What Do Nightmares Mean?

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A woman sleeping in a creepy forest
Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Thursday July 30, 2020

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Everyone’s experienced a nightmare at one point or another. It’s normal to not have pleasant dreams every night, but it’s troubling when you have them more often than not. You may wake up sweating and struggle to get back to sleep. Even worse, they may leave you feeling like you were supposed to understand a message.

The human mind is complicated, especially when it comes to dreams. If you’re one of the many who wonder what nightmares mean, check out a few explanations that may help you experience more peaceful sleep.

What Causes Nightmares

Nightmares occur for different reasons. It depends on your age, lifestyle and what’s currently happening in your life. Sometimes they connect with your past traumas or struggles. Still, there are a few frequent causes of nightmares that might trigger your nightly terrors.

Stress or Anxiety

Think about how much stress or anxiety you deal with every day. Depending on how intensely you feel these emotions, they could trigger more frequent nightmares as your body processes the mental stress. Even if you dream about something unrelated to what you’re anxious or stressed about, this psychological unease may relate to your nightmares.


There are many different forms of trauma that you may have experienced in the past. Flashing back to these traumatic events is called re-experiencing and can cause regular nightmares, especially for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Some medications can influence the neurotransmitters in your brain. Prescriptions that help with the following conditions can increase the likelihood of nightmares by altering your biochemistry:

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Sleep aids
  • Allergy medications
  • Steroids

Talk with your doctor if you recently began taking any of these medications, as they may alter your dosage or prescription based on the frequency and intensity of your nightmares.

Nightly Activities

Your brain may make you dream in specific ways, depending on what you do right before going to bed. Watching scary movies, playing intense video games or even talking about creepy subjects can make your brain process that information immediately after you fall asleep.

Common Nightmare Symbols

Some people wondering what nightmares mean may find peace in translating their dreams through common symbols. Although there’s no direct science to understanding nightmares, you can look for these symbols to find meaning about your dreams and become less scared of them.


Recurring nightmares about drowning could mean you feel overwhelmed by something. It may be your emotions or issues with your job or family. Finding your most immediate struggles and working through them could resolve your scary dreams.


If you dream of falling off something tall like a cliff or a building, you may feel anxious about something suddenly happening. Are you nervous about losing your job or failing a pop quiz? Sudden changes are scary, but you can discover ways to plan for them and banish these dreams if you think ahead.

Being Chased

People with unfinished business, like unresolved arguments or fear of their past, typically dream about being chased. Getting to the solution of your unfinished business can help with your nightmares. Confront the problems head-on and you may get better sleep.

How to Avoid Nightmares

There are several ways to avoid nightmares, depending on what works best for you. Calm your anxiety and stress before bed with pleasant books, a warm bath or meditation. You may want to write about your nightmares in the morning and give them different endings.

What do nightmares mean? It depends on your life experiences and how you interpret them. As you come to terms with what your dreams may or may not mean, you can try new comfort measures and proactive solutions to experience more restful nights.

Updated on April 12, 2024

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