5 Common Nightmares and Their Possible Meanings

By on September 1, 2016 // Dreams & Divination // 2 Comments

Common Nightmares
Image: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr via CC by 2.0

Dreams are windows into other worlds. Real or imaginary, that depends on how you choose to look at them. But they also seem to tell us things about ourselves that our conscious minds often overlook. Our deepest hopes, our greatest worries.

And our darkest fears.

I’ve had my fair share of nightmares, and I’m sure you have, too. Strangely enough, though, most of them don’t involve anything truly horrific. It’s the mundane stuff. The Every Day. The little things that, when you wake up, you’re glad didn’t actually happen.

Here are a handful of these common nightmares, along with what some believe they reveal about us.


I’ve never had a falling dream as a nightmare. Not one that I can remember, anyway. I have been shocked awake once or twice, and I know that, sometimes, right as I’m falling asleep in that state of hypnagogia, I’ll feel like I’m actually falling.

In fact, there’s a term for this: It’s called a hypnic jerk.

Falling in your dreams, however, can have a variety of possible meanings, according to the website Dream Moods. They can signify a loss of control, of losing your grasp on the edge of a situation and plunging to your doom.

These nightmares may also highlight an insecurity of some kind, or that you’re standing on uncertain ground.

Back To School

For years after I graduated high school, I’d occasionally have extremely stressful dreams. They were about either running late for class or, worse, finding out at the end of the year that I’d completely forgotten to attend one. The same thing happened after college.

Eventually, these dreams faded away, but even now I’ll sometimes find myself sitting in a dreamland classroom, wondering exactly what I’m doing there. That said, the most common school-related nightmare I can think of is so simple and yet oh so stressful: The forgotten locker combination.

For me, in the beginning, I’d just forget the combination. Simple. Nowadays, if I ever have that dream (which I rarely do, but it does happen), I’ll forget how to work the lock altogether. What can I say; it’s been a while.

According to Dream Moods, dreaming about a locker can mean there’s something hidden or repressed about yourself that you need to rediscover. And, if you’ve forgotten the locker’s combination, that represents uncertainty or loss. The Curious Dreamer also suggests that being unable to open your locker could represent self-sabotage.

Dreams about school, nightmares or otherwise, are very common. Here’s an interesting article about them over at Brain Decoder, which also investigates something called the “reminiscence bump” — a possible reason we may anxiously dream about school long after we’ve left it.

Out Of Time

Similar to the above (in my experience) is the classic Running Late nightmare. You have somewhere to be, but it either slipped your mind or you just can’t make it. I’d have these occasionally during my Back to School dreams.

Depending on what you’re running late for, these nightmares can have a variety of potential meanings. The Curious Dreamer states that whatever you’re running late for is likely something you find very important. However, you may be feeling overwhelmed, resentful, or anxious about it.

The Chase

In this nightmare, you find yourself running, being chased by someone – or some thing.

This is one I’ve rarely experienced. When I have, it’s usually far more nuanced, like fleeing an alien invasion or something along the lines of The Fugitive. In other words, less about the chase and more about the life-altering situation I’ve found myself in.

In general, being chased in your dream world could mean you’re running from something in your real life. A repressed emotion, or a bad situation. Something that scares you. That’s a bit on the nose, sure, but that’s how dream interpretation seems to work. These chase nightmares may also reveal denial.

Teeth Falling Out

Perhaps most disturbing of all (for me) are the nightmares involving tooth loss. They aren’t subtle, either – in these dreams, full teeth just give up and fall out. They’re some of the most vivid and disturbing dreams I’ve ever had, as far as actually feeling the teeth fall out. Not quite lucid, but nearly there.

Oh, and I’ll spare you the picture of the teeth. I’m sure you can imagine them just fine.

Anyway, these horrific enamel-coated nightmares are said to represent some kind of anxiety in your life, which may involve your appearance or worries about how other people view you. They may also be our dreamy way of coming to terms with the slow, merciless crawl of aging and our own mortality.

Personally, however, I think this one might be less about mortality and more about the fear of bad teeth. And dentists.

* * *

Not everyone is convinced that dreams are so easily interpreted (see this post at Psychology Today). A lot of it seems to come down to simple metaphor (being chased = running away from something). I do tend to believe dreams can reveal our anxieties, but their interpretations are much more personal, and can’t necessarily be generalized.

These interpretations remind me a lot of horoscopes in that way.

I’ve also noticed that dreams seem to rely heavily on what happened the day before, even the subtle things (like briefly glancing at a picture). The truth is, we don’t know much about them one way or the other.

Have you ever experienced any of these common nightmares? Any other strange dreams? What are your thoughts on their common interpretations?

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About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.

  • Ahmed Tahé Allala

    Yes I did experience some of them. I have that falling dream quite frequently actually and I’m sure it’s extremely common. I also read once somewhere that it’s actually due to the fact that your body was going to die (yes, that’s right) so now every time I get that feeling I get really scared. But I actually dream of being kidnapped a lot especially when I was a kid because it was one of my major fears. I think I also had one or two Chasing nightmares. And my back to school dreams are good dreams :p

  • Isabel

    I have had the “teeth falling out” dream, at the time i didn’t know why, however i did actually feel the pain of them falling out. I wasn’t able to wake myself up like i usually could. The weird thing is that when i woke up i could still feel the pain from it. I later found out that i was extremely stressed, which would explain why i had them all in a row. I still have the dream sometimes, but not as often. My question is, why did i feel the pain from my dream after I woke up?