What are Some of the Most Common Nightmares?

That dream you had about pirates chasing you through a McDonald’s Play Place might seem random on the surface. While there may be no accounting for the innumerable oddities the nightmare entailed (Why was your grandma one of the cooks there, and what was with the talking armadillo?) it actually contained one of the most common nightmare elements: being chased.

It turns out that people tend to have nightmares about the same general things, and that’s what we’ll talk about today. In this article, we’ll cover the most common nightmares people have and discuss what they might mean.

— Falling

According to a survey from Amerisleep, falling is the single most common nightmare among individuals. Nearly 65% of the survey’s 2000 respondents claimed to have had this nightmare at some point in their lives. Dream interpreters generally agree that nightmares about falling most often occur when the individual feels that they lack control in their life.

Fun fact: You know that feeling you get when you’re about to fall asleep, but then you jerk awake because it feels like you’re falling? Experts believe this is linked to our hypnagogic state, which serves as the bridge between being awake and being asleep. This state is also associated with other hallucinations (such as hearing voices or seeing patterns) as well as sleep paralysis.

— Being chased

Being chased was a close runner-up in the aforementioned survey, with just over 63% of respondents reporting this type of nightmare. Dream experts believe that dreams about being chased could have to do with “running away” from things in one’s personal or professional life—others believe it could also be a sign that an individual is running toward something in life and facing obstacles along the way.

— Being attacked or attacking someone

Interestingly, the aforementioned survey by Amerisleep showed that while women more often dream of being attacked, men more often dream of attacking someone. That said, nearly half of respondents said they had had this type of nightmare before. Most often, nightmares about being attacked represent the individual’s fear of something in the real world—especially another person.

— Teeth falling out

Nope. You’re not the only one having this disturbing nightmare.

Experts believe that this type of dream most often reflects a sense of insecurity in the dreamer (especially in terms of appearance or competence). It can also represent a recent loss in the dreamer’s life, especially of something that was important to them.

— Being naked in public

You know the ones. When you wake up, panic for a few seconds about how many people saw you in your birthday suit, and then breathe a sigh of relief as you realize it was all a dream.

Dreams about public nudity most often relate to feelings of insecurity or vulnerability in one’s personal life. Some believe they can also refer more specifically to a fear of secrets being revealed, especially those that a person feels guilty about.

— Missing a life event, being late, or getting lost

How could you possibly have arrived late for Aunt Jodie’s wedding? Why did you keep getting lost in the halls of your old high school? And why did people keep stopping you as you tried to make your date on time?

Dreams about missing or being late for a life event often stem from feelings of being overwhelmed, though they can also represent the dreamer’s fear of not being prepared for something that’s coming up. Those that involve getting lost are thought to reflect the dreamer’s sense of being “lost” or unknowing of what to do in the waking world.

— Bugs

Giant spiders on top of the kitchen cupboards… Scorpions creeping all around the carpet… Ants crawling inside your skin…

While an obvious cause of bug-related nightmares is a fear of bugs, some believe that these dreams can also represent guilt or irritation. In addition, bug dreams are associated with health issues.

— Natural disasters

Roughly a third of correspondents in Amerisleep’s survey said they had experienced nightmares involving natural disasters, with women being slightly more likely than men to experience this type of dream. While dreaming of earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes may indicate either a fear of those events or a traumatic memory of one, experts also believe they could relate to anxiety or overwhelming stress in one’s life.

— Injury

If your nightmare involves getting injured in some way—whether it be through violence or an accident—it may indicate a real fear of situations that could threaten or jeopardize your health and wellbeing. It may also indicate a loss of control, or a general sense of feeling threatened in your day-to-day life.

— Loved one dying

Amerisleep’s survey showed that around 46% of respondents had nightmares of a loved one dying, with just over 60% of those people being women. Interestingly, a separate survey by Mattress Advisor indicates that just under 6% of respondents in the United States reported this type of nightmare—and residents of Hawaii had the highest rate in the country at a whopping 42.9%!

It’s said that dreams like this may indicate an actual fear of a loved one dying, an overwhelming sense of responsibility for those around oneself, or negative feelings surrounding the loss of a loved one in another context (such as a breakup, divorce, or estrangement).

— Drowning

Another common nightmare element is drowning, and experts agree that these dreams most often represent immersion in one’s feelings/responsibilities or a feeling of being overwhelmed by something.

Additional Notes

As we’ve touched on throughout this article, the types of nightmares people have seemed to correlate—at least partially—with a number of factors. Gender, geographic location, and cultural background play a large role here. For example, if you live somewhere where earthquakes are common, you might be predisposed to having nightmares involving earthquakes or other natural disasters.

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In Conclusion

As you can see, people’s nightmares tend to have many of the same components, themes, and elements. In particular, dreams about falling or being chased are quite common—as are some dreams you thought only you had (like your teeth falling out). Dream interpreters lend meaning to these frequently occurring elements, though in the words of Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” So, how do your nightmares compare to those we mentioned? Do they tend to contain any of the same elements?

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