When I wake up after a wild dream, my first instinct is to take a minute to separate dreamland from reality: My best friend is still alive—phew. My next thought is: What the hell does this dream mean? The topic of dream interpretation is up for debate. Some believe your subconscious trying to tell you something through your dreams, while others argue that dreams have absolutely no real-life meaning. But according to dream expert Delphi Ellis, aka The Dreams Maven, some common dream tropes can clue us into what our minds are fixating on in our waking state too.
Keep scrolling to find out why you’re dreaming of these six bizarre scenarios. Disclaimer: Dreams are complicated and can be different for everyone—one size does not always fit all.
1. You’re falling
Have you ever dreamt of falling into an abyss? According to Ellis, there are two types of falling dreams people have. One is the kind that feels like you're "going down the rabbit hole." If you're having this type of dream, you might be at a crossroads and feel like you don't know where you're going in life. "The falling dream is very much a representation of 'I have no idea where this is gonna end up for me—I can't predict the outcome,'" Ellis says. Often, she says, this dream has to do with anxieties about work. Perhaps if you've recently left or started a job, or taken on an intimidating project?
The other type of falling dream involves a sudden, jerking sensation right as you're just drifting off into sleep. It might feel like you've fallen off a curb or walked into something—this is actually a symptom of stress called a hypnic jerk. These dreams are likely your brain's way of telling you that you're overstressed and need a break.
2. You're naked in public
Many people have dreamt about giving a presentation to their classmates or colleagues when everyone starts to laugh—prompting them to look down and realize that they're fully naked. According to Ellis, this dream is about being aware of people scrutinizing and watching you, and feeling exposed and vulnerable. Perhaps you've told someone a secret you shouldn't have or spoken out about something controversial. Often, these types of dreams share a commonality that's overlooked—that although you, standing there in the nude, may be super embarrassed, the onlookers get back to business fairly quickly and ignoring you. This probably implies that you're more worried about your vulnerability than others are.
3. You or someone you know is dying
Not to worry—much like sex dreams, death dreams are rarely actually about death; they're usually about change. If you dream about others dying, you might have noticed a change in them, whether they're behaving differently or they're just not the person you knew them to be. "It's almost like the death of that part of their personality or that part of them that you associate with," Ellis says. For example, Ellis notes that it's common for a mother to dream about the death of her child, which usually has to do with the kid growing up and their relationship changing as a result. But if you dream of dying yourself, it could be a wake-up call alerting you that things need to change, or that you've changed as a person and it's time to reflect on that.
4. You’re cheating or being cheated on
Cheating dreams aren't some intuition about your partner is cheating—and they're nothing to feel guilty about if you're the cheating party either. "A lot of women worry that it's premonition in some way," says Ellis. "That it's some sort of inner wisdom trying to guide them." If you've been cheated on in the past, it's possible that you're worried about a new partner might do the same. "Rather than a prediction, it's often more of a fear of it happening again," Ellis says.
But if you've never experienced infidelity before and dream that your partner is cheating on you or vice versa, it might mean that you're searching for problems because your relationship is almost too good to be true. You're looking for some reassurance. "If [you] think this is the love of [your] life, you might think the only thing that would make it go wrong is if the partner cheated," says Ellis. "The brain will interpret that fear by saying, 'How about if I give you a dream about that happening?'"
On the other hand, if your cheating dream involves highly visual sex, it may be less about your relationship and more about the person your dream self is cheating with. According to Ellis, women often dream about cheating on their significant others with their bosses, even if there is absolutely no chemistry there—which is less about attraction than power dynamics. "It usually means she's trying to control something that she probably can't. She's trying to influence the behavior of somebody and in the dream," Ellis suggests.
5. You’re chasing someone or being chased
This one is more obvious than the others: If you're being chased, it often means that you're behind on a project or a deadline is catching up to you. However, if you're chasing after something, you likely want to get ahead of a problem, Ellis says. In these dreams, you also might not be able to successfully outrun whatever's pursuing you. "It's almost like [you're] running through syrup; [your] legs won't move properly," Ellis says. "Your dream is saying you can't get away from this—you need to confront whatever you're trying to escape from."
6. You're flying
According to Ellis, people fly differently their dreams. (Personally, I fly like Superman, whereas Ellis is an Iron Man flyer.) But regardless of your flight path, your sky-high dream likely represents feeling carefree or having high aspirations. However, if you're not enjoying the flight dream, it might mean that you don't like feeling out of control. "[You] just want to get [your] feet on the ground," says Ellis. "[You] need to get in touch with life in the real world."