What do my dreams really mean and are they normal

What do my dreams really mean and are they normal?

What do my dreams really mean and are they normal?

Here’s the thing – there is no one accepted explanation for why we dream, never mind what dreams even mean! But dreams, and their possible implications, fascinate us because they feel so real and vivid. Writers throughout time have pondered over why we dream, which are the common dreams and what are the meanings of these dreams. Let’s delve a little deeper below.

Why we dream – the research and theories

There are several theories around this, which can be traced back into centuries past. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, believed dreams were both predictions of future events and visitations by the dead [1]. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) believed that dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious” and were a form of wish-fulfilment [2]. It won’t be any surprise to those of you who know about Freud, that his interpretations were often sexual in nature.

More recent research has used neurobiology to explain dreams. The activation-synthesis hypothesis was devised by two Harvard University psychiatrists (Hobson & McCarley) [2]. They suggest that dreams are the mind attempting to make sense of brain activity that happens when we are asleep [2]. In the field of cognitive neuroscience, Revonsuo believes dreams are akin to fire that act as defence mechanisms which prepare us for future threats [3]. Revonsuo believes that dreams may be evolutionary and would have benefitted our hunter-gatherer ancestors and do likewise for us today [3].

Over 10,000 dreams were analysed by researcher Calvin Hall, who suggested that most dreams tend to illustrate concerns about daily life [4]. This is evident in the list of most common dreams cited below. However, we also see concepts such as ‘falling’ or ‘flying’ (flying in this case meaning independently, not on a ‘plane), in this list too. See how many you have experienced:

Most common dreams

  • Being late
  • Loved ones dying or return of deceased loved one
  • Falling
  • Flying
  • Sex

It may be of some comfort to realise that your dreams are not unusual and do not mean there is anything wrong with you. Dreams of sex-related activities or loved ones dying can be particularly disorientating, but they are normal and commonplace [5 & 6].

Researchers also discovered more common dream themes, including: arriving someplace late, being dressed inappropriately and being unable to find a toilet [7]. We can see therefore that dreams often place us in social situations where potentially embarrassing or humiliating consequences may occur. It’s always a relief to wake from these dreams and find out they were not reality!

Read on to understand what our top five of common dreams means for you…

Being late

A whole range of interpretations have been offered for this. Common amongst them is the idea that the dreamer feels unable to live up to expectations, or that anxiety and stress are present in their everyday life [8]. One dream expert gives a more pro-active take: this dream tells us to quickly commit to meaningful action [9].

Loved ones dying or return of deceased loved one

Popular perspectives on this, often distressing, subject in a dream suggest a fear of the unknown, or anxiety about change [10]. The concept of transformation whereby individuals can embrace a new future by letting go of the past is also evident [9]. Of course, if you or someone in your life is ill or bereaved, this can increase the likelihood of this type of dream and the meaning being more personal to you. 

Falling in a dream

A popular theory suggests this means you may be feeling out of control, feeling unsupported or fearing taking a risk [11]. However, another writer suggests it means you have the opportunity to relax your grip on a situation and not over-control it [9]. Think about this when you next have a falling dream and ask yourself which interpretation seems fitting to your life at that moment in time. Maybe this revelation could help guide you into positively changing aspects of your life?

Flying in a dream

There are optimistic associations with this type of Superman-style dream! These include the dreams having messages around: new opportunities, hidden talents, a creative burst, and new relationships [12]. A similar positive explanation is flying symbolises the release of heavy commitments so that one has freedom to explore their thoughts and perspectives [9].


The interpretations for this depend on who you’re having sex with in the dream! And, that it may not be about sex at all. So, for example, if the sexual star of your dream is your boss, it could in fact mean that you wish to become a leader yourself [13].

If your dream features an appearance from an ex this may, according to a leading expert, signal that you’re repeating bad habits from this previous unsuccessful relationship [13]. The advice is to take this as a warning signal [13]. If this resonates with you, think about exploring it with a qualified psychologist.

At My Family Psychologist we can help you with any elements of your dreams that cause you to reflect on your life. Call today on 07801 079 555 or email luisa@myfamilypsychologist.com We’ll be happy to help you move forward with life.


  1. https://time.com/4921605/dreams-meaning/
  2. https://www.dreams.co.uk/sleep-matters-club/do-people-actually-believe-dreams-mean-something-to-us
  3. Revonsuo A. (2000) The reinterpretation of dreams: an evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming. Behav Brain Sci. 2000 Dec;23(6):877-901; discussion 904-1121. doi: 10.1017/s0140525x00004015. PMID: 11515147.
  4. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-do-people-dream-about-2795926
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/sex-dreams
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-does-it-mean-when-you-dream-about-someone-dying
  7. Nielsen TA, Zadra AL, Simard V, et al. (2003) The typical dreams of Canadian university students. Dreaming. 2003;13(4):211-235. doi:10.1023/B:DREM.0000003144.40929.0b
  8. https://www.bustle.com/p/what-do-dreams-about-being-late-mean-experts-weigh-in-17983430
  9. Wallace, I. (2014) The Complete A-Z Dictionary of Dreams London: Vermillion.
  10. https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-your-dreams-2795935
  11. https://psychcentral.com/lib/dreaming-of-falling-into-water
  12. https://www.dreamdictionary.org/common/flying-dreams/
  13. https://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/what-do-sex-dreams-really-mean.aspx

If you would like to know more about how My Family Psychologist can help, call us on 07801 079555 or email luisa@myfamilypsychologist.com

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