Common Bad Dreams and What They Might Mean

There are few things more horrifying in this life than a truly terrible nightmare.

It’s like your brain just decided it was time to torture you, and now it’s got you trapped – caught in a world of all your worst fears, where everything you’ve ever been worried about can suddenly come true.

While we all know everybody gets nightmares every now and then, a lot of people may not realize how common a lot of these scenarios are – or what they might be able to tell you about your subconscious mind.

Here is your guide to the most common nightmares Americans face!

You’re Being Chased By Something

Image: the shadow of a man appears in a lane of dark treesYou are running from something and there is no escape.

You’re thrashing your way through a familiar setting or maybe someplace utterly bizarre.

Your legs are pumping like pistons beneath you as you frantically hurl yourself forward, pushing yourself faster, faster – but the thing behind you is still there.

In fact, it’s gaining on you.

You strain harder, you’re straining yourself to the absolute maximum but there is no escaping this thing and you know that at any moment you won’t be able to run any further and the gap between you will get too small and finally, finally, it will catch you.

Sound familiar?

According to a 2,000-person study by Amerisleep, being chased by someone or something is one of most common nightmares people experience.

Psychotherapist Richard Nicoletti told the Huffington Post that dreams like this tend to mean that you’re avoiding a certain person or issue.

The specific details of the thing chasing you can tell you a lot about what that thing is, although obviously not everything in your dreams can be taken literally.

Think about those details: was it a man? A woman? An animal or unseen being?

Often, the thing you’re avoiding isn’t a person at all, but instead an idea – maybe an emotion you’ve been suppressing or a thought you can’t quite escape.

You Are Falling

You are falling from a great height.

Air is rushing past beside you and there is nothing you can do to stop yourself.

You see the ground rushing up beneath you, you scream but there’s nothing you can do, all you can do is scream and fear and brace yourself for impact – here it comes – you brace for impact…

And then, the moment before you die, you snap awake, left only with the question: What the heck did that all mean?

Dreams of falling may be the single most common dream of them all, occurring over five times in the average person’s life.

According to, these dreams often represent a loss of control in our lives.

Once you’re falling, after all, there’s really nothing you can do to stop yourself.

There’s nothing to hold onto, nothing that can break the impact – all you can do is flail and watch with absolute certainty the inevitable whoosh up to meet you.

If you’re looking for some more details, pay attention to the way you fell.

Were you clinging to something before your grip broke?

Did you fall of the edge of some huge cliff?

Minutia like this might be able to give you a greater glimpse into the things you’re holding onto in your own life – even though you know somewhere deep down you can’t hold on forever.

Your Teeth Are Falling Out

You suddenly realize something is very wrong with your teeth.

Maybe they’re breaking, maybe they’re rotting, maybe they’re falling out of your skull.

Similar to dreams about being chased or falling, this dream is known to cultures all around the world, and is actually freakishly common. 

So common is it, in fact, that there’s actually an entire website devoted to this strange vision:

There are a wide variety of hypotheses about what this dream might mean – many of them contradictory. suggests that it often results from insecurities, especially those about personal losses, as well as sexual anxieties.

It may also offer a commentary on growing old or life changes, as well as a potentially costly compromise.

A more positive take on this dream, meanwhile, says that it might involve a time of “rebirth” in your life, as well as personal expansion.

These sorts of dreams tend to show up particularly frequently around transition periods in your life.

You Are Completely Naked

Most of us will at some point dream about being naked in a situation where that normally wouldn’t happen.

Maybe it’s on the street, maybe it’s in a classroom, maybe it’s by yourself.

One way or another, though, nudity is a common trope across many people’s different dreamscapes.

Even more so than any of the other dreams we’ve talked about so far, context is absolutely critical to understanding this dream.

How do you feel about your nakedness?

Do you feel embarrassed? Frightened? Sexy? Liberated?

The emotions you feel during these kinds of dreams can say a lot about the way you view your current life situation.

Nudity is typically a frightening thing in an unknown situation, which is why dreams about being naked – especially naked in public – are often tied to new, anxiety-inducing situations in your life.

The sense exposure that comes with being robbed of all clothing might also be tied to hidden feeling of guilt and the fear of being found out.

If your nudity is tied to generally positive like freedom and sexuality, meanwhile, you might be entering into a new period of self-acceptance.

Hey, nice!

You’re Unprepared for an Exam

Image: taking an examIt’s exam day, and you are so not prepared.

Maybe you cut class all semester, and you’re now about to face the consequences.

Maybe you just sat down for the test, and you realize you have absolutely no idea what’s on it.

There are a lot of different variations on this dream, all hinging around anxiety about not being ready for what comes next.

The really interesting thing about this kind of dream is that it tends to follow people long after they’ve passed the point where exams are an actual worry.

Often, this dream comes hand-in-hand with real-life feelings of being tested – and not knowing whether you’ll be good enough.

There’s something about the high-stress, high-stakes world of academics you never really leave behind, especially if grades were something you really cared about.

It only makes sense for that kind of anxiety to pop up in your subconscious throughout your life, since your brain doesn’t readily forget those kinds of intense negative feelings.

There are Insects Everywhere

Insects are another surprisingly common motif in dreams, appearing across cultures and throughout history.

In a way, this really makes sense.

Bugs are pretty much ubiquitous once you step foot outside your house, so it only makes sense for them to crop up every now and again in the world of your dreams.

The ancient world had all kinds of interpretations of these sorts of nightmares, although for them, the specific kind of insect you’re dealing with in your dreams was often endowed with deep meaning.

Today, many people have nightmares about insects crawling over their skin, often eliciting strong feelings of fear, discomfort, or horror.

These swarms of tiny creatures may represent anxiety about any number of things in your life – so many worries that you’re drowning in them, so many that you can’t shake them off.

If you’ve been dreaming about a specific type of bug in your dreams, you can check out a helpful site for working out the meaning of that here.

Out of Control Vehicles

Finally, the last shockingly common nightmare we’ll be talking about today involves not being in control of your car.

It is not at all unusual for individuals in industrialized countries – especially the United States – to dream about driving.

A lot of us spend substantial chunks of our days plunked down behind the steering wheel, and the car is a pretty natural metaphor for how in control we are of our lives.

There are a number of different variants on out-of-control vehicles in dreams.

Sometimes, you might be trying to drive, but the brakes won’t work.

Sometimes, you might be veering recklessly around the road, unable to get in control of your car.

Other times, you might find yourself smashing into an object or flying headlong off the side of the cliff.

All of these variants are often representative of you feeling out of control when it comes to your own life.

You might feel yourself headed towards something undesirable, but not be able to help yourself.

Or, you might feel like you’re making a lot of bad decisions causing harm to yourselves and others.


Your dreams and the way you’re drawn to interpret them can often tell you quite a bit about the hidden workings of your mind.

We still don’t fully understand all the details of how sleep works, but the idea of deriving some kind of meaning from our dreams is as old as humanity itself.

If you’re having a recurring nightmare you can’t manage to escape yourself, you might want to consider seeking professional help (especially if it’s coupled with noticeable issues in your own life).

But that said, it doesn’t always make sense to read too much into any given dream, especially if you can’t see any reason for it.

The mind is a mysterious place – and anyone who claims to know what your dreams mean for certain is probably lying to you.