12 Of Your Scariest Nightmares Decoded By A Professional Dream Analyst

by Candice Jalili

I consider myself to be a fairly happy person. Even when things are not looking so great, I do a pretty good job of focusing on the one thing that is going well. That is, until I close my eyes to go to sleep and am inundated by what seems to be an endless river of horrifying NIGHTMARES.

From my own funeral to my mom’s funeral to trying my hardest to scream and nothing's coming out -- you name it, I’ve dreamt it. So what does this say about me?

Turns out most of my nightmares aren’t unique. I guess lots of them are common. People all over the world are waking up in sweats after nightmares of falling endlessly or losing teeth, and I needed to figure out what it all meant.

I consulted famed dream analyst Lauri Quinn Loewenberg (author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life and founder of, to figure out what our scariest nightmares are really trying to tell us.

1. Dreams about your teeth falling out

I get this dream ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I’m talking, like, once every couple of weeks. I also happen to have a bit of a blabbermouth. Turns out the two habits are more connected than I thought. Lauri put the two together for me in this explanation:

Teeth dreams are connected to communication issues in real life. There are a lot of versions of the teeth dream, but the one where they fall out is the most common. You see, anything having to do with the mouth in a dream will be about communication. When your teeth fall out, it is a good indication that you have recently allowed something out of your mouth that should have remained in there permanently. Notice how in the dream you are trying to hold your teeth in or push them back in? That's because your subconscious feels bad about something you loosely said, and probably didn't think before saying it, and wishes it could take the words back and put them back in. If this is a recurring dream of yours, then it is also likely that you have the recurring behavior of loose lips. Work on that behavior, and the dreams will taper off and finally stop.

2. Dreams about being at the funeral of somebody you love

Here, Lauri tells us to RELAX. No matter how much it might seem like it, dreams about your loved ones dying don’t necessarily signify their impending death. This was great news for me, considering the fact that I just had a nightmare about my dad’s funeral a month ago and have been freaking the f*ck out ever since.

Death, to the dreaming mind, is about change and endings. When you dream of death, ask yourself first what is changing or ending in your life or within you (dreams are all about the self and what directly affects the self). The person who died in your dream most likely represents a part of you, some quality that you two have in common. If nothing comes to mind, then look at the person in the dream, and ask if that person is changing in some way. Is your relationship with this person changing? The funeral is actually a good sign that you are letting go of that which is no longer viable to you, you are putting something to rest, so to speak, so that you can move on.

3. Dreams about having some sort of academic disaster (failed a test, missed a class, etc.)

My mom regularly wakes up in a panic after dreaming she's missed a class or failed a test. I don’t want to be disowned by her, so I won’t mention her age, but let’s just say she graduated college a LONG time ago.

Lauri relates these dreams to our real lives:

This dream continues to happen 10, 20, 50 years after you graduated! In my research I have found that this dream is most often connected to your job or career, and the stress going on in the dream correlates with similar stress you are experiencing with work. School is your first job, and it's where you learn the dynamics of what a job entails: being on time, being prepared (doing your homework), being tested, judged, evaluated, working hard to move up to the next level -- and of course, there's the social aspect of it. There are a lot of variations to the "back at school" dream that can be connected to specific work issues. Not being able to find your class suggests you don't feel you are where you should be in your career at this point or you haven't found what makes you happy. Forgetting to attend a class may mean there is a job skill you need all of a sudden and don't feel you have what it takes at the moment. For example, you could get this dream when you need to learn a new software program or your boss asks you to do something you aren't sure you can handle. Failing a test is super common, so ask yourself first if something, or someone, is "testing" your patience. If not, then ask yourself what you feel you didn't handle well recently. Did you get passed over for a promotion? Did you mess up during your presentation in the boardroom or not do well in an interview? Your dreams are taking you back to school to remind you that you do have what it takes to handle your job pressure. So, like you did back in the day, keep working at improving yourself and your skills.

4. Dreams about hooking up with a guy who suddenly turns into your dad

I, myself, have never had the misfortune of having this horrifically disgusting nightmare, but when I asked my co-workers about their most common nightmares, this turned out to be one of them! If you have it, Lauri explains you don’t have to freak out because you don’t actually have the hots for your dad.

Remember, dreams are symbolic, so sex in a dream isn't really about sex at all but rather about connecting and uniting. It's not about a physical union you want but more about a psychological union you need...not about a physical connection, but an emotional or mental connection. That being said, hooking up with Dad is really about a recent emotional connection you may have had with him or about uniting a particular quality of his into your own behavior. Typically, our dads in our dreams will represent our ability to bring home the bacon and manage the bacon, as that is the typical role of the father. So if you've had this dream, ask yourself if you've taken on a more financial mindset...or need to take on that mindset. Odds are, the answer is yes!

5. Dreams about being lost

Every once in a while, I’ll have a nightmare that I am in a strange place, and I have no idea where I am or how I got there. The connection to my real life is more obvious than I thought.

Lauri's explanation:

Dreams tend to use geographical places and terminology to comment on "where we are" in our lives or "where we are" in our hearts and minds. To be lost in a dream is an indication of indecision in waking life. How many times have you uttered or thought the words, "I'm totally lost. I don't know what to do"? Your dream is showing you your indecision as being lost to encourage you to find a direction, to make a decision so you can continue to move forward rather than being in limbo.

6. Dreams about falling

I know it’s a weird thing to remember, but I’m pretty sure my first nightmare was about me endlessly falling. And I remember waking up and crying to my parents and them telling me that everybody has dreams about falling sometimes. EVERYBODY?!?! What are ALL of our subconscious minds trying to tell us?

Lauri answers:

Falling dreams have been the most reported dream since the beginning of time. There are even cave drawings that seem to depict falling dreams. To fall in a dream, whether it's in your car falling off a bridge or plummeting off a skyscraper, means something in your waking life is bringing you down. I have found, in my research, that this is a predominant dream after one has suffered a letdown or significant disappointment. The fall is reflective of the fact that your hopes were once high, and now they are coming down fast. This is also a common dream for people who suffer from depression and can be a warning your mind is sending you that you are about to "fall" into another bout of depression. If this is your dream, find a way to redirect those plummeting thoughts. Go outside, watch a funny movie, make plans with friends who make you laugh.

7. Dreams about forgetting to do something extremely important in your daily routine

In our discussion of nightmares, one of my co-workers admitted to waking up in sweats after dreaming that she forgot to pick up her kid from school. Other people could relate to the feeling of panic of forgetting to do something extremely vital to your daily routine.

Lauri explains that this is a common dream among busy people:

This sort of dream tends to come to people who have too much on their plate. We make mental notes to ourselves all day long about what we need to make sure to do, and it is precisely those mental notes that our subconscious dreaming mind will play with in order to get a point across. It is letting us know that we've allowed so much into our routine that the things most important to us are being diminished by how much mental space the small things take up. If this is your dream, lighten your load.

8. Dreams about trying to scream but finding that no sound is coming out

I had a horrifying one of these when I was a kid. I dreamt I was at my grandparents’ house with my mom and my uncle, and no matter how loud I SCREAMED, they couldn’t hear me. Ever since then, it has been a pretty regular part of my extensive nightmare collection.

This dream occurs when you feel like you are not being heard in real life. Basically, you are screaming on the inside about something you want to express, but in real life, you either aren't speaking up, or you aren't making your point well enough... or you just have people around you that are so self-involved that they don't hear your concerns.

9. Dreams about your own death

Every once in a while I’ll have a dream in which I die in the end. Freaky, right? Well, it's actually not QUITE as freaky as I thought.

Experiencing your own death in a dream can be terribly unnerving. But remember, death in a dream is all about changes, endings and letting go. When you get this dream, ask yourself what sort of changes are you going through right now? How is your life, as you now know it, coming to an end?

10. Dreams about trying to move and discovering that you're paralyzed

Another extremely freaky one on Candice’s roster of regular nightmares. Lauri explains these are reflective of my lack of boldness in another realm of my life:

While the "can't scream" dream is all about not speaking up, this one is all about not taking enough action. The different parts of our dream bodies represent our different abilities: our dream-eyes are our ability to perceive and understand -- to say, "I see your point." Our hands are our ability to handle our current circumstances. Our legs are our ability to stand up for ourselves as well as our ability to move forward or move on, and so on. So to be paralyzed in a dream suggests you are feeling stuck in some waking life situation, and you need to ask yourself how you may be paralyzing yourself, in what way are you not taking enough action or making enough movement to get out of this stagnant situation? Which body part/ability needs to be activated in order for you to move forward?

11. Dreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness

I’ve actually never had one of these, but many of my co-workers agreed that this is a common one for them.

This dream has sent many people running to their doctor, and that is fine. Better safe than sorry. But more often than not, cancer or any other disease in a dream is really about some situation or relationship in your life that has become very unhealthy. Your dreaming mind is equating this bad situation to a disease so that you can better understand how bad the situation is so you can work to heal it or remove it from your life. We tend to pay more attention to our physical wounds and ailments than we do to our emotional/psychological wounds and ailments. Our dreams allow us to see emotional wounds and ailments as something physical so we will tend to it with the same urgency.

12. Dreams about being chased by someone or something

My father, who is a grown adult in his mid-50s, has had one recurring nightmare since the age of 10: He's being chased by a giant rabbit. Turns out he’s not the only one:

This dream is probably the second-most reported dream, just under falling. Being chased in a dream means there is something or someone in your waking life you are avoiding. If you are the personality type that avoids confrontations or that which makes you uncomfortable at all costs, this is likely your recurring dream. This dream is showing you that you are running away from your problems rather than facing them and dealing with them head on. When you work on changing this behavior of avoidance, the dreams will taper off and eventually stop altogether.

So here's the deal. We all have f*cking weird dreams. But what we have to remember is whether we're f*cking our dads or giving the eulogy at our best friend's funeral, dreams are SYMBOLIC. Your name's not Raven (well, maybe it is, but YOU'RE NOT RAVEN BAXTER FROM "THAT'S SO RAVEN"), you don't have a hit Disney show, and you're not a psychic.

Stop taking your dreams so literally. Odds are, you're missing the real message.