Experiencing recurring dreams? A dream expert breaks down what the 6 most common mean

FYI, search for recurring dreams is up 70% on Google

Recurring dreams: A woman lies in bed asleep
(Image credit: Getty)

FYI, search for recurring dreams is up 70% on Google

So, you keep having recurring dreams.

Don't worry, you're not alone. Search around the topic is up 70% on Google right now, with one recent Harvard Medical School study showing that women had more negative dreams during the pandemic. A further Consciousness and Cognition study found that people are experiencing more threatening dreams than pre-pandemic, too.

"This suggests that people are rehearsing how to deal with potential threatening events in their sleep," explains doctor Lindsay Browning, chartered psychologist and sleep expert at Trouble Sleeping.

We bought you a comprehensive guide to sex dream meanings. Next up: keen to know what your recurring dreams mean or why you keep dreaming about the same event over and over? Here, two dream experts explain.

Recurring dreams: your expert-led guide 

What are recurring dreams?

According to Browning, a recurring dream is having repeat dreams that have the same content, structure or plot. "Most commonly we have recurring dreams about something that we have not fully processed or dealt with emotionally," she explains.

Neuro-linguistic programming and positive psychology trainer Rebecca Lockwood agrees, adding that it may not necessarily be the exact same dream, but a similar theme that recurs.

Why do we experience recurring dreams? 

A whole range of reasons. Generally speaking, lower overall wellbeing has been linked to recurring dreams since a 1986 study by scientists Brown and Donderi, found that those feeling depressed or anxious are more likely to experience recurring dreams.

For some people, it can be caused by a trauma, like PTSD. "Often you'll experience repeated nightmares about the event as your brain tries to understand and deal with the trauma," explains Browning.

FYI, you may experience recurring dreams about boring, mundane day-to-day topic - simply recurs as you've woken up before the dream has ended. "Sometimes, your brain just hasn't finished processing the topic," she shares. Either you've run out of ideas in the dream or the content of the dream is too emotive, stopping the dream before its natural conclusion.

Common recurring dreams: what do they mean? 

Freud believed that dreams represented a window into your subconsciousness, giving a glimpse of your unconscious thoughts and desires. But is this true? Well... kind of.

"Modern theories suggest that dreams are our brains way of encoding what we have experienced during the day into our long term memory, and further, a form of emotional regulation," she shares.

Essentially, your dreams might be helping you to make sense of things you find difficult day-to-day. Think a subject or topic that you have not yet fully processed.

1. You're being chased

You know the drill - you're running down a road, sweating, heart racing and then... you wake up. So what does it mean when you're chased in a dream?

"We think that dreams are designed to rehearse a potential problem that we may face in the future," explains Browning.

2. You're falling

Again, ever experienced that horrible jolt-awake-from-sleep situation?

As above - "your dreams about falling may be to prepare you for that potentially happening in the future," the expert shares.

3. You're late for something

Most people will have experienced the work stressful-work-situation dream - you know, where something has gone wrong, you've forgotten to do something, or you're really, really late.

Similarly to the two above, Browning reckons we may have these dreams as a way of coping with the eventuality of when they do happen. Got that?

4. You've failed an exam

Again, it's likely that the most common recurring dreams are topics that we feel we are most likely gong to face in life.

"Although there are people who say that they can interpret dreams and believe that the components of your dream can say something deeper about your subconsciousness, psychologists do not believe that the content of your dreams is only as relevant as the emotion behind it," shares Browning.

5. You're with your ex

This one's more common than you think - but don't worry, it's likely just a way of dealing with a pre-existing trauma rather than wanting to be back with them, share the experts.

6. You're facing a trauma 

"Recurring dreams are often our brain’s way of dealing with a trauma that we've already faced," shares Browning.

Faced PTSD after the past year or lost a loved one? Perhaps your recurring dreams are your brains way of dealing with that.

If this is you - Browning recommends watching the below video. "It'll give you advice on how to help you stop PTSD nightmares," she explains.

Recurring dreams - be gone. Do make sure to book an appointment with a GP, should you find your recurring dreams impacting your sleep and day-to-day wellbeing.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.