What Do Your Dreams Mean? Here’s How You Can Decode Them

New sleep apps promise to decipher the hidden meanings of your nighttime experiences. But how reliable are they?

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Scientists may still debate the meaning and purpose of dreams, but we ordinary dreamers seem to have an insatiable desire to parse the who, what and why of what happens when we doze off. It’s hard not to believe that at least some of our sleep-time scenarios are imbued with some sort of significance. And there are a slew of new websites and apps that are feeding that curiosity with the tantalizing promise of helping us to decode the messages that we might otherwise miss.

Some use algorithms developed by psychologists and cognitive scientists to create feedback. Some create communities of dreamers or even dream experts who will opine about their hidden significance. The techniques and the tools they use include everything from dictionaries of so-called dream symbols,  personalized dream interpretation keys, to journals that help you track your dreams over time. Some, like Dream:On, claim to influence what you dream about with personally chosen “soundscapes” that are triggered when you enter REM sleep. Shadow, currently in development, will awaken you gradually to increase the likelihood you’ll remember your dreams and will make it easy for you to immediately record them.

Why bother? Psychotherapists have long believed that our dreams give us insights into feelings and internal struggles of which we may not always be aware. Alicia Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington DC, says that dream analysis can be a powerful tool for self-understanding. “Evaluating dreams is alive and well in psychotherapy practice and training,” she says.

That means that dreams can also offer useful clues for people who aren’t in therapy as well. “If you wake up feeling disoriented and upset,” she says, “chances are you are feeling similarly in your waking life somewhere.” Thinking about how the feelings in your dreams relate to what’s happening in your life, she suggests, can help you better recognize and address your internal struggles.

As far as how symbolic dreams can be, she says the people in your dream can be who they seem to be, or represent people who are like them. They can also stand in for different aspects of your own personality. “For example,” she says, “ your mother in your dream can represent your actual mother, someone in your life that acts like your mother, and parts of your personality that are like your mother.”

For this reason, many therapists say, dictionaries of dream symbols are of limited use because they give universal meanings to symbols, while  the symbols may actually have unique meaning for each person.

Others aren’t so quick to dismiss online dream dictionaries (such as DreamMoods, Dream Dictionary-Dream Central, Dream Meanings, Way of Dreams and Dream Key). Roger Harnish, a psychology professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, says they can help people to take a more expansive lens to their dreams than they might without the cues from the dictionaries. “Because they give so many interpretations of so many words,” he says, “people are bound to find something that fits their dream in some way. In addition, we all tend to project our feelings into these interpretations and can find personal meaning in them.”

For example, DreamProfessor, an app Harnish created, focuses on the patterns of imagery and words in the dream. “Research,” he says, “suggests that many of our dreams appear to be about our unfinished business, particularly our emotionally unfinished business. Knowing what our unfinished business is can allow us to better understand and conduct our lives.”

Because DreamProfessor, like several other apps, keeps a log of dreams over time, it’s possible for dreamers to see similarities among what appear to be completely different dreams. For example, Harnish says. “If you keep doing the same things at work that stress you, you can keep getting the same dream analysis again and again even though on the surface, the successive dreams seem to be totally different.”

While Harnish is considering doing research based on his users’ dreams, other dream sites, like DreamBoard and Dreamscloud, are currently offering researchers a treasure trove of up to 200,000 dreams. The information the scientists are provided is aggregated and anonymous, but next year, the sites’ creators are planning to add specific research questions that users will answer, and give them consent forms that allow their data to become part of research studies. DreamBoard’s data includes information from each user’s dream journal, and in return for the material, the site’s experts give users feedback on their dreams that includes who or what they dream most about, when they dream most, and the colors and emotions in their dreams. Based on an algorithm designed by cognitive science professor Bruno Bara at the University of Turin, the site hopes to give people insight into what their unconscious is telling them.

DreamsCloud provides feedback from the site’s panel of experts, which includes psychologists, social workers and life coaches.

But how reliable is that analysis? Any time you tell your dream to someone else, says Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and dream researcher at Harvard Medical School, those doing the analysis may end up projecting their own experiences, feelings, biases and other baggage on to your dreams. So it’s worth remembering that the same dream may not get the same interpretation from different people.

And some of the apps may promise more than they can deliver. You shouldn’t expect an app to turn your tumultuous dreams into more tranquil ones, for example, since, as Patrick McNamara, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine says, “There is no basis for believing we can change negative dreams to positive.” Plus, not everyone may be ready to have their dreams become fodder for public comment. Sometimes dreams are better left alone — and private.

92 comments
DionieWasawas
DionieWasawas

I dreamed of buying balut with the two women vendor inside a certain house and suddenly, there came a rushing rainfall of ice towards us and when i look outside the window, I saw the surroundings of trees and the ice raining.  When I look upward, I saw the rooftop deformed through the ice falls.  Allegedly there were deaths caused by that big ice falls.  To my mind, I have to make a concrete house made of cement slab so that in the future we will not be harmed.


CynthiaYvonne
CynthiaYvonne

I dreamed I went shopping with my Grandma, she said she would be right back but she never came back.


Sunrise
Sunrise

I had a terrible dream last night! I saw clearly my mother in law was living with a lady with two daughter age 5yrs and 3yrs old. I couldn't understand why, then later on my husband whom I live with admits that they were his daughters. I felt so deeply hurt and I cried and cried non stop, asking him why hadn't he told me and how could he do this to me. In my dream he decided to be with that lady and leave me and our 3 sons. I woke up, lucky I did as my chest started to hurt. What this dream mean? Can someone pls tell me?

Phanny
Phanny

I keep having a dream for the past 2 months of a little boy maybe a yr old and he is wearing a cap and he peaks at me, smiles and waves then disappears. What does this mean?

RaymondRivera
RaymondRivera

I had a dream that i lock eyes with a short blonde hair blue eyed pretty women.she took my hand i follow her i got so excited that i woke up!

AlexMartinez1
AlexMartinez1

I had a dream that the girl that i liked said she wanted to kill me , but i stood up and told her that she would have to try that in real life.... PS. I sometimes can tell when Im dreaming, and try to control it.

WajihaSaima
WajihaSaima

I had a  dream for two times in this year. My husbands running behind me to shot with a pistol in his hand pointing to me openly in public place. I am running to be safe here and there. 


(In reality the thing I want to clear that I have done nothing wrong to my husband but he did it to me in real life.I live in Pakistan and my husband is also my cousin. His parents also live in Pakistan. Prior to marry me he told me that he lives in England but this info is also proved fake.

My husband married to me by fraud and by hiding the truth from me and my family that he was already married there abroad. He had already a complete family there, a wife and the kids but not disclosed in Pakistan. He made lies only to marry me and afterall I married him. After that he gone back abroad for the reason of having business there. I dont know his address in abroad but only know that he live in Ukraine.  He want to hide his address from me and my parents. But now he is continously neglecting me after the marriage even attending my phon call. I have come to know his reality through his family photos there in his russian wife's F.B account hanging with him and his kids. I confirmed it. I inquired it from him and his parents in Pakistan but they are continously making lies. They say that the photos are fake and this is only a blame. They are not being ashamed but are trying to pretend that I am wrong and only blaming them.)

WajihaSaima
WajihaSaima

I had a  dream for two times in this year. My husbands running behind me to shot with a pistol in his hand pointing to me openly in public place. I am running to be safe here and there. 

(In reality the thing I want to clear that I have done nothing wrong to my husband but he did it to me in real life. He married to me by cheating and by hiding from me and my family that he was already married there in abroad. He had already a complete family there, a wife and the kids. He made lies only to marry me and afterall I married him. But now he is continously neglecting me after the marriage even attending my phon call. I have come to know his reality through his family photos there in his wife F.B account hanging with him and his kids. I confirmed it. I inquired it from him and his family but they are continously making lies. They say that the photos are fake and this is only a blame. They are not being ashamed but are trying to show that I am wrong and not them.)

Stellaluna101
Stellaluna101

I had a dream from a long time ago I can't really remember when, I just remember a really cute boy, he was around my age and had crystal blue eyes that still haunt me, black or deep brown hair(I can't remember which), he was pail like the moon light and I also remember his pure white smile, He made me so, so happy and I could tell I was smiling in my dream, we kissed in the dream it was a small peck on the lips, it didn't last very long and then later on I was in front of a house a two story with wood walls like the old Victorian ones that look like a polished cabin on the inside and i remember my great grandma and grandma being in the living room relaxing and looking happy and i remember my mom was in the kitchen on the phone and I remember trying to sneak in the house and I felt like I was about to be caught and that's when I awoke.

Sapphivvs
Sapphivvs

Last night I had a dream about my old best friend. Me and my old best friend weren't having a good time with our lives. We bumped in to each other and said how much we missed each other. We were best friends 6 years ago until we drifted away and we said how we wanted to be best friends again. And we were best friends forever in my dream.

P.s she is the most popular girl in our year now and her name is Lucy.

Livvi
Livvi

I was a bird. I couldn't see that I was a bird but I knew I was because I was flying slightly above everyone and they looked at me as if I was tiny. Like I was a tiny blue bird or something. My mother, older sister and father were there. They weren't birds. They just looked like they do all the time in real life. Humans. My mother and older sister were acting so... Cruel. Like really, really, unbelievably cruel. They aren't this cruel in real life. In the dream, they were so, so mean, it made me extremely sad. My father was there too, mostly beside me. He seemed slightly disturbed at them for being so cruel, but he never told them to stop. I can't quite remember all of it but in the dream they wanted me to live somewhere else. We all went to different bird houses for me to live in, but I kept crying that I didn't want to live anywhere but with them. My mother and older sister kept laughing so cruely at me, making me so distressed. My father was kind enough to me, but he never stood up to the other two for bullying me. It made me so, so sad. He wanted me to live in a bird house that was near his own house. It was small and pokey. I didn't like it, but he wanted me to live there so I could be with him(he and my mother are divorced, and live in different houses). My mother and older sister wanted me to live in a dirty, scary bird house that stood in a lonely, horrible forest. I hated it, but they didn't care. We kept looking around, me begging that I could just go back to my original house with them, and them, either laughing or yelling at me, and my father, looking a little sad for me but not doing anything to stop the sadness. I remember feeling absolutely horrible. I felt depressed, unwanted... Lonely. I wanted to scream. I hated it. It was the worst feeling in the world. Then, my mother and older sister got so frustrated that I wouldn't choose a birdhouse, that they hatefully yelled at me, and tried forcing me in the bird house they chose, in the forest. I screamed and screamed, cried and cried, but they didn't care. So I gave in. I said I'd live in the one my father chose. The small, pokey birdhouse that was close to his house. My father hugged me, pleased that I chose his one. My mother and older sister knew I didn't like it, and laughed at me because I was going to live there. I tried to ignore them, but they kept laughing and laughing, acting so cruel and disgusting. We all walked to the one my father chose. I felt defeated. I was perched on my father's shoulder, while my mother and sister laughed and laughed and laughed. They cackled and pointed at me, knowing that I was dreading living in that birdhouse, knowing that I felt sad and beaten. Then my father got a phone call. He was walking around, on the phone, talking, whilst I was perched on his shoulder, my mother and older sister walking behind my father, trying to reach me. Then they pulled out their phones, waving them around, still laughing at me. My older sister then reached up her phone to me, grinning evily. "Someone wants to talk to you," She said in a cruel tone. Or something like that. Then I angrily picked up the phone, and threw it down to the ground, breaking it. I woke up straight after throwing it. I gasped as I woke up, breathing fast and heavy. My heart was beating super quickly and my eyes were wide in shock. I sat up, extremely distressed about the dream I just had. I placed my trembling hand on my heart, and burst into tears.

bethlindsay
bethlindsay

I dreamed that 3 boys really like me and I kissed each one but then they all found out and proper was giving hate to me

PamelaSellarole
PamelaSellarole

I dreamed that I was in a car that was driving itself (except when I needed to brake and turn corners) that somehow I ended up in Richmond following Rachel. Mom was there, too, about a block away. She wasn't in a car, and she was wearing red plaid capris and a white shirt. I stopped the car, and followed Rachel into a bathroom. For some reason, she was backed against a wall with a rifle or shotgun in her hand (I don't really know the difference.) She pointed it at herself very calmly and said, "It was a real pleasure being with you." I knew what she was going to do, and I struggled to get that gun away from her while screaming for Mom to get in there and help me. I kept screaming, "No, Rachel!!!" over and over again until I woke up. I had to call her to have any peace at all. Fortunately, she was ok. But This was the second time I had dreamed something like this.   Why would I have 2 dreams about my little girl wanting to harm herself? I really lit into the Lord about that one.

Dreams123
Dreams123

I was moving into a London flat with my mum and brother. It was haunted, I tried to find a bedroom for myself when I was alone in the house and the bedroom I found was filled with children's toys. The ghost of a little girl wanted me out. She was talking to her family and I could hear her. She wanted me out. I was terrified.

NatalieHoward
NatalieHoward

are you fearing something?

do you have a childish side and people are telling you to grow up?

or feeling replaced?

JamesCargile
JamesCargile

one of my friends friend had a dream about her deceased father and he told her he was moving she looks into the house or the rooms and there all white and She sees 3 hospital beds and her dad kept saying they don't have much time. But the beds were empty... Then he told her to count some poles and there was 7 , he kept saying they don't have much time. When she woke she only thought about and to only tell my friend not her sister or her brother. She has 3 kids and there's 7 people all together in her house, which I'm guessing describes the 3 beds and 7 poles?

Rona19928
Rona19928

I dream that my physic professor, said in class that my friend has died, and she didn't care about it.

LeighCen
LeighCen

i had a dream -someone had told me that i will be dead by tomorrow... what does it means?

KayleighThompson
KayleighThompson

I had a dream that my 4 month old son was sitting on top of the toilet seat flipping the lid up and down while I was cleaning the bathroom. Then all of a suddenly he leaned forward and he fell into the toilet. I was pulling him up by the collar of his baby grow but he was getting sucked through and I was to weak to help. His face was turning blue but I couldn't speak to shout for help. Could anyone tell me what this means? It's freaked me out!

kymtait1888
kymtait1888

He shot me twice in the stomac

have why. My cousins boyfriend

sadie95
sadie95

Iv been dreaming about this guy that I had something going on with .. & the past 2 weeks science the last time we seen each other these dreams been going on I don't remember much of the dream just of us cuddling. what dose it mean?

Dieg02001
Dieg02001

What does it mean that I dreamed of strangling my brother in law but he has been dead for 3 years?

mrzbosshogg69
mrzbosshogg69

My current husband dreamed that my dead ex-husband was helping me and ccurrent husband hang mirrors on the walls.

samo
samo

In my dream a little boy came from a long journey to deliver message to me that my girl friend and her family have plan someone to kill me. In the scene my uncle told me to look in a mirror in his hand and see how life is like for me if i don't believe what  the little boy has said to me. when i look in the mirror all i could was shining lights in a darkness, like a city,


JulieRickReinel
JulieRickReinel

My Husband has been having the same dream every night. We are in our truck together and he starts driving out on the ice and he knows it's thin ice. Then the vehicle falls in with both of us in it. Then we both have to try and figure out how to get out. Do you know what that means? Weird he has it everynight.

Lily001
Lily001

I had a dream i was about to fall of a cliff, i was calling for help.. Then my ex came with a red car. He told me to grab his hand so he can save me and i did. Later we drove to my house, and my boyfriend was walking towards the car. Then my ex says "go with him if you love him.?" And i felt indecisive, my ex hugged me and started crying but i left with my boyfriend. What does this dream mean?

DallasRickiStewart
DallasRickiStewart

I dreamed my mom and I stole a car from the dealership and then pushed it off a Cliff into the water and then went to my dead aunts house and saw two snakes there. It was crazy


GeraldineC
GeraldineC

I dream basically every night about my kid's dad even though we apart for 2 years now and has absolutely no contact and no feelings at all, why is it so?

GeraldineC
GeraldineC

I dream about my kid's dad basically every night even through we apart for 2 years now and I have absolutely feelings for him plus no contact with him, why is it so?

DebVerdone
DebVerdone

I dreamt that I could not breathe and there was 3 men in my dream that I did not recognize. And when I woke up they were in my room and then disappeared. Really don't know what this means?

francehill
francehill

i dreamt of a cat jumped inside my umbrella-cut skirt & had turned  like a whirlpool wrapping it with the cloth & i woke up with the feeling that my skirt pulls off my waist. 

paulpollix
paulpollix

what explanation do you have for me dreaming of an event which is going to happen tomorrow 

Portia123
Portia123

I had a dream that i was asked out by this boy i really like (Brandon felix) and then we got married the very next day and im only 13. then Austin Mahone found out and go jealous and killed him. then justin bieber found out then killed Austin Mahone. it was really crazy