Do Your Reoccurring Dreams Mean Anything?

Ahhh, sleep. There’s nothing better than hopping into bed after a long day of classes, work and extracurriculars, and who can resist the power of the snooze button early in the a.m.? However, sleep may not be all that we’re getting once we hit the hay. Sometimes dreams sneak their way into our heads, good or bad. And whether you’re dreaming every night or having them only once in a while, we’ve all experienced different dreams at some point. 

But what about when your dreams start to feel familiar? Or the same person or people keep hanging around in them? Or maybe the same scenario keeps playing itself over and over again.. There must be some sort of explanation for this, right? Is there a special meaning behind reoccurring dreams? We’re just as curious as you are, so we spoke with Nicholas Skasa, a licensed clinical professional counselor, who specializes in trauma and PTSD, anxiety, sleep and insomnia, and investigated what significance could be behind them.

In general, what do reoccurring dreams mean?

Because they must mean something, right?

"I think that [reoccurring dreams] indicate something that needs to be paid attention to in the person’s emotional life," says Skasa. "I think it’s generally true that if you’re having a reoccurring dream, there’s a reoccurring emotional pattern or point of conflict or tension within the person’s psyche or emotional [state]."

In a way, reoccurring dreams can sort of highlight the tension going on in a person’s life, according to Skasa. However, it's important to remember there is not one definitive answer to what reoccurring dreams mean in the medical and psychological fields. There are many different perspectives and approaches to consider when dealing with such a mysterious subject, so it helps to keep an open mind!

A psychoanalytic approach to reoccurring dreams 

When considering the power of the unconscious mind, Skasa offers an explanation based from some of the most famous neurologists and psychologists in history.

"From a traditional, psychoanalytic standpoint, such as with [Carl] Jung or Freud, they hold the position generally that dreams are symbolic representations of what a person consciously doesn’t want to accept or acknowledge or digest about themselves," says Skasa.

Additionally, dreams can also be an honest way to speak about a person's emotional state, distant from their "egos" so that they can represent a part that's difficult to come to terms with, Skasa notes. Whether it be a fight with a friend or a significant other, a lack of rest due to school and work or a bad grade on a test, there are many things collegiettes deal with on a day-to-day basis that can be emotionally taxing and translate into reoccurring dreams—especially if they're issues that you don't wish to consciously acknowledge or deal with.

A pragmatic approach to reoccurring dreams

Skasa also explains a more realistic and less theoretical approach, because not everyone interprets reoccurring dreams the same way! While some people choose to seek out a universal meaning behind the symbolism in their dreams, others see the unique and personal "archetypes" that are solely related to the individual self. 

"With Carl Jung’s archetypes, [for example], there’s a mother archetype, a father archetype and evil and good… symbols that your unconscious mind chooses is personal to you, and the universal nature of symbols isn’t as important as the dreamer’s relationship to that symbol: what’s going on in the dream, what’s the symbol doing in the dream, what’s the impact it’s having on the dreamer in the dream?" Skasa explains.

So, rather than looking up in a book what a symbol in your dream may mean universally, such a vast sea or a massive mountain, it might help to take a step back and really think about how the symbols in the dream are personal to you. Maybe your grandmother really loved butterflies, and the butterflies in your dream serve to represent her essence? "There are these personal relationships to these symbols that means much more," Skasa adds. While it's tempting to fit your reoccurring dreams neatly into a universal box, some dreams may not be so simple. 

Okay, so we have a general understanding of a few approaches to reoccurring dreams. What are some key reasons why these dreams are happening?

1. You're stressed

It’s no secret that stress can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health, and not to mention your quality of sleep. Therefore, your dreams might be trying to tell you something, especially during a stressful period in your life (and collegiettes are no stranger to stress here and there!). 

Lexi Hill, a senior at the University of South Carolina, offers her experience with a reoccurring dream and how she interpreted its meaning.

“I have reoccurring dreams about losing my teeth, where throughout the dream they’ll just fall out,” says Hill. “I did some research and the dream normally indicates that you’re feeling out of control in your life or you’re experiencing a lot of stress.”

And if you’ve had this type of dream before, you’re not alone. “Dreams are powerful,” says Tessa McKenna, a senior at Carthage College. “For me, dreams of my teeth falling out usually mean I’m under a lot of stress or I’m experiencing bad anxiety.”

However, Skasa notes that dreams can be very subjective to the individual and depend on their relationship to what’s reoccurring in the dream. “Sometimes people sort of get caught in that trap of looking [their dream] up in a book and think, ‘well I dreamed about losing my teeth so it means I must be X, Y and Z’, and that’s not necessarily the case,” says Skasa. “It depends on what the person’s relationship to their teeth in the dream is.” A person’s personal relationship means so much when it comes to what occurred in the dream. 

“After reflecting, I’ve found that that dream always came around a stressful time for me—a huge exam or presentation, interview, fight with friend and so on!” Hill adds. 

However you view your dream, it's important to remember that both interpretations in this case are completely valid!

Where does your stress fall on the spectrum?

Skasa offers thinking of stress on a spectrum, which can relate to reoccurring dreams due to overwhelming stress. However, it’s also important to note that not all stress is bad! 

“Stress is sort of a spectrum,” says Skasa. “There can be [minimal] stress or eustress, a very light sort of stress—a positive stress on the body or the mind. A certain amount of adversity is healthy, stress that strengthens you. And then there’s stress all the way to deep trauma. But it’s all on this spectrum of a stress response.”

Not everyone deals with and reacts to stress the same way, but it can impact what goes on after you hit the sheets. "People have all sorts of difficulty adjusting to certain things and how stretched thin they are with school, work, trying to manage children while having a career," Skasa explains. "Everybody has their own capacity for stress and if it does get overwhelmingly chronic, that has a big impact on sleep, and it can have a huge impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing, [which can] translate into dreams."

If these dreams are making it even more difficult to catch some shuteye, there is a way to deal with them.

“Sometimes [it helps] making those behavior changes, like freeing up your resources so you’re not as stressed out or developing some skills to be a little more resilient,” Skasa notes. “Oftentimes I’ve seen people’s dreams resolve after making lifestyle changes. 

If you find that you’ve been experiencing strange, reoccurring dreams, it may be useful to start keeping a dream journal. Recording your dreams as well as your daily thoughts and routines in the same place can help identify whether your dreams are happening in correlation to any stressful points in your life, and what you can do to resolve them!

Related: The Truth About How Much Sleep You Actually Need 

2. You’re experiencing trauma or grief 

A person may experience trauma-related PTSD or grief for a variety of reasons. For many, it can be due to the death of a loved one, and their appearance can be reoccurring in your dreams. So, does it mean anything when such is the case?

"Something like grief or trauma, for example, takes a long time to resolve," says Skasa. "It’s usually the body sort of trying to coat that emotional memory in a way that’s integrated to the person’s personality and psyche meaningfully, and becomes a part of their identity so they can kind of move forward in life and live with the least amount of tension, anxiety or emotional trouble."

On the other hand, some people may connect emotionally to their memories of others through their dreams.

"I think death holds special meaning with reoccurring dreams,” says McKenna. “When people who have passed away in my life keep appearing in my dreams, it feels as though they’re protecting me. It also helps me cope with the fact that they’re gone."

However, Skasa notes that rather than being a coping mechanism, these kinds of reoccurring dreams may indicate that you’re having trouble moving on from the loss.

3. Your mind is giving you a sign

Just as you might dream about someone in your life who has passed, your reoccurring dreams might also include those currently in your life, whether you’re close or merely acquaintances. These dreams can range from mild or bizarre, and it can be extremely odd when you find yourself dreaming about the same person over and over whether it be your roommate or your sixth-grade math teacher. So, what is your mind trying to signal in this case?

"It’s probably more of an indication that that particular person or symbol that’s reoccurring, and whatever relationship the dreamer has to it is, represents whatever that loose end or whatever emotional tension is going on," says Skasa.

For example, many collegiettes are no strangers to tension when it comes to living with a new roommate. If you're not getting along and have created a hostile environment in your shoebox-sized dorm room, they might drop by your dreams to signal that tension. So, If your dream is attempting to signal loose ends or emotional tension, you might want to reflect on where you stand with that reoccurring person in your life. 

"Sometimes it feels as if my reoccurring dreams are trying to tell me something," says McKenna. "For example, if there’s a specific person reappearing in them, it feels like a sign to reach out to them."

While this may not always be the case, it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself why you think a specific person may be stopping by your dreams every other night. Are you avoiding them? Did you recently have a falling out, or get together for some coffee?

"It can be a sign that they have some importance in your life whether that be bad or good." McKenna adds.

In certain cases it’s tempting to base our choices off things we interpret as signs, so you might want to look back at your reoccurring dreams a little more carefully.

Dreams are certainly powerful, so much so that it leaves us to question what forces are at work here, and if there’s truly a meaning or an explanation behind every dream. Reoccurring dreams may seem like some sort of grand prophecy or code to crack, but they may as well be just our mind’s way of relaying simple messages in bizarre ways. It all depends on what your approach to dreams are, and what your personal relationship is to the content of your dreams!