What your bad dreams mean and how to avoid them

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5-min read
Bad dreams have been on the rise during the pandemic. (Getty Images)
Bad dreams have been on the rise during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

Regularly waking up from a bad dream or scary nightmare? You're not alone.

Recent research, published in the journal Dreaming, reveal that dreams associated with anxiety and other negative emotions have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,

But while waking up in a cold sweat after yet another strange dream might be concerning, we need not fear nightmares.

According to dream expert, Theresa Cheung, bad dreams indicate that there are feelings or situations in your current waking life which you are having difficulty fully processing.

"Think of nightmares as a form of tough love," she explains. "Your dreaming mind is using shocking images because it knows you are more likely to recall them and ponder their meaning than everyday dreams."

Cheung says nightmares can help you cathartically acknowledge and process fears and stresses which you may be trying to repress or avoid in your waking life but which you need to deal with for your personal growth.

"Nightmares also prepare or alert you to potential future problems so not only does the fear you felt in a dream actually reduce waking anxiety it also gives you a chance to make positive changes in your waking life to avoid those future problems," she adds.

"In short, a nightmare can be a precious and transformative gift."

Read more: These viral sleep hacks could solve your shut-eye

Sleep experts say we shouldn't fear our nightmares. (Getty Images)
Sleep experts say we shouldn't fear our nightmares. (Getty Images)

Common nightmares decoded

While it seems experiencing bad dreams are not necessarily something to be feared, we can’t help but wonder what some of our most common nightmares really mean? Cheung has partnered with Happy Beds, to reveal the most common nightmares, what they mean and a few tips on how to avoid them.


A dream that involves someone trying to kill you can mean an unexpected change is being forced onto you or that you are trying to outrun a situation that you need to deal with.

"If you are dreaming about someone else being murdered, it could indicate that you’re dealing with feelings of anger, frustration or fear," Cheung explains.

Watch: Why is sleep so important?


Dreams involving the apocalypse or the end of the world can be very stressful.

"They can be a sign that your subconscious feels that things are shifting in your life and it’s time for a fresh start," Cheung says.

"It could also mean you have some deep emotions which are coming to the surface or that you are feeling out of control in your life and are worried about what the future will bring."

Teeth falling out

Who hasn't woken up from a dream thinking you've lost all your pearly whites? But turns out there could be more than one reason that you’re having nightmares about your teeth falling out.

"It could mean that you’re concerned about ageing or your appearance, or even that you have unexpressed anger inside," explains Cheung.

"These types of dreams can also mean that you are experiencing some form of self confidence issues or are feeling anxious or powerless about a situation."


Cheung says dreams about drowning are very common and can be disturbing, however, they’re usually a sign that you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

"Water is a great metaphor for our emotions so it may also be our brain giving us a sign that we need to slow down and take a breath," she adds.

Read more: Sleep calculator reveals precise time you should go to bed to not feel tired in the morning

From teeth falling out to drowning, experts have decoded your most common nightmares. (Getty Images)
From teeth falling out to drowning, experts have decoded your most common nightmares. (Getty Images)

How to tackle bad dreams

While nightmares may not be a cause for immediate concern, there are certain steps you can take to help you avoid them.

Stick to a sleep routine

Both sleep disruption and longer sleep time increase the likelihood of having more REM (rapid eye movement), which is the sleep stage where most dreaming happens.

With that in mind Katherine Hall, sleep psychologist from Somnus Therapy suggests keeping your bedtime and wake time as consistent as possible.

"Consistency is likely to result in more restful and stable sleep, preventing the likelihood of a nightmare-inducing REM rebound from sleep deprivation," she explains.

Practice daily relaxation

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can be incredibly useful in helping you to get to sleep, while also reducing the stress around not being able to sleep.

"PMR is a form of mindfulness that guides you through tensing each muscle group then relaxing them, to promote a sense of complete body and mind relaxation," Hall adds.

Try expressive writing

Creative writing has been shown to enable the writer to better regulate their emotions, as well as helping us to break free from the endless mental cycling of brooding or rumination.

"Acknowledging your emotions and writing them down reduces the need for your mind to constantly fight and be in battle with any negative and stressful thoughts," Hall explains.

Read more: Woman shares therapist's trick for falling asleep when you’re tossing and turning

Ditch the wine

According to Hall alcohol is a REM sleep blocker and causes an overall reduction in REM sleep, also known as dream sleep.

"When the alcohol starts to wear off it is not uncommon to experience really vivid dreams or nightmares," she adds.

Seek help

If you're suffering from recurrent of frequent nightmares, Hall suggests seeking professional help.

"Speaking with a professional may be the best option to help discover and treat the underlying issue," she says.

Watch: Should we be sleeping with our socks on?

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