Whilst Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate love and romance, it can also make you think of relationships past.
It's little wonder, therefore, that as we approach the most romantic day of the year many Brits are dreaming of their ex.
Recent research has revealed that 8,300 people have Googled ‘dreaming of ex’ in the past 30 days, which is a 100% increase when compared to the previous month.
But what do those forbidden dreams really mean and why are we more likely to have them around February 14?
“Sleep helps you process and understand your emotions, particularly those you may find difficult in real life, which is why you’re more likely to dream of your ex around this romantic holiday," explains Martin Seeley, CEO and sleep expert at MattressNextDay.
According to Seeley, delving a little deeper could uncover three main reasons your ex is in your lucid mind right now.
“The first is that you've been thinking about them a lot recently," he explains. "If you've been thinking about them regularly for weeks or months now, then it's likely that these thoughts will manifest themselves as dreams during sleep."
There's also the possibility you're still grieving for them, even if you don't want to admit it. "Even if you're over your ex and have moved on, there's always a chance that part of you will always regret the end of your relationship and wonder what could have been if things had turned out differently," he says.
"This can be especially true if they were very special or important in your life at one time or another, for example if they were your first love."
Finally Seeley says you could be dreaming about your ex if you feel guilty for moving on so quickly, especially if they’re still hurting over the breakup.
"Your dream may subconsciously tell you that you need to feel more remorse or guilt over your new relationship," he explains. "You're afraid that people will think you're a bad person for moving on so quickly and want to protect yourself from their judgment by holding on to the belief that they are still hurting over their breakup.”
What dreams about your ex really mean
Of course not all dreams about your ex are the same, and how your former significant other appears in your dream can give a further insight into your subconscious.
Turns out dreaming about an ex from long ago means you're thinking about missed opportunities.
“If you dream of an ex from a long time ago, this is a sign that you are wondering about your missed opportunities of youth," explains dreams expert Inbaal Honigman.
"Perhaps you feel that you should have taken a different path in life, from the career you picked to the area you live in. If these decisions are connected to your long-gone ex, this may be why they are on your brain."
If you have one of these dreams, Honigman suggests noting whether you feel fearful or serene when you wake up.
"This will tell you whether your past choices were preferable to your present or not,” she explains.
If an ex apologises to you in a dream it could be that you're craving closure and according to Honigman this is you subconsciously choosing peace.
“An apology in a dream is your mind's way of bringing peace to a turbulent situation," she explains. "Your sleeping subconscious is going over unfinished stories from the past.
"If this love story ended badly, and the other person never took responsibility for their actions, your mind still craves that apology. And at least in the dream, your ex is mature enough to deliver one!”
Watch: Tips for overcoming problems with falling asleep
Dreams about sex with an ex
Of course many dream about having sex with their ex, but this doesn't necessarily mean you want to jump back in bed with them.
Instead it means you need your sexual needs met, but by anyone, not just your former flame.
"You’ll be pleased to hear that this type of dream is usually not about the partner at all," Honigman explains.
“At night when you're asleep, your dreams stem from your mind. So, if your body is going through a bit of a drought and you've not enjoyed a physical connection with anybody for a while, then the natural human desire to embrace will transcend body and mind and burst right into your dream.
"There is no shame in having physical desires, and it's certainly perfectly natural to act upon them in a dream.”
If you were cheated on in the past, dreams of your ex could be an example of your mind trying to make sense of what happened.
“One of the most upsetting love-related dreams one can have is where cheating occurs," Honigman explains. "The sense of betrayal, shame and hopelessness that go along with infidelity can ruin a good night's sleep.
"If you dream of an ex-partner cheating, you might be trying to make sense of the split. You could be worried that their loyalty was never for you, and you may be suspicious that they were cheating in real life too.
"The dream shows your own insecurities rather than any unfaithful thoughts from the ex.”
Read more: How to tell if someone fancies you
According to Honigman, dreaming of an ex while in a new relationship is a question of their past loyalty.
“Dreaming of an ex in a new relationship is very similar to dreaming of an ex-partner cheating," she explains. "This is questioning whether their loyalty was ever with you, did they ever love you? It's a dream of insecurity, but it's also an opportunity to find out how you feel. Did it make you feel jealous, upset, or secretly relieved that they're not with you anymore?”
Arguments with your ex are also common features of our dreams and it can indicate a way of having the final say.
“A dream of arguing with an ex is a wishful dream," Honigman says. "You've gone over your old arguments so many times, and each time you thought of a better come-back, a better answer you could have shouted!
"In your dream, you can finally get to win that argument, slam that door, and have the final say," she continues. "This dream can be a great stress-reliever, allowing you to set the record straight, at least in your mind.”
How to stop dreaming about your ex
Of course not all dreams about your ex are welcome and if you're looking to try to banish your former flames from your night time escapades, there are some steps you can take.
Martin Seeley has some advice for overcoming these powerful dreams and preventing them from impacting your sleep.
Journal to identify emotional themes – If you regularly dream about your ex-partner, start writing down the plots so that you identify recurring emotional themes. For example, ‘apologising’, ‘cheating’, and ‘quality time’. These can then clue you into what you need to focus on in your own life, or even what qualities you’d like in future partners.
Be aware of what happened the day before your dream – For example, did you feel particularly lonely that day? Or did you argue with your current partner and felt misunderstood? Connect these dots to give a true reflection of why you might have had the dream.
Talk it through with someone – If you have a one-off dream about your ex, then this isn’t a cause for concern, however, if you’re having regular, vivid dreams, then there’s something likely to be troubling you. You should, therefore, consider talking to someone who can help you decipher what it really means.
Decide what you want to take away from the dream – These dreams can have as much or as little power as you want them to, so you can decide what influence it has on your waking life.
Calm your mind – If the dream has left you feeling up a height, there are various breathing techniques you can use to help calm yourself down.