It happened to everyone: what dreams recur most often and what causes them
If you discuss your dreams with your loved ones, you will notice that people are united by the plots of the nightmares they have. And some of them don't just come to us at night but also recur regularly.
Real Simple tried to find out if there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of recurring dreams and whether they can be prevented.
What are recurrent dreams?
According to psychiatrist Paula Freedman, there is no specific frequency after which a dream can be officially considered recurrent. If you have the same or a very similar nightmare several times, it is a recurring dream.
It is not uncommon for different people to be disturbed by the same recurring dream themes. These include:
- chases and persecution
- returning to school (bullying, exams, etc)
- death of loved ones
- public nudity
- personal death
According to a study by the Amerisleep Foundation conducted in October 2023, 60 to 75 percent of Americans have recurring dreams. Most of them are related to these themes. They may differ in circumstances and specific plot nuances, but the underlying motifs are mostly the same.
What causes recurrent dreams?
Researchers suggest that such night visions can occur for various reasons, usually based on negative emotions. "For example, if a person feels guilty about something or worries about a particular relationship they have, it can manifest itself in a dream," Freedman explains. According to her, such nightmares can also be triggered by traumatic events in the past, such as accidents, natural disasters, and experiences of abuse or violence.
Fears and anxieties can also lead to recurring dreams. You can have a similar dream if you watch relevant content at night or talk to someone about certain topics. These types of dreams can occur in people who have been avoiding a problem, task, interaction, or emotion for a long time. Vice versa, it can occur in people who devote a lot of time and energy to certain things, people, or emotions.
What do recurring dreams mean?
Freedman states that there is no universal way to interpret recurring nightmares. You need to deal with each specific case separately. "It can be a person's way of signaling that it's time to work through a trauma or a deterrent," she says.
In addition, the psychiatrist points out that sometimes such dreams can mean absolutely nothing. "Sometimes dreams are just random bits of information that you hear on the radio, see in the media, or encounter during the day that don't really have any deeper meaning at all," Freedman says. Sometimes what we see when we sleep is information noise that has no meaning. But sometimes it's also our subconscious mind's way of sending us a certain signal.
How to avoid recurring dreams?
The main advice given by the expert to people suffering from recurrent dreams is to consult a mental health professional. "If your dreams are signaling that you may be avoiding certain emotions, situations, or topics, therapy can help you address those topics while you're awake so that maybe they don't bother you while you're sleeping," Freedman said.
She also advised keeping a dream diary. Write down your dreams, as well as major life events. This way, you can catch the connection between them and even clearly establish what exactly causes you to have recurring dreams.
For those who wake up in the middle of the night, disturbed by such a nightmare, Freedman advised a closing exercise. Before you fall asleep again, think of or imagine a peaceful and positive solution to the situation you dreamed about.
Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that scientists explained why lack of sleep can improve your mood.