Sleep Better

The Causes Of Bad Dreams & How To Control Them

22 Feb 20227 min read

Many of us will experience bad or recurring dreams at some point in our lives. Usually frightening, upsetting or completely bizarre, these dreams can significantly disrupt our sleep and make it difficult to nod off again.

If you could prevent these bad dreams from happening, would you - and should you - do it?

We’ve spoken to celebrity psychic and dreams expert Inbaal Honigman about what your bad dreams mean and the steps you can take to control them.

Key findings

  • Unresolved situations are the main cause of bad and recurring dreams.
  • The most common recurring dreams feature running, falling, fighting and explosions.
  • Reducing stress and avoiding toxic people can help us better control what we dream about.
  • Bad dreams are our brain letting us know that an issue needs to be addressed.

Dream expert shares five ways to control what you dream about:

According to Inbaal, we can control the dreams we have, so nightmares and recurring bad dreams become less frequent: 

“I believe that with practice, each person can take control over their dreams. It takes time and patience, but if you work on your anxiety levels, while at the same time, attempt to process your dreams every morning, you can take charge of those dream scenarios.”

Here’s Inbaal’s advice for controlling the dreams you have and how often you dream about them:

Dreamcatcher hanging above bed

1. Deal with your stress levels

If you do your best to reduce anxiety from your life - avoid stressful situations, practice yoga and meditation, and find a space for peace in your everyday routine – you'll carry less anxiety into your sleep time.

Find out more about how stress can impact your sleep in our blog post.

2. Eat well and exercise

Eat a balanced diet (not too little, not too much!), drink water and exercise in the fresh air most days. Your body will be less stressed, so your mental state will be better overall.

3. Spring clean your relationships

Friends, online contacts and even family who treat you badly just have to go. Have as little to do with toxic people as you possibly can, and their negativity won't infect you.

4. Keep a dream diary

“Write down all your dreams (good and bad) as soon as you wake up. Processing those emotions in the stark light of day will get you better acquainted with your inner workings, allowing you to practice more control over your nightly terrors.”

5. Embrace your spirituality

If you feel more protected with a religious icon by your bed, a dream catcher on the window or a selenite crystal on the carpet below your pillow, then absolutely go for it. It doesn't need to be a logical solution. If it works, it works.

Falling, running, explosions and fighting: the most common recurring anxiety dreams

Because dreams are so personal, topics can vary hugely. However, some of the most common recurring dreams are about:

  • Falling
  • Running
  • Fire
  • Arguments

Explaining what some of the most common recurring dreams mean, Inbaal comments: “Running dreams suggest that you may be running away from something, while falling dreams show that you feel unable to cope.

When we feel angry in our day-to-day lives, it's normal to dream of fire in our sleep, as the all-consuming nature of fire is much like rage. If you dream of fire often, look into what makes you angry, talk to someone, and resolve the situation in your real-life.

If you're arguing with the same person in your dream every night, it's really imperative that you resolve your relationship with that person. If not face to face, at least come to terms with your feelings about them and accept the limitations of that relationship, so you can sleep soundly at night.”

Unresolved situations are the main trigger for bad dreams

While sometimes it can be difficult to decipher a meaning from nightmares or recurring dreams, it's often seen as our brain’s way of communicating a deeper message to us. Inbaal explains:

“Bad dreams, even nightmares, are usually an anxiety response. Our unresolved situations from daytime - such as confrontations with others, worries about a deadline, or a stressful relationship - bubble up to the surface when we sleep.

With our defences down during nighttime, our brains go over those upsetting situations in an attempt to process them, and we experience the anxiety all over again.” 

Woman after having a bad dream

Expert explains the hidden meanings in real life recurring dreams

“Recurring dreams, and especially recurring nightmares, happen when we have an ongoing situation which we are reluctant to resolve.” Inbaal explains.

“For example, if you're stuck in a horrid job with an insensitive boss, and you simply cannot walk away, then those daily exhausting confrontations will rise to the surface during sleep time - again, and again, and again.”

With this in mind, we asked members of the public to share some of their recurring dreams. Inbaal analysed the three most intriguing to reveal what they mean.

Dreaming of public toilets is a sign your friends are taking advantage of you

Public toilets

One of our respondents reported regularly dreaming about overflowing toilets: “I go into the toilets in a public place and there’s no cubicle door so I panic. The toilet is often overflowing, and others are either being used or they are the exact same.”

According to Inbaal, this recurring dream could signify friends aren’t respecting your boundaries: “Water dreams are to do with your emotions. A dirty toilet shows that your emotions are all infected with other people's mess. This anxiety dream shows that you struggle to set boundaries with people (no door on the cubicle) and that's the cause of the panic.”

Pro tip: In your wakeful life, detox your friends list. You are no ashtray for people to stub their emotions into. Put yourself first and honour your emotional wellbeing ahead of any social interaction.

Dreaming of dating someone else could show the strength of your relationship

Couple with woman looking confused

One submission we received was more romantic than your typical recurring dream: “I have a recurring dream where I’m an amnesiac and I don’t remember who my boyfriend is (Rob). 

There will be a boy that I knew from primary school who appears and tells me that he’s my boyfriend, and even in the dream I think: ‘this doesn’t feel right, I’m sure that’s not what you look like, but you are telling me that you’re Rob so okay, I’ll just go along with that.’ Eventually Rob appears in the dream and I’ll remember who he is.”

Inbaal’s analysis suggests this is one of the more positive relationship dreams you can have. “In a relationship, we put ourselves in the vulnerable position of having our wellbeing and happiness in the hands of another person, which is scary and risky.

I see a lot of positives in this dream. First of all, Rob is the reliable party here, the one you know you can count on, and you see other people from your past as potentially manipulative. Another positive is that you trust yourself, and when Rob arrives, you understand and remember, so you know you won't be swindled so easily.”

Dreaming of hidden rooms could reveal underlying secrets about your personality

Dining room

Sometimes, the setting of our dreams can be significant. One respondent reported often dreaming of a hidden room in their house that they don't know about: 

“It's often a dining room that I only find when guests are there. Because I don't know it's there, it's full of dust and hasn't been cleaned since we moved in, so I get myself all stressed about it.”

Inbaal explains: “Dreams about rooms usually reflect different parts of our personalities. It is interesting that it is a dining room that is lost and hasn't been cleaned. It could suggest that your relationship to food and eating is somewhat distorted.

Throwing the concept of guests into this dining/dust quagmire further shows that maybe eating with others can be a hardship.” 

Pro tip: If you could work on your relationship with nutrition and socialising, you likely won't be bothered with this dream anymore.

Stopping nightmares altogether is a bad idea, expert reveals

“It's not a good idea to stop having bad dreams altogether.” Inbaal explains. “Dreams are a way for our brains to communicate to us, and if there's something we need to be made aware of, it's a good idea to listen and accept that those bad dreams are there.

But recurring dreams - no. Recurring dreams just send us the same message multiple times. Act on the information, and you'll be spared having to endure it again.”

To find out more about how and why we dream and have nightmares, check out our other blog post on dreams for all the information you need!

Now you know how to better control your dreams and what they symbolise, don’t let your bed spoil your sleep. We have everything you need to get a great night’s sleep, from mattresses you sink into to snuggly duvets and plump pillows