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Understanding the Cause of Stress Dreams

Understanding what’s causing your stress dreams can help you avoid them — and sleep more soundly.

Waking up after a good night’s sleep can leave you feeling rested and restored, ready to take on the day. But sometimes, when you’re feeling anxious during the day, your stress can seep into your dreams too.

Maybe you dream that you’re being chased, or you’re super late to work and yet just can’t get there, no matter what. Maybe you even dream that you’re back in school and you have to take a test that you didn’t study for — and on top of it, you somehow forgot to put clothes on?

Whatever your stress dream is, it’s probably pretty unpleasant, and when you wake up in the morning, you’ll likely not wake up feeling all that well rested.

On top of potentially disrupting your sleep, stress dreams can cause lingering anxiety throughout the morning, leaving you feeling uneasy throughout the day. They may even make you nervous about getting to sleep later on that evening.

While the meaning of your dream could be up for interpretation, it is possible to figure out what’s causing your stress dreams — and there are some solutions you can try to help get back to sleeping soundly.

What are stress dreams?
Stress dreams are distressingTrusted Source or anxiety-provoking dreams or nightmares that occur during your REM cycle, which is the stage of sleep when scientists think most dreaming occurs. They can be particularly vivid or recurrent.

While everyone’s dreams can be different, there are a few common types of stress dreams. Some examples are:

  • Teeth falling out. This dream is one of the most common ones associated with psychological stress, according to a 2018 studyTrusted Source. It often occurs in people who grind their teeth at night, which is also a sign of stress. It could signify personal loss (e.g., a death, the loss of a job or relationship).
  • Being chased. This common stress dream could be associated with the feeling of being trapped or of a worry you feel you can’t escape from.
  • Missing an important event. This is another common stress dream and could represent a real-life fear of missing something in your real life, such as an exam, a flight, the first day of work, etc.
  • Being naked in public. This dream is often linked to feelings of inferiority or anxiety about how people perceive you. (And again, it’s very common!)
  • Other common stress dreams include being back at school, fallingTrusted Source, car problems, tornadoes, drowning, and more.

“Stress dreams happen to everyone, and, while they can be troubling, they’re not unusual,” explains Dr. Cynthia Briggs, a licensed clinical mental health counselor from Maryland.

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