It’s a dream sequence familiar to many: standing in front of a mirror and feeling your teeth fall out one by one.
Or standing in the middle of street or at school, completely naked.
For those of us who dream, it can be easy to wake up and do a quick search on its meanings. Dream definitions have been around for decades, including dozens of books with explanation of common dreams, but some experts argue there isn’t just one way to look at dreams and often, you won’t ever understand what your dream truly means.
Dr. Leslie Ellis, psychotherapist and author of A Clinician’s Guide to Dream Therapy out in August, told Global News she dislikes defining common dreams with one standard definition.
“For every every kind of standard definition that you come up with, for certain people it means something completely different,” she explained.
Falling, for example, is a common dream people have, but it could have different meanings depending on the person having the dream.
“For someone who is a competitive diver, [they would say], ‘I would love to jump off of high things — falling for me is exhilarating and very positive,” she continued. “I really hate to generalize… it is always best to go what is this sensation for me [and] what kind of feelings are associated with that [sensation].”
Are some dreams more common than others?
Some dreams are just common in general, she said. Trouble speaking in front of a class or failing exams could all be common versions of anxiety dreams.
“I have said to people, ‘is there’s something in your life that you feel like you aren’t quite prepared for?’” she said. “In a general level that can mean you’re not prepared.”
According to Time, Antti Revonsuo, a cognitive neuroscientist at Sweden’s University of Skövde, argued for these types of dreams, the brain is responding to potential future danger. He called this the Threat Simulation Theory.
“That may be the source of the persistent dream about failing to study for finals — with finals as a stand-in for a presentation you have to write for work in your adult life,” Time noted.
Another common one is losing teeth, Ellis added, and even with a quick Google search, this dream can have multiple meanings.
Michelle Carr, a researcher at Swansea University Sleep Laboratory in the U.K., previously wrote about dreams about teeth falling out and added one 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, found this could mean two things.
“The authors suggested two potential hypotheses — that teeth dreams are related to actual dental distress such as teeth grinding during sleep; or that teeth dreams are more metaphorically related to factors of psychological distress.”
Ellis said when it comes to this dream in particular, it really depends on what the individual is going through or thinking about — there isn’t one standard meaning of what this dream means. It could mean anything from someone being concerned about their appearance (teeth can be a sign of attractiveness) or even aggression (for some, anger is associated with teeth).
“I find the teeth one kind of a curious one, because it is true that it’s a fairly common theme, but I’m reluctant to say, ‘Oh, that means this.’”
In 2016, Ian Wallace, a dream psychologist, told the Telegraph that when it comes to dreams of being naked in public, he argued this meant there was a “reoccurring situation where you feel that you need to conceal unique insight or talent you possess.”
Clothes, he continued, are meant for “protection” and presenting a self-image, so when you dream about being naked, you often feel exposed.
But none of these definitions are completely accurate, and different experts have different takes.
What to do when you have repetitive dreams
Instead of trying to figure what dreams mean by narrowing down a search and seeing if it fits, there are more productive things you can do to understand them, Ellis said.
“The way I work with dreams is I ask people to tell me the dream in detail as if it’s happening right now, and really just let them experience the dream again,” she said.” Instead of zoning in one what it could mean, ask yourself how you feel.
“Dreams often bring with them a kind of feeling and if you want to really understand your own dream, you need to ask your own body [how you feel],” she explained.
“Dreams are often about things we repress… so the things that are sort of our blind spots and things that we don’t want to look at.” For some, it could be hard to thinking about these exact feelings — our tendency is to avoid it.
When you have dreams or if they are repetitive, try talking them out either with family members or friends. “It really helps to tell somebody else and have them just ask you questions because have no idea about anything [when it comes to] this dream,” Ellis said.
Ailey Jolie, a clinical trauma therapist based in Vancouver, told Global News that another way to keep track of dreams — and let’s face it, most of us forget by the morning — is to journal them.
“Another one I recommended is having some type of meditation or yoga practice where you are entering a state of silence, usually for a couple minutes.,” she said. “What was what was like feeling in that dream? Anxiety or sadness or anger? And using that feeling state as more of the guiding post.”
And if it is anger for example, what does that leave you with? Anger towards your partner? Work? Friends? Or something else completely? This is another way to interpret your dreams, she added.
Whether you decide to talk to a dream therapist or not, Jolie said it really comes down to how you feel the next day. For many, dreams come and go and are often ignored, for others, they become repetitive and can alter your mood that day.
“If they’re waking up with anxiety or they’re waking up really sad and really low and this is something that they can’t move out of, then in my mind I’m having questions around trauma. The body is trying to process and cycle through imagery and dreams.”
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