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Recurring Dreams: Common Examples and Why They Occur

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The topic of recurring dreams has been intriguing to me for years. My interest initially peaked a couple of years ago when I was frequently having recurring dreams about a specific object. The plots, if you will, of each of these dreams were different, but the one overarching and undeniable similarity was the presence of airplanes. This prompted me to do a little bit of research on the subject. While none of the websites had a clear-cut answer, it was still a thought-provoking experience to learn about the potential reasons why I was having airplane-related dreams. While I did research on my specific dreams, I never looked up why we get recurring dreams in the first place. Since I have been wondering about this more recently, I wanted to do some more research to answer this very question.

According to healthline.com, while it is unlikely that you will have the same exact dream more than once, it is likely that various themes within your dreams can repeat themselves in subsequent dreams. In addition, it is more common to get recurring dreams when you are more stressed or anxious in life. Healthline proposes that there are three possible reasons for our recurrent dreams: “unmet needs, areas of frustration, or issues from the past that [we] have not addressed.” All of these causes would naturally yield negative dreams with the typical emotions being stress, anger, and sadness. But, as I will write later, not everyone has negative recurring dreams.

According to a different article from a website called sciencealert.com, there are similarities between people’s recurring dreams from around the world. Examples of these dreams are as follows: being chased, falling, being unprepared for an important event, or arriving late. It also states that over half of these dreams involve situations where the dreamer is in danger. While recurring dreams might bring negative emotions for a lot of people, this is not true for everyone. Some people report positive, or even “euphoric” dreams such as flying. We now know that recurring dreams typically follow a similar pattern of being linked to negative emotions and stress; we also know that there are common themes among the recurring dreams that people all over the world experience. However, there is still an unanswered question: why are the themes in these dreams repeated? 

ScienceAlert proposes that there are two main reasons that we have repeating dreams. The first reason is a history of trauma and the second is our brain’s attempt to resolve certain emotional concerns. Repeated dreams can be our brain’s way of letting us know that we need to deal with a certain situation or emotion. Once the said emotions are dealt with in whichever way this might mean for the person having these dreams, they typically either stop happening or get increasingly more positive. 

One last question this essay will seek to answer is why humans from around the world have similar recurring dreams. ScienceAlert believes that it is possible that through evolution, some of these themes have been preserved in humans due to the survival advantage they bring. For example, the dream of being chased could in reality be occurring due to our evolutionary memory putting us through a simulation of being chased in order to have us practice how to get away from enemies. We can see another explanation for similar recurring dreams with the example of the teeth falling out dream. This dream is less linked to anxiety and more linked to the physical act of grinding your teeth in your sleep and your brain’s reaction to this, which is fascinating. With this explanation it makes sense why lots of people around the world would have this same dream, since I would imagine that many people worldwide grind their teeth at night.

I personally do not think that my airplane-related dreams had anything to do with an evolutionary survival simulation or trauma. My guess is that they were related to periods in my life where uncertainty and stress were especially present, such as the time of my parent’s divorce and during the beginning of the pandemic. While I feel more informed after conducting this quick internet search, I am still left with many questions. Why airplanes? In other words, what causes each person’s unique recurring theme? I hope these questions are answered in the future as our scientific techniques and methods surrounding the brain and dreams continue to progress. 

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Nora Walsh

Denison '25

Nora Walsh is a current freshman at Denison. She is passionate about language learning (specifically Spanish) and learning about various cultures around the world. When she is not doing work, you can find her doing yoga, spending time with friends, listening to music, or diving into a movie or TV show.
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