Guide to Recurring Dreams: Common Questions Answered

Published December 2, 2020
A teenage girl sleeping and dreaming

Many people experience recurring dreams. Recurring dreams may occur over the course of lifetime, over several years, or across shorter periods, and they can happen every night or be spaced by days, weeks, months, or years. When a dream recurs frequently, it is likely that your subconscious is trying to deliver an important message. Once you process that message and address the underlying issues, the dreams are less likely to recur.

What Are Recurring Dreams?

A recurring dream is one that you have more than once. Recurring dreams don't particularly follow any rules. They might be:

  • Exactly the same every time you have them
  • Slightly different each time you have them, but with similar themes or elements
  • Nightmares or with nightmarish qualities
  • Neutral
  • Happy
  • Symbolic
  • Showing you a real representation of an event that occurred in your life
  • Disturbing
  • Comforting

The biggest thing that defines a recurring dream, then, is its repetition. A recurring dream may happen twice, or it may occur over and over throughout the course of a lifetime. Most people have at least one recurring dream, and many have more than one dream that recurs.

Woman Sleeping On Bed With Spooky Shadow On Wall At Home

Why Recurring Dreams Happen

Recurring dreams have various causes. In general, recurring dreams occur because your subconscious mind is trying to tell you something important that you're either unaware of or unwilling or unable to confront in your waking life. In some cases, the only way your subconscious mind is able to get through to you is via your dreams. Therefore, if you have a recurring dream, your subconscious mind is trying to make you aware of something important. Common causes of recurring dreams include:

  • Manifestation of a particular fear or anxiety
  • Reminder of an important belief or value
  • Manifestation of past trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Periods of stress
  • Current events
  • Unresolved emotional issues that require attention
  • Mental health disorders
  • Side effects of medications or recreational drug use
  • Needs you have that aren't being met
  • Reliving events from your past
  • Messages from spirit guides or your higher self
  • Relationship issues
  • A physical condition
  • Visitation from the spirit of someone who has died
  • Astral travel
  • Past life memories
  • Premonitions
A dark, spooky forest with a ghostly woman in a white dress

Common Recurring Dreams Meanings and Examples

You may be surprised to learn you are not alone in your recurring dreams. Some recurring dreams are oddly similar from person to person, and these often have specific meanings based on common dream symbols.

You're Back in School

Many adults report having a recurring dream of being back in school (typically high school, college, or university, but sometimes others as well). Typically, these dreams are stressful with common events such as:

  • A final exam is coming up, and you either haven't studied or haven't been to class at all.
  • You're wandering the hallways, unable to find your classroom or your locker.

These dreams tend to be manifestations of anxiety, often about how you're doing in your adult life. For example, you may be feeling unprepared or anxious at work, or you may doubt your competence in some other aspect of your current life. These dreams are more likely to occur when you're feeling anxious about something and addressing the underlying anxiety is a good way to help resolve them.

You're Naked

Naked dreams are extremely common, and in general if you're naked (or in your underwear) in a dream, it's in an embarrassingly public way, such as walking down a crowded city street or through the halls of your office or school. Naked dreams are likely to occur when you are feeling vulnerable or exposed, or when you are hiding something and fear exposure. The dream serves to alert you to feelings of vulnerability you haven't addressed in your waking life. Bringing those feelings to light and addressing them through avenues such as journaling or talk therapy can help to minimize the dreams or eliminate them altogether.

Your Teeth Fall Out

Another common recurring dream is dreaming your teeth are falling out. These are anxiety dreams that are often about your ability to nourish yourself in some way (physically, emotionally, spiritually), or they may be showing you that you're feeling anxious about your appearance. More literally, they could also be alerting you to dental issues you haven't addressed. If you have these dreams, ask yourself where you might be experiencing anxiety in these areas, and then address the root cause of that anxiety.

Variety of dentures in dentist hands

You're in an Out of Control Vehicle

When you dream you're in a vehicle you can't control, whether it's a car, a truck, an elevator, or another vehicle, it suggests you feel like you're out of control in some aspect of your life. Lack of control of the vehicle could manifest in various ways in the dream, such as:

  • You press a button for a floor in an elevator, but the elevator fails to go to your floor no matter what you do.
  • Your steering wheel or brakes don't work in your car or truck.
  • Someone else is driving the vehicle, and you're helpless to control its path.

To resolve this type of dream, look to other clues to show you which aspects of your life feel out of control. Then, take steps to either stop tightly controlling those areas of your life or to address the issues that are causing you to feel out of control. Meditation may also be helpful when you're feeling out of control.

You're Being Chased

Being chased in a dream feels disturbing, but it's a surprisingly common recurring dream theme. Typically, when you're being chased in a dream, it indicates that you're avoiding something important in your waking life. If you don't immediately know what it is you're avoiding (and most people do when they think about it), then you can look to other clues in the dream to help you better understand what it is telling you. To resolve recurring chase dreams, it's important to face what you've been avoiding in your waking life.

Car chase

You're Flying

Flying dreams tend to feel positive (unless you're afraid of flying or heights), and they are a common recurring dream. These dreams are likely to occur when you're feeling particularly confident or when you're ready to reach for your goals and aspirations.

You're Falling

Falling dreams are another common manifestation of anxiety in your waking life. Typically, these dreams suggest you're feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or out of control, or that you fear you may be about to figuratively take a fall.

Falling woman nightmare

You're Paralyzed or Can't Speak

Dreams where you're paralyzed or can't speak may occur because in your waking life, you feel unable to speak your truth, share your voice, make yourself heard, or take action on an important issue. Typically, these dreams indicate a lack of self-confidence or repression in some aspect of your life. To resolve them, it's important to take action or speak up and be heard.

What to Do About Recurring Dreams

While some recurring dreams feel like an old friend coming to comfort you, others are disturbing and cause you to wake with your heart pounding. The best way to resolve a recurring dream is to discover its source and work on the underlying issues that cause it. And, because recurring dreams have various causes, the solutions are dependent on what's causing them. However, once you've identified and addressed the issue behind the dream, they typically fade, decrease in frequency, or go away altogether. Some strategies for working with recurring dreams include:

  • Keep a dream journal and use a dream dictionary to better understand what your dream means.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Avoid drugs and alcohol before going to bed, don't use backlit screens for about two hours before sleep, don't eat a heavy meal right before bed, use a bedtime routine, and control atmospheric conditions such as light and temperature.
  • Avoid the use of stimulants throughout the day, especially after about 2 PM.
  • Address trauma and PTSD through therapy modalities such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and talk therapy.
  • Talk to your health care provider about things you can do to mitigate medication side effects.
  • Engage in a practice such as journaling or meditation to help you address issues related to anxiety.
  • Talk to your doctor about underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to your dreams.
  • Engage in stress-release practices including exercise, good nutrition, and meditation or mindfulness practices.
  • Talk out your dreams with someone else, whether a partner, friend, or qualified professional.
  • Try a pre-bedtime affirmation, such as, "Tonight I sleep soundly, dream peacefully, and awake feeling refreshed and energized."
  • Use feng shui to create an ideal bedroom arrangement.
  • Place an amethyst crystal next to your bed to promote peaceful sleep and good dreams.

Understanding Your Recurring Dreams

While recurring dreams are common and often have similar themes from person to person, the meanings of them vary for the individual. Therefore, the key to understanding your own recurring dreams is to honestly assess why they happen and then to address the underlying causes so you can sleep more peacefully.

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Guide to Recurring Dreams: Common Questions Answered