From drowning to being cheated on – the 10 most common nightmares and what they mean

NOTHING beats the feeling of your head hitting the pillow after a long, stressful day at work.

But for some people, their sleep can be more distressing than the awkward chats near the water cooler – with nightmares keeping us from our slumber.

If you've been having nightmares recently, it turns out you're not the only one.

A recent study by hybrid mattress brand OTTY has found that over the past seven years searches for nightmares have risen by 146 per cent in the UK.

When it comes to the urge to understand our dream patterns, author of Dream On It, Lauri Loewenberg said we get nightmares when the subconscious wants to help us correct an upsetting or difficult issue in our life.

She added: "So as frightening as nightmares are to experience, they are good for us because they are shining a light on something that is wrong, something we have been ignoring, mishandling or that has been overpowering us in some way.”

But what are the most common nightmares that Brits are having and what do they mean?

Here are the top ten.

1. Snakes

People dreaming of snakes racked up 9,200 in a month making it the most searched for nightmare.

Lauri said that dreaming of snakes can often represent a toxic person in our lives.

She said that this could include someone who is exhibiting low down behaviour that could either be harming us or has the potential to harm us in some way.

2. Teeth falling out

Lauri said that dreams that involve a doomed trip to the dentist are most often linked to communication issues in our real life.  

Around 5,500 people search this dream a month and it can often be connected to allowing something out of your mouth the previous day that you shouldn't have, like a secret or someone’s personal business. 

Lauri said: "If you regularly say things without thinking first, if you don't have a filter, or if you tend to say things you instantly regret, you are likely to experience this dream. 

"Another common element of this dream is how you’re going to look with missing teeth. This tends to be tied to the conscious concern about how others perceive you after what you have allowed out of your mouth."

3. Being chased

Around 1,500 a month search this dream and Lauri said this is caused by avoidance and is commonly experienced by those who run away from issues instead of tackling them head-on.

She said: "This dream is letting you know that the longer you run from the issue, the longer it will continue to cause you problems."

4. Falling

When it comes to dreams which feature you falling, Lauri said it's the downward motion which is key.

She explained: "This dream tends to happen when we are feeling let down by someone or something in real life.

"When plans fall through when something you had high hopes for doesn't work out, or whenever something brings down your general mood, the subconscious result could be a dream where you’re falling from a great height and heading into the unknown. 

"This is also a common dream for people that suffer from mental health issues and can be a warning from their body that they are about to "fall" into another depressive episode."

Around 1,100 people searched this dream.

Ten top tips to make bedtime happy and healthy

Nutritionist and male hormonal health expert, Bertie Stringer, CEO and cofounder of DNA

  1. Take time to relax

More than half of the UK population has  not surprisingly suffered from stress-induced sleep problems since the pandemic. Take a little time for yourself whether it’s taking a bath, writing a journal or chatting to a friend and try to free your mind from today’s worries.

  1. Find a routine and stick to it

Optimal sleep is 7 to 9 hours per night. Use a sleep calculator to find a bedtime routine that works for your age and lifestyle

  1. Have an orgasm! 

This releases a wonderful cocktail of natural endorphins which help you relax and help your body get into a flow of REM sleep cycles to help you stay asleep which is also when T levels are replenished – winner!

  1. Ditch the booze 

Not only does this reduce testosterone levels, it also impacts sexual performance leading to greater chances of erectile dysfunction. Not to mention causing disrupted sleep which again in turns reduces the restoration of T levels overnight. 

  1. Remove distractions

Get rid of excess noise and light so that your room is quiet, calm, for sleep or dim the lights, light the candles, pop on some Barry White and let the good times begin.

  1. Rectify nutrient deficiencies

Vitamins in particular play a role in regulating our circadian rhythms, the 24-hour bio rhythms that control our sleep-wake cycles. As deficiencies are common most GP’s will now test key nutrient levels and you can then supplement and / adjust your diet accordingly. Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc and B6 are all crucial for happy  male hormones. 

  1. Lose weight 

Losing just 5 percent of your starting weight can result in improved length of sleep and sleep quality (also extra fat produces oestrogen in men which robs testosterone levels)

  1. Be active

Spending some of your active time outdoors, seems to help protect against sleep problems (also tops up natural Vitamin D levels)

  1. Avoid eating close to bedtime and keep snacks out of the bedroom!

Eating late at night can affect your quality of sleep and put you at higher risk of developing diabetes and obesity. It’s also a passion killer sitting in bed whilst your other half wolves down a family size bag of Doritos….

  1. Minimise blue and artificial lights

Light from mobiles and laptops can suppress melatonin and can make it harder to fall asleep. Ditch them at least an hour before Z time…

5. Dying

Death is the end of life, but to the dreaming mind, death is simply the end of life as you currently know it.

Around 1,000 people a month searched this and Lauri said you can dream of death when something in your life is coming to an end or significantly changing, like when a relationship ends, when you change careers, or when you first find out you’re pregnant. 

She explained that these are life-changing moments that the subconscious will equate with death… the end of the old you.

Lauri said: "If you dream of someone else dying, then there is likely some sort of change happening with that person or a shift in your relationship with that person.

"It is common to dream of our child dying when they reach different phases of life: when they start walking, when they go to school, when they learn to drive, when they get married etc.  

"Death dreams allow us to recognise changes in our lives so that we can let go of what we no longer need and become more open to the change to come."

6. Drowning

Many of us might feel as though we are often "drowning" when it comes to workloads and Lauri said that these dreams can occur when people feel they are in over their heads with a certain situation.

This she said could be anything from debt to work.

If you've dreamt about this then you're not alone as 600 people searched this dream meaning.

Lauri said: "Like the falling dream, there is the downward pull at play here, although there is a bit more control involved with a drowning dream. 

"So pay attention to the struggle you experience trying to stay above or get to the surface of the water. What struggle in your real life feels similar? That's what your dream is commenting on. What in your real life would serve as a life raft for you?

7. Bugs

Around 400 people a month search for this and when something or someone is annoying or "bugging" us, we may find that bugs start to infest our nightly dreams!

Lauri explained that the more bugs in your dream or the larger the bug, the bigger the problem is in waking life.  

She added: "Bugs have been a prominent symbol in many people's dreams since the pandemic started. We often refer to sickness as "a bug that's going around" that we don't want to be bitten by!"

8. Being cheated on

If you've previously experienced infidelity in a relationship, dreaming about it in the present indicates that there are still levels of distrust within you that need to be addressed, Lauri says.

Around 300 people a month search this dream and Lauri says that if infidelity has never been an issue then it could signify a change in your relationship.

She said: "Your partner may be working too much, spending too much time on a side hustle, dedicating too much of his free time to gaming, or maybe a new baby is taking up all the time and attention you used to have for each other. 

"Whatever it is, your subconscious is bringing this to the surface so you two can figure out how to make up for lost time."

9. Killing someone

We all get mad or frustrated with people sometimes, and dreaming of killing someone means you want to bring an end to something in your life or a relationship, Lauri says.

Around 300 people a month also search for this and if you’ve recently quit smoking, initiated a break-up or divorce, or if you’ve changed eating habits and have begun to lose weight then you are likely to dream of murder.

Other common nightmares and what they mean

While the top ten are the most searched – here are some other common dreams and what they mean.


Being late:
 Linked to an unconscious fear of missing out on an opportunity. This year, many activities related to work, family and friends have all been downscaled, so many people may have a subconscious fear of FOMO.

Being bald: Whilst this could be taken literally, it’s mostly linked to you feeling insecure or vulnerable about certain aspects of your life.

Being pregnant: Indicates feelings about some change in life, and the concerns and worries of this change.

Seeing a dead person: Signifies the end of something, whether it’s a relationship, job or even phase of your life.

10. Being lost

Each month around 250 people search for this dream and having these dreams could symbolise indecision or uncertainty in real life, and the idea of not knowing "which direction" to take to reach a goal.

Lauri said: "We tend to say, "I'm lost" when we can't figure out directions or when trying to keep up with a confusing conversation.

"Our dreams have a neat way of bringing figures of speech and metaphors to life."

Dreams can be emotional and many people seek to understand them in order to understand their feelings on certain situations.

Lauri added: "Dreams are a constant and renewable resource of curiosity. We keep having them every night. They are bizarre and they are emotional and they affect us all. 

"Sometimes we do very disturbing things in our dreams and we wonder if something is wrong with us. We naturally want to understand ourselves. It is human nature to be curious and figure things out, which is why we are the only species on this planet that has been able to create and continuously advance technologically. 

"We think. We wonder. We dream. We figure things out.”

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