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Floating, falling or arriving for an exam late: the real meanings behind our surreal but common dreams


Have you ever dreamed you were falling off a cliff or driving an out-of-control car?

We asked dream expert Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, author of Dream on It, Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life and founder of whatyourdreammeans.com, to decode the most common dreams.


Arriving for an exam without having done any preparation

If you get this dream, ask yourself how you are being tested in real life. Is someone or something really testing your patience lately? Is it evaluation time at work? Or are you in the process of interviewing for a new job?

This dream happens when we really need to impress for one reason or another. It is encouraging us to be overly prepared rather than under.

Running away from or towards something but not being able to move properly


Running away from something is all about avoidance in real life, whereas running towards something is all about pursuing a goal.

In either case, if you are unable to move properly in a dream then in real life you aren't making enough effort to handle the situation. This is telling you that you've got to step up your game because there is no progress in the way you are currently handling it.

Tripping up when walking

This dream is often connected to making a mistake in real life. We even use the term ‘slip up’ when we've made a mistake, or we can get ‘tripped up’ in a conversation or argument. Our dreaming mind is showing us it's just a trip and not a fall: in other words, no biggie. Keep moving forward.  


This dream is all about feeling ‘high’ on life. You might be realising your ability to reach the goals you've set for yourself, breaking free from a heavy situation that was bringing you down or feeling in control and accomplished.

Driving a car that’s out of control


The car represents your ability to move forward in a particular situation and get to where you want to go. It can also symbolise your drive and motivation.

When we lose control of the car in a dream, it means we no longer have a good handle on some situation in waking life. The most common dream is that the brakes don’t work. That's a warning dream that some situation or behaviour has gotten out of hand and you need to put a stop to it before things become a mess.

Suddenly realising you are naked in public

This is one of the most common dreams. It tends to happen when we are in a waking life situation where all eyes are on us and we are having anxiety over the scrutiny. This could be caused by anything from a presentation you have to give in front of the board room to hosting a dinner party for your judgmental mother-in-law.

The dream could happen before the event as you stress about what could go wrong, or right after the event when you are being overly critical of yourself in regards to what you think you did wrong.

But notice how, in these dreams, we tend to be the only ones freaking out about our nudity and no one else seems to notice? This is how the dreaming mind tells us to relax about it. Ultimately, we're making a mountain out of a molehill. No one else is giving this any thought whatsoever, so move on.

Falling off a cliff or down a hole


Falling dreams are most often connected to disappointments and let downs in real life, when something we had high hopes for instead comes crashing down. This dream can also happen when something in your life is going rapidly in the wrong direction, like a relationship or your reputation.

The downward direction is the operative element of this dream. In dreams, you want to find yourself going up, such as in a plane or up a staircase. That reflects progress and things improving. Falling is the opposite of that.

The falling dream is also common in people who suffer from depression. It can be a heads up from your inner mind that you are about to "fall" into another bout of depression. If that is the case, prepare by making plans with friends who make you laugh, seeing a funny film, spending time outside and so on.

If you get a falling dream at the onset of sleep and it jerks you awake, that is called the hypnic jerk. This is not a dream at all but rather a response to feeling your muscle control fall away as you enter sleep. This is why we call it ‘falling asleep’.

Being late for a test or important meeting

This is a common dream for people who are always up against deadlines, such as journalists. It is a means by which to express your constant stress as well as keep yourself on your toes and on your game.

But if you get this dream and don't have a looming deadline ahead of you, it is likely connected to your concern that you feel time may be running out in some other situation, such as reaching a career goal before you reach a certain age. This dream is another form of how we put pressure on ourselves. If you get this dream a lot, it may be time to let up on yourself and just relax.

Seeing a baby and suddenly realising you are its mother


Typically, having a baby in a dream that isn't your child is really about something new in your life that requires your focus or attention. The dream lets you know that this new part of your life requires a lot of nurturing, so it can continue to grow and develop and eventually create a new life for you.

If, in the dream, you haven't been caring for the baby properly, it is most likely because of a sudden waking life realisation that this new element in your life is worthy and important and needs more effort on your part.

Your teeth falling out or chipping

There are a lot of wives tales connected to the teeth dream. These dreams are really about communication and the different things that happen to our teeth in dreams reflect the specific communication issues we're dealing with at the time.

Teeth falling out is the most common of all the teeth dreams and it tends to happen when we have said something we wish we could take back. Crumbling or chipping teeth is usually connected to weak speech. You might feel that you didn't make your point strongly enough, hold up your end of the argument or say the right thing at the right time. 

The death of a loved one


This is a horrible dream to experience but remember, dreams are symbolic: if you look at them literally you're going to miss the message.

Death, to the dreaming mind, is about change and endings. When you dream of death, ask yourself first what is changing or ending in your life. The person who died in your dream most likely represents a part of you or some quality you two have in common.

If nothing comes to mind, look at the person in the dream and ask if they are changing in some way. If there is a funeral in the dream, it is a good sign that you are letting go of something no longer viable to you. Now you can move on.

Doing something that you know you can’t do in real life

If the task you are accomplishing in the dream is something you currently want to do in real life, consider the dream a dress rehearsal. In addition to problem solving, the act of dreaming also serves as memory consolidation and allows us to perfect something we are working on in real life. For example, professional golfer Jack Nicklaus perfected his golf swing in his dreams.

If the dream is not something you are currently working on in real life, it is symbolic of that which you want or need to accomplish. For example, cooking an elaborate meal may really be about planning a big event or cooking up a great idea. Driving could be about moving on from something, while speaking a language you can't really speak would be about overcoming a communication issue in real life.

Cheating on a partner, sometimes with someone you know you don’t fancy 


Cheating dreams, where you realise you are cheating, are about a third wheel you have allowed into your relationship. The third wheel is not necessarily another person but something that has taken up your time and attention, such as work or a new baby, that you know has taken some focus away from your mate. These dreams are alerting you to the fact that you are ‘cheating’ your mate out of the time and attention they were used to before this third wheel came along.

Sex in a dream, where there is no awareness of cheating, is different. And it is important to know that sex in a dream is not so much about a physical union you want, but rather a psychological union you need. That's why your sex dream partner may sometimes freak you out.

You may have connected psychologically in some way to the person, or they may possess a quality you need to incorporate into your own personality. Ask yourself what stands out about that person. Do they possess a quality or skill you could really use as your own? If so, that's what the dream is telling you: merge that part of that person into yourself and you will be a better person for it.

Dreaming you are in a toilet

Toilets and bathrooms in dreams are about your ability to cleanse yourself of negativity and frustration, and to rid yourself of that which you no longer need in your life or in your psyche.

An unusable or flooding toilet is an indication that you are holding in too much crap, so to speak. You need to find a way to relieve yourself and let go of whatever is upsetting you. In particular the backed up or flooding toilet means you've got too much negativity in your psyche, to the point that your mental plumbing is backed up.

Concern over someone being able to see you on the toilet due to no stalls or a broken latch points to your concern over how others my view you if you let off steam or speak up about what bothers you. When you change the behaviour of holding it all in and speaking up, the dream will stop.

Finding yourself in a recurring, but imaginary, location

secret garden

Everything in your dream is symbolic of you or something that directly affects you. In my latest book Dream on It, Unlock Your Dream Change Your Life, there is an entire chapter on location dreams because the setting of the dream often represents where we are in life or in our heart and mind.

A garden would mean you are in a place in your life or career where you are ready to grow. You are ready to sew the seeds you need to improve and flourish. Different rooms also have meaning. A basement can often represent the past while a bedroom can be about intimate relationships or the part of you that is ready to put an issue to rest.

Everything in your dream from the objects, to the actions, to the setting, are a symbolic representation of all the different parts of you and your life. Being able to understand these representations allows us to better understand ourselves, our behaviours and where we are in our life's journey. And a better understanding of these things helps us get this journey right.

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