Recurring dreams: why do we have them and what do they mean?

If you’ve ever experienced the same dream multiple times, you’ll know exactly how confusing and unsettling it can be. But is there a way to put a stop to our recurring dreams once and for all?

Despite years of research on the subject, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about sleep, and one of the biggest areas of mystery is dreaming. We’ve all experienced a strange, intense or even frightening dream at some point in our lives. When you wake up, you may find yourself sighing with relief that it was only a dream, and it’s over now.

Unless, of course, you have the same dream again night after night.

Experiencing the same dream again and again is known as recurring dreaming, and if you’ve suffered from this peculiar phenomenon, chances are you’re asking yourself what it means and whether it can be stopped.

To shine a light on the mysterious subject of recurring dreams, we’re taking a look at some of the most common questions on the subject.

Do recurring dreams have a common pattern?

While every person’s dream is unique, and no two people will experience the exact same dream, there are certain themes which are known to occur time and time again in multiple individuals. These may not always be outrightly frightening, but more often than not they involve negative or stressful experiences.

Some of the most common themes to appear in recurring dreams include:

  • Losing your teeth
  • Going back to school
  • Being chased or attacked
  • Being naked
  • Being stuck or trapped
  • Flying
  • Falling
  • Being unable to speak
  • Missing a test
  • Running late
  • Moving in slow motion
  • Crashing or losing control of a vehicle

While details may change about the dream – like the vehicle you’re driving, for example – experiencing the same event or sensation time and time again still counts as a recurring dream.

What do recurring dreams mean?

Thought they have been extensively studied, experts have yet to find any evidence that recurring dreams offer any deep or significant meaning beyond exposing potential areas of stress in your life. Many experts believe that recurring dreams reflect areas in your life such as unmet needs, factors causing frustration, and issues from the past that remain unresolved.

A common example is dreaming that you’ve missed an exam at school. You could have this dream years after graduating, so it’s obviously not a real risk, but it could represent fears about failure or nervousness about an upcoming job interview or similar event.

This idea is reflected in a 2017 study, published in Motivation and Emotion, which linked negative recurring dreams to unmet psychological needs.

Recurring dreams could arise as a result of personal issues (like grief or stress), unresolved issues (like abuse, bullying or family conflict), or stress about current events. For example, a 2022 study published in Nature and Science of Sleep found a strong connection between nightmares and people who had suffered Covid-19. It was thought that the stress surrounding the virus negatively impacted participants’ sleep quality.

Can we put a stop to having the same dream over and over again?

You can’t always control the content of your dreams, but it can be helping to analyse various factors in your life to find out what might be causing you stress or upset. This may involve looking inward, spending time on yourself, or reaching out to a loved one for support. You can also consider seeking out professional support to identify and explore the causes of any unwanted emotions and learn coping mechanisms.

Use your recurring dreams and a sign that something needs to change, and take the necessary time to explore the challenges you face to improve both your sleep quality and mental wellbeing.

The best sleep happens on a high-quality mattress, so check out the Perks range now. You can also explore the rest of our blog for more sleep news and tips.

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