Recurring dreams: Crumbling teeth, falling and spiders, oh my!

Woman in a city sleeping on her balcony experience a recurring dream

You wake up late, you miss the bus, your teeth fall out, you forget to put on pants and to top it all off… you’re pregnant. You’ve probably experienced recurring nightmares at some point in your life, and as special as you are, you’re probably not the first to have dreamed them. Dream content is more universal than you might think.

What are the most common recurring dreams? 

A survey conducted by Amerisleep polled 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 74 to determine the most common recurring dreams in the country. Here are some highlights among the 35 recurring dreams identified by the survey:

  • Falling – 53%
  • Being chased – 50.9%
  • Having sex with someone you shouldn’t have – 31.6%
  • Teeth falling out – 27.3%
  • Being late to a bus, plane or train – 25.5%
  • Catching a partner cheating – 18.2%
  • Being naked in public – 15.4%
  • Inability to find a toilet – 12.8%
  • Unwanted pregnancy – 12%
  • Losing or forgetting a child – 6.5%
  • Shards of glass in your mouth – 1.1%

According to this survey, the recurring dreams you experience aren’t entirely random. Women are more likely to dream about discovering a partner is cheating or their teeth are falling out. Men are more likely to dream about flying, meeting an attractive stranger or coming into wealth. 

Gender isn’t the only variable to affect the content of your dreams. Patterns also emerged between occupation and dream content. For example, 50% of military members dreamt about having sex with someone they shouldn’t have, 26% of retired adults dreamt about public nudity and 25% of early childhood education professionals dreamt about not finding a toilet when they needed one. 

What do they mean? 

Dream interpretation wasn’t always considered the pastime of mystics and hippies. Ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece regarded dream interpretation as a respectable science and career, combining intellect and intuition with divine inspiration. Now, scientists continue to study the connection between dreams and psychology. 

One study focusing on individuals’ recurring dreams found that the satisfaction or denial of a person’s psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) manifests in their self-reported dream themes and their emotional interpretation of the dream. Participants who experience more psychological frustration are more likely to experience recurring nightmares. 

In this study, women experienced more negative dream content and interpreted their dreams more negatively than men. This could lead us to believe women’s nightmare content is a manifestation of the heightened stress in women’s lives.

Recurring dreams, both negative and positive, are caused by a multitude of psychological triggers including satisfaction of your basic psychological needs, PTSD, stress, anxiety and depression. If recurring nightmares keep you awake at night, give your mental health some love. Utilize strategies to reduce stress and anxiety and don’t hesitate to seek the help of a mental health provider, because better sleep leads to a better you.