You have no doubt awakened in the morning with an extremely vivid dream still wrapped around your brain. You may have laid in bed listening to the alarm wail and wished that you were still on that white sand beach with that gorgeous Brazilian lover. You may also have stared at the ceiling and wondered how on earth your mind managed to come up with a more terrifying scenario than anything you ever imagined. Whether your dreams normally turn you into a flying superhero or the petrified star of a horror movie, your nights are filled with symbolism and messages from your subconscious. The language of the subconscious, however, is not always easy to understand. This is because things have very different meanings in dreams and real life. Here are what eight common dreams are telling you.

Being Chased

It is one of the most common nightmares. You are running from a zombie, werewolf, serial killer, angry in-law, CIA agent or other frightening figure of your choice. No matter what you do, however, you cannot seem to get away. The creature or person is gaining on you, but you feel like you are running through mud. Maybe your feet suddenly become tangled in something or your vision starts to go blurry if you move too quickly. Regardless, what you are afraid of gets within grabbing range, and you wake up with your heart pounding like you really were running away from Dracula.

Needing to flee and being unable to hits directly at one of your most primal and instinctive fears: the inability to escape a predator. While a dream of being chased does not mean you are actually going to have to flee from a hungry tiger anytime soon, it likely means you have been running from something else. You may have been avoiding an unpleasant conversation you need to have with your boss, or you may have been burying your head in the sand about the build-up of debt in your life. Your subconscious is using your dreams to remind you that your problem will catch up with you eventually. Once you address the issue in real life, the giant spiders should stop chasing you around at night.

Falling

Some psychologists claim that everything a person is afraid of is something they have learned or been taught to be afraid of except for two things: loud noises and falling. There is little way to prove if these are the only fears a person is born with, but dreaming of falling can certainly be frightening. When you have a dream where you are falling, and you are afraid when you are falling, it probably means that you are feeling out of control in your waking life.

While dreams of falling are usually frightening, some people have dreams where they feel serene as they fall. In that case, it likely means that you have let go of something that was holding you back or that you need to let go of something.

Nudity

Raise your hands if you have had a dream where you found yourself naked in public! Yep, everyone has had that dream where they look up and realize that they went to work, the grocery store or school either completely naked or in their underwear. A dream of nudity, however, does not mean that you need to join a nudist colony or that you need to triple check that you got dressed every morning. Dreaming of being nude often means that you are either afraid of being vulnerable or that you are ashamed of vulnerability you showed recently. It can also mean that you are afraid of being seen without the masks most people wear. You do not want to be seen as you are with your soul laid bare. If you are jeered at in your dreams, it is likely a sign that you are afraid of being naked in the emotional sense because you think you will be laughed at or mocked.

Losing Teeth

You are standing there having a perfectly normal conversation when you taste something strange in your mouth. You excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to see what is in your mouth. It is hard and tastes unpleasant. You get to the bathroom of the castle you are standing in and spit in the sink. Something white and hard lands in the basin. You look in the mirror and realize there is a gap in your smile. You are losing your teeth!

Many people have experienced a dream where their teeth are falling out. The dream is more common in women than men, but both genders do have this dream. Dreaming of a dentist’s nightmare normally indicates insecurity especially insecurity about your looks. It can also mean that you are afraid of losing something important to you or growing older.

Sex

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, most people continue to have dreams about doing the horizontal tango long after they outgrow the hormonal storm of puberty. Dreaming about sex, however, does not necessarily mean that a person is actually craving physical intimacy. Sex dreams more often symbolize a desire to be close to someone. This is why people dream of having sex with people they would not normally have any carnal interest in. If you have dreams of having sex with someone you do not actually feel an attraction to, it is likely that you are either missing a lost connection or are wanting to get closer to them in an emotional sense.

Forgotten Exam

Whether you are 18 or 80, you have undoubtedly gone to sleep only to wake up in a school building. You sit down in your seat and smile at a friend. As you sit there, not questioning in the slightest why you are back in first grade, your teacher comes by and drops a paper on your desk. The paper is the exam that determines your entire future, and you forgot to study.

One would think that the nightmares of forgetting an important exam would fade once a person was done with school, but dreams of having to take a test you are unprepared for continue long after a person has finished their schooling. Dreams of a pop quiz or a forgotten exam have a variety of meanings. There might be a lesson from the past or from present circumstances that you need to learn but have been missing. In your waking life, you might be afraid you have forgotten something or are missing something important. You might also be concerned that you do not know yourself or a loved one as well as you thought. If you keep having dreams of forgotten tests and have noticed that a loved one is acting a bit strangely, pay attention. Your subconscious might have picked up on important details that you missed. 

Being Underwater

Water has endless symbolism in film, literature, art and even everyday communication. Dreams are no different. Spending the night underwater has dozens of potential meanings. Dreaming that you are swimming through a clear pool can mean that you are experiencing unusual clarity in your life. Staring helplessly around the bottom of a muddy pond, on the other hand, can be a sign that you are confused and uncertain in your waking life. 

Water is also a common sign of flexibility. Dreaming that you are swimming below the surface at the neighborhood pool could be your subconscious’ way of telling you that you need to be more flexible. This is especially true if you swim underwater across a river that you thought you could not cross. Going under the water rather than over could be a sign you need to try a new approach, especially if swimming underwater is how you escape something that is chasing you. So, if you swim across the bottom of the lake to get away from your undead coworkers, your subconscious is telling you that there is another way to deal with the problem you are avoiding, and you need to take advantage of it.

How you feel in the water is a very important indicator of what the dream means. If you lie at the bottom of the pool and stare calmly up into the dancing sunlight, you may be feeling at peace with your waking life. If you feel either trapped underwater or like you are drowning, on the other hand, it could be a sign that you are feeling overwhelmed and “drowning” in responsibilities in your waking life. 

Repeated dreams of drowning can, however, have a more important message than a reminder of how overwhelmed you are at your new job. If you have repeated dreams of drowning and wake up feeling short of breathe, talk to your doctor, especially if you commonly have other dreams where you are struggling to breathe. You may have a form of sleep apnea. You dream of drowning, being smothered or having the helmet of your spacesuit crack because your body is actually running out of air. Sleep apnea is usually relatively easy to treat, but it is not something to brush off. It can be a serious condition, and the sooner it is addressed the better.

People

Some people’s dreams are filled with their friends, family, coworkers and, occasionally, enemies. Other people spend most of their nights wandering their dream world alone. Regardless of which you normally do, pay attention to the people who appear in your dreams, especially if you do not normally dream of people you know. Seeing someone you know in your dreams often means that you miss them. It may also mean that you are either longing for the close connection you once had or feeling guilt, anger or resentment toward that person that you are unable or unwilling to express in your waking life. If you dream of a loved one who has died, it could be a sign that you are still dealing with yet unresolved grief, anger or even guilt at their death. Your subconscious may be creating a way for you to either apologize for the fact that your last interaction was an argument or to spend just a few more minutes with someone whom you lost too soon. The appearance of the dead in dreams can also be a sign that their soul is reaching out to you from the other side. 

Interpreting dreams is a tricky subject because different symbols mean something different to every person. The most important thing to pay attention to when interpreting your dreams is how something made you feel. It does not matter that snakes are a symbol of rebirth or that dreaming of spiders means you are growing in strength. Even if the symbol “officially” has a positive meaning, if you are terrified of slithering creatures or eight-legged creepy-crawlies, your brain will not use that as a positive symbol. On the flip side, dreaming of crocodiles, a terrifying experience for most, can mean that you are moving toward great success if the toothy reptiles make you feel powerful in your dreams. Dream interpretation is a notoriously difficult subject, so do not be surprised if the same symbol means different things in different dreams. Pay attention to how you feel when you wake and any emotional echoes the dreams leave behind, especially those that relate to people in your life or decisions you have been agonizing over. Your subconscious might be trying to help you avoid outsmarting yourself.