Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor’s in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.

a native american dreamcatcher hangs on wrought iron headboard

Image by Jennifer Brister / Stocksy

December 7, 2022

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From the pleasant to the stressful to the nightmarish, dreams have as much variation (if not more) as our everyday lives. But according to experts, there are a handful of universally common dream symbols—and you’ve likely experienced at least one.

Here are 17 of the most common dreams, plus what they mean, from dream interpreters.


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17 common dreams and their meanings: 


Dreams about teeth falling out

To dream of your teeth falling out can indicate you’re dealing with a lack of confidence or self-esteem, shame, change or transformation, lack of control, and loss or grief.

As therapist and dream expert Leslie Ellis, Ph.D., tells mbg, “In North America, the most common dream theme is of teeth falling out—which of course may mean different things for different people—but ideas include concern about appearance, aging, and loss of agency/aggression. These can all be linked to concerns about sociality and survival.”


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Falling in a dream is another common dream symbol and can indicate stress, lack of control, insecurity, instability, and personal struggle.

“Falling is a very common dream motif, and one of the earliest dreams reported by very young children,” Ellis explains, noting, “Could it have to do with the fact that falling could be lethal for an infant or toddler?”


Dreams about being chased

Ellis notes there’s growing evidence that dreams may actually be a reflection of the state of our nervous system1, and to that end, chase dreams are akin to the “flight” in fight or flight. Dreaming of being chased can symbolize running from a problem, avoidance, and stress.

“It’s fair to say the dreamer is activated and feeling threatened in some way,” Ellis previously told mbg.

Find your mystical side with Keen’s psychic insights.

Don’t worry—dreaming that you’re pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean you actually are. Rather, themes around pregnancy dreams include growing and evolving, creativity, growth in a project or relationship, and personal development.

According to Ellis, pregnancy is often thought to represent a creative process, so if there’s a project or goal you’re working toward, it may be represented in a dream pregnancy.

Just as a snake sheds its skin, dreaming about a snake can deal with transformation, healing, and rebirth. It can also, however, represent a toxic person or situation, change or the unknown, and simply a fear of snakes.

“In the South American countries, the most common dream is of snakes,” Ellis tells mbg, adding, “This may be less about symbolism (e.g., garden of Eden, shedding skin, etc.) and more about survival because the snake dreams show up most often in countries where dangerous snakes are most common.”


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Themes around spider dreams include deceit, lies, criticism, an untrustworthy person, and a fear of spiders.

According to professional dream interpreter Lauri Loewenberg, spiders in dreams archetypically represent “some sort of deceit or web of lies surrounding you.” As she previously told mbg, a spider’s web can also signify that you’re feeling trapped and your subconscious is “trying to warn you about a situation or relationship that could trap you.”

Being naked in a dream can indicate you’re feeling exposed or embarrassed, but it can also relate to openness, honesty, freedom, and letting yourself be seen, depending on how you feel about your nudity in the dream.

As Ellis explains, “In a world where social connections are critical to our well-being and survival, the idea of being exposed and judged as flawed in front of our community can be highly distressing.”


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Aside from the obvious interpretation that you might simply want to sleep with this person, sex dreams often deal with feelings of admiration, jealousy, inspiration, and psychological union.

As Loewenberg previously explained, “The main thing to keep in mind when trying to figure out your sex dream is they’re rarely about a physical union you want but more about a psychological union.” Perhaps this person exhibits qualities you’d like to embody more, she said, adding, “If you do actually want to sleep with that person in real life, you already know—and you don’t need a dream to tell you that.”

Themes around fire dreams can include anger, rage, and a sense of urgency but also passion and/or transformation. Something could be enraging you in real life, or you could be feeling a push to transform and be “born again” from the ashes.

And as Loewenberg adds, “We’ll use the expression ‘I have to put a few fires out’ when we have things that need to be tended to, so it [can also represent] something in your life that needs to be taken care of and extinguished ASAP.”


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Death dreams often indicate fear, the unknown, life transitions and change, an identity crisis, as well as transformation. They can also be a part of the grieving process if you’ve experienced a loss.

In fact, one study by dream researcher Joshua Black, Ph.D., shows dreams can help us process the trauma of a loss, serving as a way to maintain connection with the deceased, and/or help regulate emotions. As Ellis previously told mbg, “One of the most interesting things is when we lose a loved one or pet, the vast majority of the dreams we have about them are comforting.”


Dreams about being in school

Dreaming about being back in school is a common stress dream and can involve anything from being late to an exam you never studied for, missing class, or not being able to find your locker or homework. According to both Ellis and Loewenberg, school dreams do often indicate stress and can relate to a problem you’re facing, and/or your work life or career.

“For example,” Loewenberg explains, “if you can’t find your class or your locker, it can be because you’re stressing out about the fact that you are not where you feel you should be in your career.”


Dreams about your old home

It’s not uncommon to dream about your childhood home, given how much of your early life (when your subconscious was shaped) was spent there. Dreams that take place in your childhood home can indicate you’re growing or evolving, and/or reclaiming a part of your past.

“Ideally, we attach to our childhood home because of the memories we have of being loved and supported,” Ellis says, adding that there are also cases where our childhood home doesn’t bring back happy memories but rather memories of difficulty and even trauma, which could be coming up in these dreams.

Dreaming about bees, according to Loewenberg, often relates to feeling “the sting” of someone’s actions—or even more so—their words. If you’ve been stung by a bee (or multiple bees) in a dream, Loewenberg says it may translate to a real-life feeling of emotional pain—of someone making stinging or biting remarks toward or about you.

“And then, of course, the more bees there are, and the more stings there are, the more of an emotional impact it’s having on you,” she says, adding, “It can also be that there’s more than one person you’re feeling the sting from.”


Dreams about traveling

From driving in a car to flying in a plane, travel dreams often relate to craving freedom, but they can also represent some sort of movement or momentum happening in your life. “Traveling usually represents forward movement—progress in some area,” Loewenberg previously explained. And as Ellis adds, this “movement” could be personal or professional, as well as literal geographical movement.

Fish are a very common spiritual and religious symbol, and when fish show up in dreams, that symbolism can often come across. Loewenberg previously told mbg that fish dreams can relate to pregnancy or fertility, “fishing” for something in your life, and even feeling like a fish out of water, depending on what the fish is doing.

Fertility can also relate to creative fertility, she notes, with the fish in this case representing something you’re creating from your emotional landscape (with water being the emotions).

As Loewenberg previously told mbg, dogs are the most common animal people dream about in her experience with clients (followed by cats and snakes). She says that dreaming of dogs often relates to three key themes: relationships, friendship, and loyalty.

“Dogs are typically going to represent a relationship or the dynamics that are going on within a relationship,” she notes, adding, “And that could be any relationship—friendship, an intimate relationship, work relationship, family relationship—any relationship where there should be loyalty and companionship, all these qualities that we attribute to dogs.”


Dreams about tornadoes

And last but not least, we have tornado dreams—which, according to Loewenberg, are one of the most common dream symbols. These dreams typically have one of two ways of unfolding: Either the tornado strikes, or you can see it in the distance. In the case of seeing a tornado in the distance, she explains, you’re wondering if some real-life stressor (symbolized by the tornado) is going to catch up to you. If the tornado is actively striking in the dream, she notes, you feel like you’re in the thick of it in real life, in terms of whatever is stressing you out.


How long do dreams last?

Dreams occur primarily during REM sleep, and they seem to last anywhere from mere seconds to half an hour. We typically spend roughly 90 to 120 minutes in REM sleep per night, with the length of each REM cycle getting longer and longer throughout the night. As such, your longer, more detailed dreams are more likely to be in the last couple of hours of sleep before you wake up.

What are lucid dreams?

Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer becomes aware that they are, in fact, in a dream. Some lucid dreamers can take it even further and manipulate their dreams at will, though this can take practice. Check out our full guide to lucid dreaming for more information.

How to remember dreams

There are a few ways you can try to remember your dreams more clearly. Taking up dream journaling is a recommended practice among dream experts like Ellis and Loewenberg, as well as simply staying put when you wake up rather than jumping out of bed and “disconnecting” from your dream. Check out our full guide to remembering dreams for more recommendations.

The takeaway.

Dreams are nuanced, mysterious, and always specific to you and your experience. While these general interpretations offer a starting point, only you can truly know how a dream made you feel and what that could mean in relation to what’s happening in your life.