CAN you remember what you dreamt about last night? The chances are that you’ve already forgotten or shrugged it off.
The after-effects of my own dream took a little longer to dispel: I woke up convinced that my husband had cheated on me after watching him disappear into a bedroom with another woman, powerless to intervene.
It took a while after I woke up to persuade myself that it hadn’t happened – leaving my poor hubby baffled as to why I was a bit huffy with him.
It left me unsettled for much of the day too, convinced it was a bad sign – something I’m prone to whenever I’ve dreamed about something scary like sitting an exam I haven’t prepared for or finding myself naked in a public place.
My husband takes the opposite view: my dreams are, he says, just a mental dustbin where we deposit our thoughts.
But it turns out we’re both wrong, according to qualified psychologist and dream expert Dr Ian Wallace.
He’s interpreted more than a quarter of a million dreams throughout his career and believes that however wacky and senseless – or sometimes downright scary – they may seem, our dreams are a highly evolved, crucial process which helps us make sense of our waking life.
Still, if we’re working out who we are while we catch some shut-eye does my dream mean I am in a state of unconscious panic about my husband’s potential infidelity? Thankfully not, according to Dr Wallace.
“This isn’t about your relationship with your husband but it is about you feeling a loss of control and power, probably in your professional life,” he says.
“It suggests you are involved in some kind of conflict in that area or are feeling conflicted.”
He’s spookily spot on actually – and moreover it turns out I’m not alone in work filling my head.
A recent survey from job platform totaljobs.co.uk found that dreams centred on work dominate when we finally do lay our heads on our pillows at night.
However, just as my dream of infidelity isn’t what it seems, dreams of drama actually unfolding in the office can mean something else altogether too.
“Believe it or not, around 98 per cent of your daily experience occurs at an unconscious level. We are absorbing information all the time without even knowing it, and our dreams help us unpick all this,” he tells me.
“So dreams about work are not necessarily about the activity itself, but represent our purpose in life and what we are trying to achieve. When we dream about work we are dreaming about who or what we want to be.”
“In essence, dreaming plays a huge part in helping us work out who we are, so when we don’t dream we don’t function very well.
“Since the dawn of time we have taken real things from the real world and used them to symbolise emotional and sometimes spiritual states.
Fascinatingly there are some other perennial themes to our dreams too. Here, Dr Wallace explains all…
It’s by far the world’s most common dream, but what does it mean?
That there is an issue in your waking life that you want to confront, but you don’t know how – although often, the nature of the pursuer will give you a clue: I’ve lost count of the number of times working women have told me of being chased by a faceless man.
It may seem scary, but their ‘pursuers’ are trying to bring something to their attention.
The man represents traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities like assertiveness and it means you are struggling to identify that part of yourself.
Your teeth falling out
The second most common dream also relates to confidence. You may be surprised to hear that it’s about your teeth falling out.
Often, when people tell me about this they think it represents a fear of ageing or losing your looks. In fact it’s more visceral than that: think about how often you bare your teeth, whether it’s smiling or in anger: teeth are all about confidence and power.
So when you dream about them falling out, it means something is affecting your confidence in your waking life.
Finding a toilet
The third most common dream all over the world? It’s one that people are often embarrassed to vocalise.
It focuses on the toilet – not being able to find one, or discovering there’s a huge queue.
It’s a very common dream among carers, or those who spend their time looking after others.
Toilets, after all, are what we use to respond to one of our most fundamental needs.
This dream is telling you to look after yourself more.
As I never tire of telling people, dreams don’t happen to you but the opposite – you create the dream and everything in it. They are yours to use and understand.
Being naked in public
This one is all about self-image: we choose our clothes to project a particular image and if we are wearing nothing, or missing an item, we feel incredibly vulnerable.
What it means is that there is a situation in your waking life that is making you feel exposed.
In other versions of this dream people are wearing the ‘wrong’ thing – this means that there is an opportunity to display your talents, even if there is a risk of embarrassment.
The exam you haven’t prepared for
Exams are how we measure our ability to perform, so this is generally about judging yourself too harshly.
It means there is some situation – often in the workplace, but not always – where you are being too critical of your own performance when what you really need to do is stop the endless introspection and celebrate your knowledge.
Think of how often we use idioms about weightlessness – whether it’s “a weight off your shoulders” or “walking on air” – and it’s little surprise that flying features so often in our dreams.
You usually have this dream when you are released from a situation where they have felt weighed down.
It’s very common at the end of a big work project or event.
When people tell me about falling in their dreams they tend to assume it represents failure when in reality this dream often happens when they are so worried about failure that they are hanging on too tightly and micromanaging a situation.
What this dream is telling you to do is learn to relax and let go a little – rather than being worried about losing control you have to trust yourself and other people and let everything fall into place.
Driving an out of control vehicle
Another common dream which symbolises your ability to make consistent progress towards a specific objective.
It’s about not being entirely in control of your route to your final goal.
In real life, if you try to over-control it makes the situation worse.
Rather like the falling dream, it’s about allowing yourself to relax and let your instinct take over rather than over-analysing. Be in the moment and use that to steer the best path.
Many years ago, before trains or cars, people would dream about their horses rearing out of control.
It’s a reminder that while the imagery we use may change in line with our experiences, our underlying fears and hopes don’t.
Finding an unknown room in your house or workplace
Houses are the number one symbol of ourselves and their rooms represent different aspects of our character. So when in a dream you walk into an unknown room or office, it relates to a talent or an aspect of your personality that you were previously unconsciously aware of.
It’s telling you to explore your dormant talents – which may lead to other doors opening in your waking life.
Ironically, this dream tends to occur in life’s punctual people – the ones who are never late.
Again, it’s not what it seems: it’s a cue to stop clock watching and seize opportunity instead.
So rather than spending your time constantly planning idealised outcomes, it’s your mind trying to tell you to do something out of your normal timetable or comfort zone