7 Types of Dreams and Their Meanings

9th Apr 2020


Dreams can be the most exciting part of our night or the most terrifying! 

Not all dreams are filled with profound meaning. They’re also not just pointless ramblings of a sleepy mind, though.

There are various types of dreams, and we all experience 3 of those types on a regular basis. A further 3, most people encounter a few times in life.

The content of your brain’s sleep-ramblings can be a fascinating insight into your waking mind.

Dreams are when your subconscious comes out to play. You may learn things your conscious mind is too busy or distracted to think about otherwise!

What Are Dreams?

Dreams are like the video playback of the brain during sleep.

They’re made up of bits and pieces of memories, images, imaginings, and feelings. The brain arranges these into a story - usually a slightly weird one!

Most people dream up to 6 times a night, but there are those who don’t seem to dream at all. Whether this is legit or they just never remember their night time stories, nobody really knows!

The Science Behind Dreaming

Our nightly entertainment isn’t just random misfiring of neurons!

There’s still plenty of research going on about the reasons for dreams. It’s thought that they’re the brain’s way of dealing with emotions and repressed fears.

Why Do We Dream?

Scientists remain baffled by this question. Theories range from emotional processing to memory consolidation. Nobody really knows for sure.

What everyone agrees on is that dreaming isn’t just your brain doing an info-dump in the middle of the night. It serves an important purpose, even if we still have a lot to learn about what that is!

Some possible reasons behind them include:

  • Processing emotions that we ignore during waking hours.
  • Showing unconscious or repressed desires.
  • Memorizing and consolidating info learned.
  • Developing cognitive abilities and improvements.

What Happens In the Brain While Dreaming?

Some say there are 4 sleep stages while others believe there are 5. Whichever is true, we dream throughout all the stages.

The last stage, REM sleep, is the most active in terms of dreams. This is when those vivid, memorable ones occur. These are the realistic experiences that make us wake up, nudge our partner, and say “You’ll never guess what I dreamed last night!”

The limbic system is where memories and emotions are processed, and it’s especially active when we’re dreaming. It consists of:

  • Amygdala. This part of the brain helps us react appropriately when our senses become engaged. eg. if we taste something good, we feel comfort and happiness.
  • Hippocampus. Responsible for long-term memory.
  • Cingulate gyrus. This controls skeletal muscle movement in response to touch.

One interesting study figured out that the left brain seems to be where dreams originate. The right brain provides all the weird and wonderful details.

What Happens To The Body While Dreaming?

Once we hit REM sleep, we enter sleep paralysis. Your body is temporarily frozen, and it comes back to normal when we enter consciousness.

It can be extremely freaky if you wake up in the middle of this. It's nothing scary, though. It’s just the body’s security measure to make sure you don’t go jumping off the roof because you’re dreaming of sky-diving.

Sleep scientists have proven that we can feel pain and emotion in our dreams. These can overflow to the physical and even wake us up.

Dream Recall

Dream researchers think that we forget as much as 95% of our dreams each night!

For most of us, dreaming is the sleep-equivalent of driving down a straight and empty highway. It’s a process that becomes so automatic that our brains don’t really bother to engage.

Being woken up by an alarm in the middle of your REM cycle can also disrupt the remembering process.

If you’d like to remember more dreams, here are some tips to help:

  • Get enough sleep (7-8 hours a night).
  • Wake up without an alarm when you can (this avoids you being interrupted mid-REM).
  • Keep a dream journal and write down everything you remember in the morning.


Different Types of Dreams

There are various types of dreams that can occur, and most of us experience 3 of them on a regular basis. It’s likely that we have all had at least one experience of 6 out of the 7 types of dreams, though!


We all daydream… Usually while we’re doing something mindless (like work) or waiting. Another phrase for daydreaming is mind wandering.

Obviously, we’re not asleep while daydreaming! We do, however, enter an altered mental state much like a hypnotic trance. It’s like a mini meditation.

It’s a vivid visual experience in which one imagines themselves in a specific situation. Studies suggest that the average person daydreams for almost half the time they’re awake!

If you daydream a lot, don’t worry. Another study reports that excessive daydreaming could be a sign of a high-functioning memory!

Normal Dreams

These are your everyday, run-of-the-mill, crazy wacky dreams.

This is where most of the dream elements that we’ll discuss later show themselves. Some of the common ones include:

These things may show up in your dreams and seem perfectly normal in the context.


Nightmares are negative or scary dreams. In fact, the word comes from the Old English “mare”, meaning demon or goblin (nothing to do with horses!).

Having a nightmare every now and then is perfectly normal. It’s often just our brain’s roundabout way of processing stuff.

People who suffer from depression or anxiety, migraines, or sleep apnoea are more likely to have nightmares than those that don’t. Like we need nightmares on top of those!

Night terrors are a more severe form of these dreams. They’re much more intense than normal nightmares. They can involve the dreamer sleepwalking or talking, or screaming.


Lucid Dreams

Have you ever been in the middle of something completely random like... Eating spaghetti out of a garbage can with your best friend from second grade when you suddenly realize, “Wait, I’m dreaming”?

That is what we call a lucid dream. To be lucid means to be aware, so becoming aware of dreaming is exactly what these interactive night stories are.

Most of us have had this experience at least once. Dreams don’t seem to last very long after we become aware of them, though, and we often wake up soon after realizing that we’re dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is something that can actually be practised. If you'd like to start controlling your own dreams, give it a try!

There are advantages to being able to be aware and control your actions in a dream.

  • Practise facing fears in a safe, non-threatening environment
  • Have experiences you can’t have in your waking life.
  • Practise skills or hobbies that you enjoy to improve mind-muscle connection.
  • Travel to beautiful places!
  • Meet celebrities

The movie Inception is a very complicated view of lucid dreaming. If you’ve seen it before, don’t let it put you off trying to learn!


Recurring Dreams

Sometimes the same story can pop up more than once. Little details may be different, but the concept and storyline are similar.

Things that recur often include being chased, flying, teeth falling out, and being late.

This is unusual but nothing to worry about. A significant amount of our dream content is repetitive. It’s natural that the same things will pop up from time to time.

If you’re having the same dream night after night or on a very regular basis, there may be more behind it.

Stress can play a significant role in recurring dreams, especially if it’s an everyday thing.

It’s still relatively unknown why these themes tend to occur again and again in response to stress. If you’re having the same dreams you might need to look at reducing some stress-inducing stuff in your life!

False Awakenings

If you’ve ever:

  • Got out of bed…
  • Gone to the bathroom…
  • Opened the refrigerator for a midnight snack…
  • And suddenly realized that your fridge is standing on the edge of a cliff…

You’ve had a false awakening.

Basically, you’ve just dreamed about waking up! This can be quite disorienting and a little scary, as these dreams are usually very realistic. When we realize that something's not right it takes a moment to understand that we're dreaming.

Precognitive Dreams

Not everybody has had these dreams, and even if someone has, they may not remember them. Precognition is the ability to see the future, or snippets of future events that may occur.

Nobody really knows how this happens, but it’s considered to be a form of extrasensory perception.

Precognitive dreams are dreams that foretell an event that will happen in the future. Of course, it’s impossible to tell if your dream last night was precognitive immediately. You'll need to wait and see if any events occur that mirror your dream.

Other types of dreams that may occur include:

  • Deja vu dreams - dreams that feel familiar and like you’ve been here before.
  • Shared dreams - in rare cases, people who share a strong connection may have the same dream at the same time.

Dream Elements

Our dreams are all highly individualized. Our daily stresses, the people around us, and our emotions contribute to that.

But there are some things that researchers see popping into dream studies more often.

The big guns in the dream world have come up with commonly accepted meanings of dream elements.

Of course, how the element appears in your dream and the context in which it’s shown can change the meaning a little.


Spiders are the number one children’s fear, according to this study.

Many of us never outgrow this fear. It may be due to remembering the pain of a previous spider bite or simply the way their hairy legs move!

Spiders are also fairly common things to see in everyday life. It makes sense then that we'd see them in dreams too!

This link between spiders and fear is well-known. It makes sense that a spider in a dream can be an indication of any number of real-world anxieties.

Some common representations include:

  • Feeling trapped and seeing no sign of escape
  • Not seeing the bigger picture
  • Feeling like something is being hidden from you
  • Worrying about a strong, aggressive female in your life

Being master web-constructors, they can also be a sign of creativity!

Common positive meanings:

  • Creativity
  • Art
  • Tenacity

Common negative meanings:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling trapped
  • Not seeing the bigger picture


Snakes are another common fear. Interestingly, studies suggest that a primal part of us associates certain shapes with danger. Triangular things like teeth, claws, and spikes fall under this category.

They can represent various things in dreams:

  • Being bitten by a snake could indicate a fear of a toxic person in your life.
  • A shedding snake represents change and transformation.
  • If you’re religious, a talking snake could be a sign of someone who has bad intentions.

Snakes can also represent sexuality, healing (the Caduceus or Rod of Asclepius), creativity, and wisdom.

Common positive meanings:

  • Creativity
  • Wisdom
  • Transformation
  • New beginnings

Common negative meanings:

  • A negative or toxic person
  • Someone with bad intentions
  • Something happening under cover of darkness or behind the scenes


That sinking feeling of falling is one of the most scary and most frequently felt things in dreams.

It can be an important message from your subconscious. The context of your dream reveals the bigger picture.

  • Are you falling off of something?
  • Into something?
  • Were you pushed?
  • Did you slip or overbalance?

Falling can generally mean feeling out of control. The larger context will give you all the clues about what exactly it represents.

Common positive meanings:

  • Freedom (if you jumped willingly)
  • Abundance (if you’re falling towards something beautiful and bountiful!)

Common negative meanings:

  • Being out of control



We’ve all longed to feel the freedom of flying. In dreams, it happens more often than we realize. If only we could turn all of those into lucid dreams!

It can often represent a sense of freedom, but sometimes a desire to escape reality.

Again, the context will give you the clue as to which!

  • Are you happy or fearful?
  • Are you looking at the clouds and sky, or back towards the ground?
  • Is your flying in your control, or does it feel like you’re being piloted?

Common positive meanings:

  • Freedom
  • Joyfulness
  • Exploration

Common negative meanings:

  • Escaping reality
  • Wishing you were somewhere else
  • Desire to change the present situation
  • Being puppeted by someone

Running Away

There are few feelings scarier than being chased, especially if you don’t know what’s chasing you.

Usually, this kind of dream indicates a desire to escape. The key here is to pay attention to what you’re running from.

  • Animals (wild, pets who have turned on you)
  • People (known, unknown)
  • An unknown entity

Being chased by an animal could mean that you’re trying to escape your own fears, anger, or passions.

If your pursuer is someone you know, it could be that you’re avoiding unfinished business with that person. An unknown person could be a sign of childhood trauma or old wounds.

If you have no idea what you’re running from, it could indicate a feeling of absolute helplessness and fear of the unknown.

Common positive meanings:

  • Leaving negativity behind

Common negative meanings:

  • Feeling trapped
  • A desire to escape something negative in your life
  • Avoiding doing something you know you need to do

Teeth Falling Out

This is a common one, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s a horrible dream to have!

It can show a few things. One, you may be overly concerned with your physical appearance. Two, there may be a situation in which you are struggling to communicate.

Teeth are one of the first things people notice about others. Losing them in a dream could show strong feelings of a loss of personal power or self-esteem.

Common positive meanings:

  • I’m not sure there are any!

Common negative meanings:

  • A lack of communication
  • Loss of personal power or self-esteem
  • Embarrassment

Passed Loved Ones

Many of us have lost someone we care deeply about.

Seeing someone who has passed in your dream could just be because you’re missing them. You may have been thinking about them and you are reliving memories in your dreams.

Some people consider these dream experiences to be messages from the other side. Context is just as important here as other dreams, though. If you’re spending time together and feeling happy, it could be just a recollection of someone you love.

If you feel a sense of dread, something being wrong, or worry, it could be that your dream is a precognitive one! Passed loved ones can often feature in these kinds of dreams.

Common positive meanings:

  • Reliving good memories
  • Spending time with someone you love
  • A reminder to live in the moment
  • A reminder to tell people you love them

Common negative meanings:

  • A premonition
  • A warning of something

Other themes that may pop up more often include:

  • Being naked in public - this common theme shows a deep embarrassment or humiliation. It can also be a fear of being separate, alone, or judged. It could be a reluctance to reveal your true personality or feelings.
  • Death (your own or others) - death often represents doing away with the old and starting anew. New beginnings, rebirth.
  • Killing - could be indicative of repressed anger. It can also be the effect of being exposed to violent video games or television.
  • Sex - sex dreams are not unusual and simply indicate that your body is working like a normal healthy adult!
  • Infidelity - this could be a trigger based on a previous bad experience. If your loyal partner has done something to annoy you, it may manifest itself this way in your dreams. This could reveal a hidden fear of yours.
  • Being late - these kinds of dreams indicate a feeling of panic and the fear of embarrassment.
  • Paralysis - not being able to move implies that you feel out of control about something in your life.
  • Vehicles - the meaning depends on what is happening with the vehicle, eg. a car crash could signify anxiety or repressed feelings. A stolen car could mean fear of someone taking something away from you.


Did you know that we sleep for almost a third of our lives? Dreaming is a big part of those sleeping hours, even if we don’t recall very much when we wake.

Understanding types of dreams and dream elements can be a big advantage. It gives us some insight into our own emotions and life situations.

If you’re keen to learn how to control your dreams you can add an extra element of fun to your every night!