Again? You might be asking yourself that question often if you’re plagued with recurring dreams. You do a quick check just to make sure your teeth didn’t really fall out or that you didn’t actually leave the house with no pants again and then start to wonder if there might be something to this repeat.
“Dreams are from two things,” Kori Ascher, D.O., a sleep medicine physician in training at University of Miami UHealth Sleep Center. “One being in the stage of REM sleep, which is your deep, refreshing, restorative sleep stage. Alternatively, if you’re experiencing sharp transitions from being awake to asleep, or sleep to awake, this is where you’ll have those very vivid dreams that you’ll wake up from and wonder if it really happened or was a dream.”
She says that those really intense dreams where you feel like you’re literally smelling the rain on the grass can be the result of being in and out of sleep, causing your “real life” senses to become incorporated into the dream. So if it was raining outside during the day and you went to bed with the window slightly cracked to let in a fresh breeze, that explains why that smell is coming across vividly in your dream.
But a recurring dream coming back for round two may start to feel like some sort of sign. Here’s what the experts have to say about the meaning of these dreams that won’t leave us alone.
Are recurring dreams normal?
In Recurrent Dreams: Their Relation to Life Events, Antonio Zadra, sleep scientist and professor of psychology at the University of Montreal, reports that 60-75% of adults were found to experience recurrent dreams. Which means that experiencing recurring dreams is not only normal, it’s extremely common. The majority of these repeat dreams have been described as unpleasant, he writes. If dreams are a way for us to process subject matter that is particularly difficult, it makes sense that our brains may need extra time to work through all of the material.
Common themes of recurring dreams
Recurring dreams tend to take on common themes. According to recent study by Amerisleep the most common recurring dreams are pretty stressful: falling, being chased, being unprepared for a test, losing your teeth, getting lost, being late, being paralyzed, dreaming of snakes, and driving an out of control vehicle.
What do recurring dreams mean?
Why we have the same dream again and again, speaks more to what’s going on in life that is triggering the same visual than it does about the visual itself. So to get to the bottom of a recurring dream, you have to do some self psychoanalysis. “It’s your subconscious, the interpretation of which can go various different ways,” says Dr. Ascher.
“Dreams bring to light emotions that we have hidden even to ourselves,” says Justina Lasley author and founder of the Institute for Dream Studies. “Just in acknowledging our dreams, writing our dreams down, and sharing them, we will be closer to dealing with our fears and anxiety.”
It’s also worth noting that not all recurring dreams are nightmares. Sometimes, you find yourself revisiting a pleasant scenario where you’re going to the same mall with your bestie or finding yourself coming back to the same park of your childhood where you had great memories. Try thinking about how you feel about these places and what you’re doing there, and that might shed light on what you’re trying to mentally process.
How to stop recurring dreams
“For veterans or patients that have post-traumatic stress disorder who have very vivid dreams that are interruptive to their sleep and emotionally disordering, there are certain medications that we can prescribe specifically for that,” says Dr. Ascher.
If your recurring dreams are starting to cause you emotional distress, you can speak with a physician like Dr. Ascher to discuss whether medication, cognitive behavior therapy tailored to sleep, sleep hygiene, or some combination of the three might be best for you.
But if these dreams are more of a nuisance that you’d rather just avoid because, Dr. Ascher suggests promoting really good sleep hygiene. So what is that exactly? Essentially it means sticking to the same sleep schedule all week. “That helps the circadian rhythm, therefore regulating all of your hormones so that they are consistent and not causing any disturbances while you’re asleep,” Dr. Asher says. “About an hour before bedtime, do a relaxing activity such as practicing mindfulness, meditation, or taking a nice warm bath—something that prepares the mind a peaceful night’s sleep,” she adds.