What Are Recurring Dreams & Why Do They Happen?
5 min read
Last Modified 15 September 2023 First Added 15 October 2021
As we approach the spooky season, Halloween isn’t the only nightmare on our minds. With the nights getting longer, we are meant to be peacefully catching up on those much-needed hours of rest. So, why are so many of us experiencing recurring dreams? And in many cases, recurring nightmares too.
Recurring dreams are those that you experience more than once. They often come in the form of nightmares, but even positive recurring dreams can be a little distressing. And as we all know the importance of a good night’s sleep, it’s important to understand why we have recurring dreams, what causes and what we can do to stop prevent them.
As we sleep, we go through four different stages. Most dreams happen in the REM stage of sleep, however, they can occur before.
Stage one is known as the drifting stage. This is when we simply drift in and out of light sleep before entering stage two.
Stage two is when our muscles begin to relax and our heart rate decreases. This stage of the sleep cycle is still considered light sleep.
Stage three of the sleep cycle is when we are at our most relaxed. This is thought of as the deepest stage in the cycle. This stage is thought to be the most difficult stage of sleep to be woken from.
As you enter stage four of the sleep cycle, the likelihood of experiencing a recurring dream rapidly increases. Throughout one six to eight-hour block of sleep, we go through stages 1 to 4 repeatedly until we wake. Interestingly, the length of the final stage of REM sleep increases with each cycle of sleep in any given period of slumber. That means we’re more likely to experience recurring dreams in the early hours of the morning when we’ve already had several hours of sleep.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. REM sleep is important because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s essential for learning and creating memories. Again, this is where dreams, or recurring dreams, takes place.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information:
“The occurrence of dreams can be tested by waking volunteers during either non-REM or REM sleep and asking them if they were dreaming. Subjects awakened from REM sleep recall elaborate, vivid, hallucinogenic and emotional dreams, whereas subjects awakened during non-REM sleep report fewer dreams, which, when they occur, are more conceptual, less vivid and less emotion-laden.”
While the exact causes aren’t completely understood, it’s widely believed that recurring dreams can be a symptom of trauma, mental illness or a result of unresolved conflict, including:
Bullying can cause anxiety, which in turn can lead to recurring nightmares. Common triggers of recurring dreams and nightmares in teens include medication, anxiety or depression.
Dreams often reflect what we experience in our day-to-day life. If a recurring dream is disturbing, this could be due to past trauma.
Substance abuse can interfere with the REM stage of your sleep cycle, which is the part where nightmares and dreams are most vivid.
Experiencing a dream about your teeth falling out is unfortunately a common nightmare. However, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer for this nightmare. If your teeth fall out in a dream, the reason could be due to personal loss, the end of a relationship or the start of something new.
Flying or floating dreams can be pleasurable. They can be a sign of experiencing a spiritual awakening and reaching goals in your waking life. On the other hand, dreaming about flying could mean you’re feeling like your life is out of control.
Like many dreams, those about being trapped can be a reflection of events that are happening in your day-to-day life. Being trapped in a dream could be a purely physical or an emotional response to your waking hours. Maybe you’re unhappy in a job, relationship or location. When looking to understand the meaning of dreams it’s important to consider what we are currently going through when we’re awake.
Struggling to speak in a dream could be the result of past trauma that you may not want to talk about. Being unable to communicate in a dream could also be a symptom of feeling unseen or unheard.
Dreaming about returning to school (or worse, returning to school naked) could symbolise unresolved childhood issues. These sorts of dreams could also represent a lack of self-care.