What does my dream mean? 14 of the most common dream meanings explained

Find out the meaning of these common dreams

A young girl sat on a floating cloud
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We've reached out to sleep experts to answer that age-old question - what does my dream mean?

We all have dreams every now and then that really stick in our minds. Ever dreamt about an ex-partner that you haven't thought about in years? How about the one we all hate - finding yourself naked in public? Although most of our dreams don’t make any sense, that doesn’t stop us from asking questions about them, like what it means when you dream about someone or when you dream about being pregnant - you might even want to know how to lucid dream. But perhaps the most common question we ask ourselves when we wake up from a deep slumber is: what does my dream mean?

Psychologist Dr Keith Hearne says, "Sometimes meanings behind these weird dreams aren't quite as obvious as you might think. Dreams are often mistranslated and the actual message is different to the original. They should be taken metaphorically, not literally." 

So, before you start worrying that you're really in love with the postman, and for next time your child wakes you up in the night with questions about their strange dream, read our guide below to make sense of some of the most common dream meanings. 

14 of the most common dream meanings explained

1. Dreaming about your ex

Break-ups happen for a reason (whether they're romantic relationships or friendships) and most of us don't like to be reminded of ex-partners or friends years down the line, especially if we're happy with the relationships we have now. But it’s not uncommon to dream about an ex, leaving you wondering why you're being plagued by the past.

UKCP Psychotherapist Yuko Nippoda says that the meaning behind the dream depends on the relationship. "The re-experience of the relationship might have sweet memories, and people might be unconsciously fantasising to go back to the time of this relationship. However, if it was a sour relationship, people might feel that they have unfinished business or regret, and be unconsciously wishing to fix it." 

A man asleep next to a phone lit up with a call from 'My Ex'

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She adds "If it was a damaging relationship, then it can become a nightmare which creates further fear, instead of offering a safe place. In that case, it is important to be aware that the relationship has already ended and it will not come back, so that the dreamer can create a safe place for themselves."

2. Dreaming about cheating or being cheated on

Perhaps even less pleasant than dreaming about an ex - but just as common - is dreaming about being cheated on. 

Dream analyst Lauri Lowenberg previously told Harper's Bazaar "If there’s infidelity in your past, either in this relationship or a past relationship, this will keep cropping up because it’s a bone of contention within yourself." 

However, she adds that if there are no trust issues in your relationship, another hidden meaning could be that there is something else you feel is taking time and attention away from you, such as a job, a hobby or a new friend.

If you're the one cheating in the dream, then think about the person you're cheating with. Bed retailer Dreams says "Typically, these dreams don’t indicate a sexual attraction but that they may have certain qualities that you wish your partner could emulate."

3. Dreaming about being naked in public

We've all had that dream where we're at work or in a busy public place and all of a sudden we realise we've forgotten to get dressed. The way we react to this in our dreams is key to working out the meaning.

Psychologist Dr Keith Hearne says, "In this case, a feeling of embarrassment and shame probably accurately reveals the essential emotion, and the content symbolically displays the cause of the dream. The dreamer should focus on what they have done or said to ‘show themselves up’.”

Two people in suit with a naked person in the middle

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However, dreams of this type aren’t always negative.

"It may be a rebuke from the unconscious of unacceptable social behaviour, but if the feeling in the dream is of exhilaration, it may represent a new-found sense of freedom," explains Dr Hearne.

Theresa Cheung, author of international bestseller The A to Z Dream Dictionary noted that dreams about being naked in public hold a similar meaning to dreams about relieving yourself in public. She says, " These kind of exposure dreams suggest that you are feeling vulnerable or exposed in some aspect of your waking life, perhaps because you are in a new situation or relationship and don’t feel like you can be your authentic self yet."

4. Dreaming about your teeth falling out

Losing your teeth is a common dream to have during deep sleep. Sometimes the dream starts off with teeth having already fallen out, or in other versions of this dream the teeth drop out one-by-one. Both are unpleasant, but what do they mean?

One interpretation of a teeth-loss dream is that you're concerned about losing your looks. It has been widely reported that women experiencing menopause symptoms reportedly dream frequently about teeth loss, and in this instance it often represents worries about growing old and losing their femininity.

Dr Hearne adds, "This dream may be interpreted as a warning that time is passing and important things need to be done in life, or that you are embarrassed over something insensitive you’ve said to someone else."

Meanwhile, Theresa says this dream could be about a need for change in your waking life or something to do with communication. She says, "Consider if there is something you have said that you may regret or that there is something you need to say."

5. Dreaming about snakes and spiders

For many of us, dreaming about snakes and spiders are more like nightmares, but there could be a meaning behind seeing these creatures while you sleep that you can apply to your waking life. 

Theresa says that dreaming about animals can often mean your dreaming mind wants you to learn from the qualities associated with that animal, and that of all the animals it is snakes and spiders that feature most commonly in our dreams. 

She says, "Spiders represent small fears which are being exaggerated or which you need to change your perspective about before they become deadly, and snakes represent the shedding of old skins, so this is about transformation and letting go of what is holding you back."

A brown snake on a tree branch

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6. Dreaming about falling

You're probably familiar with the feeling when you wake with a start after having a dream that you're falling. A study of 2,000 UK adults carried out by Bed SOS found falling to be the second most common dream (45%), after having sex (48%). Being chased (37%) was in third place. 

The common myth is that if you ever actually hit the ground you'll die in real life, but this, unsurprisingly, isn't true.

"Falling dreams can cover several different scenarios, and often seems to come up as a linguistic pun," says Dr Hearne. "The word ‘fall’ is used in several contexts in everyday life. It may appear either as a wish (for example to fall in love, or to fall pregnant), or refer to a negative event (say, to fall out with someone, to decline or fail in some way). Recall what was happening in the dream, and the characters present, to uncover the probable topic."

Theresa offers another perspective, saying, "If you fall from a great height in your dream this suggests a fear of failure. It could also suggest that you feel insecure or are lacking support in your waking life."

7. Dreaming about flying

Flying dreams can be really fun - who wouldn’t want to soar through the sky without a care? When you dream you're flying and it feels like the most natural thing in the world, it indicates that you are on top of a situation and feel confident that you will succeed.

Dr Hearne says "This is a well known metaphor for doing well in life, and progressing with ease." However, Theresa adds that if it is not a pleasant dream, "it could also be your dreaming mind urging you to let go of self-imposed limitations and to rise above and see the bigger picture."

The experts at Dreams add, "A tough time flying in your dream suggests that someone (or something) is stopping you from moving to the next step in your life. If you are unable to fly it suggests that you might be struggling to meet the high goals you set for yourself."

8. Dreaming about failing a test or arriving late

Dreams about failing a test or arriving late can both leave you waking up in a cold sweat, and Theresa Cheung tells us that these dreams have a similar meaning - usually that you are feeling unprepared.

She says, "Back-to-school dreams are usually related to current career issues and feeling judged in some way. Many highly successful people have these kinds of dreams, as their dreaming mind cathartically takes them to the worst-case scenario so they don’t have to go there in their waking life."

A little girl holding a test paper with a red 'F' on it

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9. Dreaming about being lost

"The feeling of being lost is a powerful emotion, in life and in dreams," Dr Hearne explains. "Children can be traumatised by such an experience, and a ‘sub-personality’ may form, stuck at that age, subsequently influencing their life and their dreams.

"Symbolically, the dreamer may be ‘lost in life’, and needs to find a way forward to a rewarding place."

Have you been worrying about your career path? Or perhaps you're concerned about how a relationship with a partner has changed lately? This could be a good chance to assess where things are going.

Theresa says this could also be the case if you are dreaming about being trapped. She adds, "If you have this dream often, just before you go to sleep, ask your dreaming mind to help you find a solution and see what symbols are presented to you."

10. Dreaming about someone that has died

Being visited in our dreams by loved ones that have died can be comforting or upsetting. Some people see it as a sign that the person is trying to communicate from the afterlife, but watch out for reading too much into this as it can lead to an obsession over what they're trying to tell you.

Another interpretation is that it means you still need to deal with issues surrounding their death, even if it was a long time ago. Whichever you choose to believe, their appearance in your dream means this person remains in your memories.

"The ancients understood the concept of opposites in dreams," reveals Dr Hearn, saying "The unconscious message might be that a birth is in fact imminent." This could mean an actual birth, or a new beginning. 

11. Dreaming about drowning

Drowning is another common theme in dreams - or nightmares - and Theresa suggests this probably means you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed in your waking life, or that you are bottling up your emotions.

She advises that if you're having this dream, "Time to let it go! Time also to understand that your emotions do not control or define you. You choose your emotions, just as you also choose your thoughts and your actions. You are in charge of what you feel, think and do."

A life buoy with the sea in the background

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12. Dreaming about being chased

Another common dream that falls into the nightmare category is the experience of being chased by someone or something. 

Theresa says that these dreams, "suggest that you are feeling threatened in some way in your waking life."

By way of advice, she says, "Try to identify who or what is chasing you and how this relates to circumstances in your daily life. Fears need to be faced and understood and when they are faced and understood they will lose their power over you."

13. Dreaming about dying

As well as dreaming about people who have died, some unlucky sleepers have had dreams where they have died themselves. The good news is, this doesn't mean your dream is going to come true.

Theresa: "If you are the dying person, your dreaming mind is urging you to make changes, let go of one stage in your life and move forward in a new direction. With every end, there is always a new beginning. This dream is all about the power of transformation."

Meanwhile, if someone you know in a dream dies, or is dead, this means that the part of yourself you see represented in that person is dead, or needs to die.

14. Dreaming about having sex

One of the most common dreams out there is dreaming about having sex - and more often than not this will be with someone you're not in a romantic or sexual relationship with. 

But don't worry, this doesn't mean you're at risk of having an affair or sleeping with someone you shouldn't. Theresa says, "Having sex in your dreams – especially with someone you aren’t attracted to in real life – is also about merging aspects of your personality together or developing aspects of yourself that are hidden. 

"If you have a dream affair, ask yourself what does the person you are having an affair with in your dream represent? Your dreaming mind wants you to get intimate with and discover that within yourself."

She adds that this dream might be a sign to consider what cheating means to you and if you are cheating yourself out of something.

Here on Goodto, we've got plenty more expert advice to help with sleep problems. From ways to fall asleep fast and tips for waking up in the morning to the reasons why you feel tired all the time and why you might sweat at night

We spoke to the following sleep experts:

A profile photo of Dr Keith Hearne
Dr Keith Hearne

Dr Keith Hearne is an internationally known psychologist who conducted the world’s first sleep-laboratory research into ‘lucid’ dreams (in which the dreamer becomes aware of being in a dream) for his PhD – completed in at Liverpool University.

A headshot of Yuko Nippoda
Yuko Nippoda

Yuko Nippoda is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor with 35 years’ experience in the field of psychotherapist and counselling. this field, and currently represents UKCP as a spokesperson. 

She extensive experience in clinical work, covering a wide range of psychological and mental health issues with the mainstream population and those from ethnic minority groups.

Theresa Cheung
Theresa Cheung

Theresa Cheung has been researching and writing about sleep, spirituality, dreams and the paranormal for the past twenty-five years. She has a degree from Kings College, Cambridge University in Theology and English and several international bestselling books, including two Sunday Times top 10 bestsellers to her credit. Her Dream Dictionary from A to Z (Harper Collins) is regarded as a classic must-read in its field. 

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.