10 Common Nightmares

Girls scared in bed
Nightmares are common among all of us, and are actually a necessary part of dreaming. Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Getty Images

Unpleasant as they may be, nightmares are an essential part of dreaming. While our more enjoyable dreams are spurred by wishes and desires, nightmares are a manifestation of other common feelings like stress and anxiety. However, like many dreams, nightmares are not as straight forward as they seem.

Within the hazy realm of nightmares, a cigar is never a cigar. Dreams are categorically symbolic, and the images within them should never be accepted for their face value. If you interpret them as such, you're likely to miss the important issues your subconscious may be trying to convey.


Having a dream about natural disaster or particularly exasperating car trouble doesn't necessarily represent a fear of these events actually taking place. More often than not, these nightmares reflect your inner feelings toward a pressing predicament in your waking-life. So read on for more info on 10 common nightmares we experience, and simple ways to address the frightening feelings that are vividly iterated within your dreams.

10: Feeling Lost or Trapped

Unlike most of the nightmares on this list, this dream is very direct and simple to analyze. Feeling trapped or lost in a dream indicates a concern of being lost or trapped into a certain situation or position in your waking life. Are others pressuring you into doing something? Do you feel as though you've been lost in the shuffle of things, or you've run out of options?

Realize this dream is a direct warning to your internal concerns, and it should be a cue to consciously address these feelings before it's too late. Otherwise, you may start having this next type of nightmare.


9: Falling or Drowning

Do you feel like you're in over your head? Maybe you're caving under the pressure of a certain task or duty. These anxious feelings will most likely result in a dream of you falling or drowning. Dreams revolving around a continuous fall or drowning demonstrate an internalized anxiety about a situation or task at hand. The emotions they evoke can range from loss of control to exhilaration. Your specific reaction in this nightmare will likely mirror your reaction to certain circumstances in reality.

This is also a perfect opportunity to engage in lucid dreaming. If you know you have this dream often, you can resolve these falling and drowning anxieties by realizing it's all a dream, and then willing yourself to control it. Instead of falling or drowning, tell yourself to fly or swim. After all, it is your dream, and within it you can do whatever you please.


8: Machine or Phone Malfunction

Did you call someone in your dream, only to have it ring endlessly without anyone to answer? Did your computer's hard drive crash while you were in the middle of writing a paper? While these are not particularly terrifying nightmares, to some, a crashed hard drive can be just as devastating as crashed car.

Malfunctions with technology, especially communicative technologies, may mean you are failing to reach out to someone on an emotional level. Have you lost touch with a good friend? Is there a disconnect or barrier forming between yourself and a loved one? If this is a common nightmare of yours, take the time to evaluate your relationships and identify key areas that need to be mended.


7: Being Naked or Inappropriately Dressed in Public

Man without shirt
Dreaming you're underdressed in public can signify guilt or shame.
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Dreams of appearing naked in public are invariably one of the most common nightmares shared by people of all ages. These dreams tend to act as reliable measurements of your self-esteem. Within them your clothes function as a method of concealment, enabling you to hide things about yourself that you don't want others to see.

If you are comfortable being nude within your dream, you are secure about exposing your feelings and have nothing to hide. Embarrassment about nudity implies vulnerability, guilt or shame, while being oblivious to your nudity can mean a lack of self-awareness.


If you've been hiding something from others, or are afraid that people can see through a façade you've established, be prepared to have this common nudie nightmare.

6: Natural or Manmade Disasters

Whether experienced in reality or in dreams, being caught in the midst of a natural disaster is an unquestionably horrific experience. Significantly disturbing dreams, like this one, will always contain substantial meanings, and nightmares of disaster speak volumes about your current state of mind.

Usually, a catastrophe dream alludes to feelings of disaster looming in your waking life. You might feel as though you cannot survive whatever turmoil or dilemma you're currently challenged with, and instead are lost in the cataclysmic wreckage left in the wake your dream-disaster. If you tend to have a disaster dream, examine what exactly you are feeling overwhelmed or defeated about, and rationally address the issue.


5: Poor Test Performance

Even if you've been long removed from the day-to-day realities of class schedules, college ruled notebooks and the quadratic formula, you still might have midnight hauntings of pop-quizzes and impossible exams. Subconscious test anxiety is actually quite common among dreamers, and the grade you receive on your exam is fascinatingly revealing.

Failing an exam in your dreams reflects your waking life concerns about how deserving you are for the things you have achieved in life. If you were to go back and receive an evaluation of all your past deeds, would you be satisfied with the results? If you would be satisfied, but you feel the grade you received on your dream-exam was unfounded or incorrect, your dream might be suggesting your feelings of doubted or denied recognition for something you've accomplished.


4: House or Property Loss or Damage

If you've had an intense dream about your house, don't panic. It's not because you've been watching too many Bob Vila marathons. You're actually having a very normal dream. When a house appears in your dreams, it usually symbolizes the self. The façade of the house represents your self-image, while the interior symbolizes your inner-self.

If your home, or a possession within your home, has been damaged in your dream, the nightmare may reflect inward feelings of being broken or mishandled. Along the same plane as the damage dream, dreams of lost or stolen possessions also reveal tumultuous inner feelings about the self. If you've lost an important item or had something stolen from your home, you may feel as though you are susceptible to deceit, or you feel that something valuable to you is at risk.


3: Car Trouble

Having problems with your car is already a nightmarish experience, but in dreams vehicular mishaps signify much more than a looming oil change or balding tire. Vehicles often represent the physical body, yet they can carry emotional implications as well. Like dreams of a home, the appearance of the car represents your outward perceptions, and your inner feelings are represented by what's under the hood.

You might be driving a wonderfully looking car, only to realize the inside is a mess, or it doesn't function properly. This situation might parallel your internal feelings towards yourself. Sometimes in dreams about cars, you're seated behind the wheel and heading straight for a crash, this could signify feelings of powerlessness or a lack of control.


2: Suffering an Injury, Illness or Death

Dreams of serious illness or death are very distressing, especially when we're reminded of that chilling old rumor that claims "if you die in your dreams, you will also die in your sleep." Don't worry, plenty of people have had these dreams and have lived to tell the tale. While dwelling on death can seem very morbid, in dreams, it can actually signify a change or new beginning. Death can represent the end of a certain stage in life -- you know, like the end of your flannel and overalls hobo-chic stage -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But not all dreams about death have a silver lining. Sometimes they represent the ominous raincloud they seem to be. Dreams of injury, illness and death can signify feelings of emotional hurt, or fear of being hurt. If a loved one is the one who is ill or dying, it may mean that the part of yourself you see in that person feels as if it were lost or dead. If you dream you are dying suggests you are no longer able to cope with a troubling situation, and should seek the help or advice of others.


Dreams involving illness and death can be extremely frightening, but don't take them too literally because you could be oversimplifying their true meanings.

1: Being Chased or Attacked

Being chased by someone -- or something -- is an extremely common nightmare.
©iStockphoto/Bruce Livingstone

To be chased or attacked by something or someone is a ubiquitous nightmare shared by all dreamers. The scenery and assailant might change figure or form, but the act of being chased in a dream always signals to our body's fight-or-flight response. The chase dream is remarkably prevalent because the fight-or-flight response is a primal reaction embedded in every single human being, arising when faced with dangers or fears.

Sigmund Freud characterized these dreams as "the manifest dream content of persons suffering from anxiety." This anxiety reflected in a chase dream could stem from a various number of concerns, from menial worries about getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, to substantial fears of getting into a full-on collision. As these genuine fears are embodied in a phantasmal pursuit, the actions you take to escape this hounding danger parallel how you would react to the stresses, fears and pressures of reality.

Adapted from 500 Dreams Interpreted, © 2009 Publications International, Ltd.

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  • LaBerge, Stephen. The Lucidity Institute. "What is Lucid Dreaming?" July 16, 2004 http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2.html