Recurring Dreams: Meaning, Psychological Interpretation and Ways to Stop Them


What Are Recurring Dreams?

Recurring dreams are dreams that occur repeatedly and persistently over a long period of time. They can often be characterized by similar content, themes, or experiences.

These dreams can be disturbing and may be a sign of unresolved psychological needs or issues in our waking life. Research suggests that recurring dreams are common after going through a great deal of mental distress, such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Do Recurring Dreams Mean?

Recurring dreams often reflect unresolved issues or emotions in our waking life and can provide valuable insight into our subconscious mind. According to research, they can be a way for our subconscious to process and work through these issues.

In addition, different cultures may interpret the symbols, themes, and events in recurring dreams differently, reflecting the cultural beliefs and values of that society. Understanding the psychological and cultural interpretations of recurring dreams can help us gain a better understanding of our unresolved issues and the complexities of our own experiences.

What Do Recurring Dreams Mean in Psychology?

From a psychological viewpoint, Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, proposed one of the most recognized theories of recurring dreams. According to the Jungian theory, recurring dreams often indicate the existence of an archetype – a universal symbol prevalent in the collective unconscious.

These symbols represent fundamental human experiences and seem to be present in every culture. Jung believed that these recurring dreams are an attempt by the unconscious mind to communicate with the conscious mind, signifying something that you need to address. Interpreting these dreams, however, might require a deep understanding of personal and collective symbolism, which could take years to unravel​.

On the other hand, Sigmund Freud, a renowned figure in psychology, suggested that recurring dreams are expressions of our hidden desires and fears

He proposed that dreams consist of manifest content (the literal interpretation of the dream) and latent content (the hidden meaning behind the dream). According to Freud, recurring dreams can be linked to repressed feelings and memories, and he advocated the use of psychoanalysis to uncover these hidden meanings​.

Do Recurring Dreams Affect Your Quality of Sleep?

Yes, recurring dreams can affect your quality of sleep. Experts believe that dreams play a role in facilitating important brain functions like memory and emotional processing, potentially contributing to quality sleep.

However, not all dreams contribute positively to sleep quality. Particularly, bad dreams or nightmares, which may frequently recur, can have a negative impact. If these dreams are scary, threatening, or traumatic and cause you to wake from sleep, they can disrupt your sleep pattern and, if frequent enough, lead to something known as nightmare disorder​.

Most Common Recurring Dreams

Some of the most common recurring dreams include:

  • Being lost: It’s common to dream about being lost, which could represent feeling directionless in real life. These dreams might persist until a decision is made or a resolution is found.
  • Teeth falling out: Almost as common as being lost is the dream about losing your teeth. Such dreams are usually tied to communication issues, particularly “loose speech” where something is said that perhaps should have been kept unsaid.
  • Mortality: Dreams about death can be unsettling, but they might symbolize a new beginning or significant change in your life. They can also reflect changes and endings in your personal relationships.
  • Flying: Flying dreams are often seen as positive, symbolizing that things are going well and that you’re free to reach new heights.
  • Being unprepared for a test or important event: These dreams could be linked to feelings of being under time pressure in real life. They often start appearing later in life and may indicate stress from upcoming deadlines or expectations.
  • Being back in school: Many people dream about being back in school, which could reflect the pressures and responsibilities of your adult life, particularly related to jobs and career paths.
  • Being chased: This is one of the most common recurring nightmares, and it’s typically connected to avoidance behavior. This dream might indicate that there’s something you’re trying to evade in your waking life.

These findings are supported by sleep health specialists like Lauri Loewenberg and Breanna Auray. However, it’s important to remember that dreams can be highly individual and their meanings can vary greatly depending on the dreamer’s personal circumstances and experiences.

How to Stop Recurring Dreams?

To stop recurring dreams, you can follow these steps:

  • Maintain a Sleep Diary: Write down the details of your dreams immediately upon waking up. This includes every object, person, figure, or scenario you can remember from your dream. Doing this consistently can help you understand the patterns and messages your subconscious might be trying to communicate​.
  • Analyze the Dream: Once you have documented your dreams, the next step is to analyze them. You can seek help from a professional, such as a dream interpreter, counselor, or psychiatrist, to help you understand the underlying themes and possible sources of your recurring dreams. Alternatively, you can analyze them yourself, looking for patterns that might point to sources of stress or unresolved issues in your life​.
  • Take Action: If your analysis reveals a particular source of stress or unresolved issue, take steps to address this in your waking life. This could mean reducing your workload, addressing issues in your relationships, or seeking support for grief or trauma. As you make progress in resolving these issues, your recurring dreams may decrease over time​.
  • Practice Meditation and Stress-Relief Techniques: Regular meditation and stress-relief exercises can be beneficial. In some cases, medications may be recommended, but this should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
  • Change the Dream: Another technique involves intentionally changing the recurring dream’s narrative. By repeating a new dream scenario to yourself several times a day, especially before sleep, you might be able to change the recurring dream to something else​. This method aligns with a therapeutic technique where one visualizes the nightmare while awake and then rewrites it, changing one aspect to something more positive. Lucid dreaming, where you become aware you are dreaming and can sometimes influence the dream’s content, may also be beneficial​.