that is quite distressing and freaks you out, leaving you wondering what it means for days after? You are not alone, as 60-75% of Americans experience these "recurring" dreams. They are a part of normal sleep for most people, but their content can be the most distressing part of them, causing sleep loss and anxiety revolving around sleep. 

Certain disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can often have these dreams at a level that is extremely distressing because it relates to something over which they feel stressed. Continue reading to find out more about what these dreams mean, and what you can do if they are negatively impacting your sleep.

What are the most common recurring dreams? 

If you experience a similar dream over and over, most likely, you are not alone. In fact, there is a list of recurring dreams that are quite common and populated by people we know, or situations that we recognize. Recurring dreams may be the exact same every time or only recycle the same scenarios or fears. However, there are some plotlines or themes that are common. These include: 

  • Falling 
  • Flying 
  • Car crashes 
  • Looking for a toilet 
  • Being overwhelmed by house maintenance
  • Not being able to talk 
  • Losing teeth
  • Being attacked 
  • Being naked in public 
  • A lack of preparedness at school or work
  • Being chased or trapped 
  • Finding new rooms in the home or a familiar building 

Some themes are more common than others, as evidenced by the 53% of people that experience recurring dreams about falling, while only 15% of dreamers have dreams about losing teeth. Having dreams that don't have any of these themes is also common, and dreams can either be very vivid or hard to remember. 

What do recurring dreams mean? 

The idea that dreams have a hidden meaning was popularized by psychologist Sigmund Freud, or the Freudian dream theory. He theorized that our dreams meant something and had an alternate meaning, however, there was very little support for the idea that dreams with the same content or theme have a similar meaning for everyone. 

However, examining dreams at the individual level may prove useful, and at the therapeutic level, can offer insight into what you may be thinking or feeling. Experiencing recurring dreams may point at underlying issues regardless of the dream's content.

Adults who experience frequent recurring dreams tend to have worse psychological health than those that do not. Dreams may also be a way to work through unmet needs or process trauma. Another theory is that recurring nightmares may have given our ancestors the chance to practice detecting and avoiding danger, sort of like an unconscious imagery practice. 

Recurring dreams and health disorders 

There are a couple of health states that may impact the frequency of recurring dreams. Recurring dreams in those with. mental health disorders can be pretty common. Although most people experience recurring dreams every so often, those with PTSD and GAD may have these more often. Those with PTSD specifically also tend to have different recurring dreams, as most of them relive the event that gave them PTSD in the first place. 

Temporal lobe epilepsy is another health disorder that can experience recurring dreams. It is the most common cause of difficult-to-treat adult epilepsy. Recurring nightmares are a common feature of TLE and may be caused by nocturnal seizures, or the effect that rapid eye movement, REM sleep, has on the temporal lobe. These dreams often begin soon after a person's first seizure and are less common in people undergoing successful treatment. 

Coping with recurrent dreams 

Recurring dreams that evoke negative emotions can be very upsetting and difficult to live with. If you are concerned about your dreams, or they make it hard to live, then you should do something to address them. Your doctor can help you decide on a treatment plan to either cope with your dreams or stop them all together. 

There are also lifestyle management options that can prove helpful. Therapy or counseling is a great option for those struggling with a mental health disorder such as PTSD or GAD. Therapy or counseling can help you unpack your feelings which may be the internal process happening with the recurring dreams. Therapy and counseling can provide guidance on a practice called cognitive behavioral therapy that has proven helpful in treating PTSD and nightmares. 

Exercise, whether it be physical or mental, can be another great behavioral technique to address recurrent dreams. People who exercise regularly have better emotional resilience and find it easier to cope with stressful situations. Exercising regularly can improve sleep quality and duration, which may help offset some of the sleeplessness that comes with recurring dreams. 

Relaxation exercises such as breathing or meditation, can allow the body to relax before bed. This calming of the mind can perhaps reduce some of the anxiety that happens around bedtime, especially if a recurring dream is often and distressing. A good sleep hygiene or good bedtime routine can help with relaxation as well, especially if your bedtime routine consists of behaviors that help you feel more relaxed. The less you think about the dream, the more likely you are to clear your brain for a relaxing night of sleep.

Just talking about your dreams can also be a very helpful practice. Sometimes, just keeping your emotions bottled up is the reason that the only place they can be expressed is in your dream. However, if you are able to dump those out, whether on a person or in a journal or some other medium, you can relieve some of the mental load before you go to bed.  

If your dreams are too distressing, and you have a hard time getting good sleep, then please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and talk to one of our sleep health professionals. 

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Topics: Nightmare, dreams

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