By Emma Stessman
Dreams can be pretty weird. One minute you’re dreaming that you’re sipping spicy margaritas on the beach and just hours later you’ve switched to an, er, nightmare about showing up to a spin class sans pants.
And while it’s easy to brush off your dreams—especially the bad ones—as being a product of your overactive imagination, dream experts say there’s a whole lot more to it.
According to Michael Rohde Olsen, a Denmark-based dream researcher, dream interpretation is based on the idea that dreams are made in your unconscious mind. So, they might be able to reveal to you certain fears, beliefs, or aspects of yourself that would otherwise be unknown.
Dream analysis, Olsen says, is primarily based on the theories of psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (although Jung’s ideas play a larger role).
Most modern interpretations, though, are based more on how the dreamer themselves understands what they experienced. “When is an interpretation ‘right’?” Olsen asks. “When the dreamer has a deep feeling that it’s right. An ‘aha’ moment of sudden enlightenment or a deep understanding of something very important about themselves and the life they lead.”
Meaning, if an interpretation feels like it doesn’t apply to you, then it probably doesn’t—it’s your dream, after all. It can mean what you want it to.
Still, learning about the themes embedded in common dream scenarios can help you start to decode the crazy scenes that play out in your head every night. Some of these may feel like they’re speaking to your soul, while others might not quite click. If you can figure out which is which, maybe you’ll learn something about yourself in the process.
Below, we dive into six common dreams and what they might mean for your life.
What Your Dreams and Dream Habits Say About You
You’re Repeatedly Being Chased
“If you get this dream a lot, it’s a tell-tale sign that you’re an avoider,” says Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst and author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. “People that tend to avoid conflict, who are afraid of ruffling feathers or causing issues will have the recurring dream of being chased.”
You Can Never Find a Bathroom
People who often dream of being chased usually get this one as well, says Loewenberg. (It’s a definite nightmare for those of us who drink tons of water to stay super hydrated.) In this one, you really have to go to the bathroom but you can’t find one anywhere. Or, when you do, there are no walls, AKA no privacy whatsoever.
If you get this dream a lot you may need a release, just probably not the one you’re picturing. “A person who gets this dream is often someone who holds things in, doesn’t speak up, and doesn’t let someone know if they’re frustrated or upset,” she says. “The dream is showing them what their psyche looks like—the negativity…is building up and clogging their psyche, and they’re not allowing themselves the release.”
You Always Dream About Work
No surprise here: If you’re dreaming about work all the time, you’re probably not the type of person who mentally clocks out when you leave the office. If work is a recurring setting, it could be illustrating that it’s taking up too much of your awake time, Olsen says. In other words, you might want to work on your work-life balance.
But be sure to pay close attention to these dreams, because they can actually be super helpful problem-solvers for real challenges you’re facing at work. “Take a closer look at what exactly is happening in these dreams,” Olsen says. “Do you feel stressed? Are you in some kind of conflict? Is it a more practical or technical challenge you have? Your dreams are then trying to find a solution to these challenges.”
You’re Back at School All of the Time
Dreaming that you’re back in the halls of your elementary or high school is super common, says Loewenberg. “This dream most often is connected to work or career,” she says “School holds many of the same dynamics [as work]; you need to be on time, you need to be prepared and have done your homework.”
Look at what you’re doing, or, in some cases, what you are unable to do in the dream. It may reflect your feelings about your job or current work situation. For example, Loewenberg explains, “if you can’t find your class or your locker, then you may be feeling out of place at work. Maybe you’re not in the career you want or you’re not in the place you want to be in your career.”
You Dream About Falling a Lot
You know the dream—you’re free falling from some completely unknown height, only to wake up seconds before you hit the ground. Well, Olsen says, these dreams tend to come at times when you’re falling from a certain status. It can be something big, like getting laid off or going through a divorce, but it could also be after a small mistake you made. It happens, he says, when “we simply—in our own mind—lose status or self worth or fall down from the man-made definitions of what the ‘right life’ looks like.” Maybe it’s time to kick off that judgment detox?
You Always (or Never) Remember Your Dreams
Here’s where the whole right-brain versus left-brain theory comes in. If you’re someone who always remembers your dreams, you likely have a more dominant right-brain, meaning you’re a creative person like a writer, artist, or musician. “It’s because you’re more in tune with the creative subconscious part of you,” Loewenberg says.
You guessed it: If you’re someone who rarely has anything to contribute to the I-had-this-crazy-dream conversation, you’re probably left-brain dominant.
Here’s the cool part, though. That fact that you don’t remember your dreams doesn’t mean you’re not having them. A pro tip to help you remember more? “When you wake up, whether it’s in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or if you’re waking up to start your day, stay in bed for…about three to five minutes, and most importantly, don’t move,” Loewenberg says. “Stay in the exact same position you woke up in, because that’s the position your body was in when you were dreaming.” That will help your dream come back to you, she says. If not, there’s always the next night, right?