Having Constant Nightmares? This Is How You Can Interpret Your Dreams

Sanna Walker, Staff Writer

Theories about why we dream what we dream vary significantly. Dreams are filled with confusing successions of images, emotions, and ideas. Oftentimes, we can’t make any sense of our dreams, and they seem random. Interestingly, scientists have found patterns and commonalities within our dreams.

Like many, Ravelle Rute, ‘22, doesn’t believe that there is any significance behind dreams stating that, “my dreams seem so random; I honestly believe they are meaningless. I think the brain is just generating random images absorbed throughout the day.”

There is a lot of speculation around the connection between our conscious and subconscious during sleep. Many psychics have made careers that rely heavily on dream analysis and its impact on an individual’s future. Many cultures have also used dreams as an  interpretation and prediction of future events. 

Suzanne Bergmann, social worker and professional dream worker of 16 years, describes dreams as “a universal language, creating often elaborate images out of emotional concepts.”

During rapid eye movement (REM), a state of consciousness often associated with dreams, our brains are very active. Structures responsible for memory formation, including emotional development involved in processing sensory information, such as the limbic system, show tremendous spikes of activity during this state.

Despite the misleading connotation that comes with the word “dream,” most of our dreams are actually nightmares. It is said that generally during REM state, around three quarters of the emotions we feel are negative.

Nightmares often reflect the stress and fatigue we may be experiencing in our lives. Robert Stickgold, sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School, states that the average person experiences three hours nightly of channeled anxiety and frustration in our subconscious dream state. 

Dream interpretation can often be complicated and is not necessarily definitive in any way. As Kelly Bulkeley, dream researcher and visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, states, certain types of areas are dependent on many different factors such as culture and nationality. There are a few common themes seen among dreams, which all have their own meanings:


Being Chased

Dreaming of being chased is usually the exposure of our deeply rooted fears. We have the natural survival instinct of running away (sometimes referred to as “fight or flight”). Being pursued may be representative of avoiding something you dread confronting. You may have unresolved feelings about something important in your waking life. If being chased is a recurring theme in your nightmare, try to confront what you are being chased by, or instead take control and become the pursuer. 


Unprepared for an Exam

Dreaming about being unprepared for an exam can reflect apprehension or uncertainty about an upcoming event or opportunity. 

Dream psychologist Ian Wallace explains that being unprepared for an exam can often mean that you might be “critically examining some aspect of your performance in waking life, contradicting high standards you’ve set for yourself. You habitually judge yourself far too harshly if things work out less than perfect.”

Try to remember that although you might think that your performance in these dream exams are determined by an authority or teacher figure, you ultimately determine whether you succeed or fail. These anxieties are only reservations and insecurities that you have for yourself and in no way reflect truth.



Wallace states that flying in subconscious “suggests that you have released yourself from some perceived limitations in your waking life. This limitation may have been an obligation or responsibility that has seemed like a constant weight on your shoulders.” 


Teeth Falling Out

This particular nightmare usually reflects self-image and your perceived opinion others have of you.

Wallace states that if you often show teeth in dreams, “you are usually considering how confident and powerful you feel in waking life. You show your teeth when you smile… And so they often reflect how self-assured and assertive you are feeling.”

When you lose your teeth or your teeth loosen, it “suggests you are losing confidence in yourself because of a particular situation.”


But although nightmares might be uncomfortable and unfortunate to experience, scientists see them as a healthy expression of anxiety and stress. This is crucial to maintaining good mental health.