There’s a rush of air on your face as you plunge over the edge into nothingness. You flail about, frantic for something to grab before you hit bottom, but there’s nothing — and no one — to save you. Terror consumes you as the bottom comes into view, and then, slam!
You wake up in bed. Your heart is beating too fast, but you’re safe. It was just a dream.
Not that it makes them any less disturbing, but dreams about falling are not uncommon. Read on as we take a close-up view of dreams about falling, what they could mean, and whether you can do anything about them.
There’s no scientific consensus as to the psychology behind dreams.
Studies show that certain dream themes, including falling, are common. Researchers theorize that this may reflect feelings of helplessness or rejection.
You can have a one-off dream of falling simply because you went hiking near a cliff or rolled too close to the edge of your bed. But dreaming of falling could mean that you feel:
- insecure or unstable
- inadequate or inferior
- out of control
If you frequently dream of falling, you may want to figure out why. Nightmares can sometimes be a sign of:
Some specifics may matter.
Being pushed off a cliff could mean that you don’t feel secure with others or with unseen forces. Tripping and accidentally falling off a cliff might say that you lack self-confidence. Either way, things are out of control or you’re trying to hang on to something.
Dreaming that you parachuted out of an airplane or took a graceful dive into a safety net isn’t so scary. This could be a sign that you’re letting go of something negative or setting yourself free.
Other details may not matter as much as the prevailing emotions the dream provokes.
Co-creative dream theory suggests that how we respond to what happens in the dream provides more insight than individual details.
Certain objects, people, or events mean different things depending on your culture and personal history. Particular details of your dream may be significant enough in your experience to provide context for your dream.
When trying to understand your dreams, write down as many details as you can remember before they fade.
Then consider how people, places, and objects from the dream fit into your waking life. Try to zero in on the emotions you felt and what real-life events mirror those emotions.
Just as you’re about to hit the surface, your legs jerk and you wake up with a start, a motion that saves you from the fall. It’s a discombobulating way to wake up.
Hypnic jerks are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions that usually occur just as you’re falling asleep. It’s something that affects 60 to 70 percent of us.
The exact cause isn’t clear, but one symptom of a hypnic jerk is the sensation of falling.
Sometimes, there’s an overlap between hypnic jerks and dreams about falling. This phenomenon probably has more to do with your body falling asleep than your mind trying to tell you something.
Jerking awake from a falling dream feels like you’ve been saved. It also makes it more likely that you’ll recall this dream later. But you don’t have to fear not waking up. Hitting bottom or dying in a dream won’t kill you.
There’s not much scientific research to explain the meaning of a dream where someone else is falling.
It’s possible that you’re deeply concerned about someone you know whose life is spinning out of control. Or maybe you’re worried that someone is leaving you, emotionally or physically.
Think about the person in the dream and what they represent to you.
You can’t totally control your dreams. Falling dreams may be stress-related, so there are some things you can do to transition to a more peaceful sleep.
- Cut back on caffeine.
- Do breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques to wind down before going to bed.
- Avoid emotionally stressful or physically strenuous activities in the hour before going to sleep.
- Remove work-related items and electronic devices from the bedroom.
- If you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing until you’re tired again.
Nightmares tend to occur during stressful periods. Your dreams about falling may stop as you work through your problems.
Research suggests that evaluating dreams can be therapeutically valuable. If dreams of falling don’t subside or they continue to trouble you during the day, you may benefit from therapy. A qualified mental health professional can help you deal with your dreams and manage the stress that triggers them.
Persistent nightmares can be a sign of prolonged stress, anxiety, or sleep disorders. If you can’t improve sleep on your own, talk to your doctor.
Whether you remember the dreams or not, you probably dream four to six times a night, mostly during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During REM sleep, your brainwaves are nearly as active as they are when you’re awake.
Dreams have no logic. Though they contain snippets of our daytime experiences, they’re random and nonsensical. They often have a surrealistic quality, especially when it comes to space and time.
Though many types of dreams are easily forgettable, it can be difficult to shake vivid dreams, such as those in which we fall.
Does dreaming have a purpose? Though there are many plausible theories as to why we dream, there’s a lot we can’t say for certain.
Dreams may help us form memories, work through problems, or help us practice various scenarios. Perhaps dreams serve multiple functions.
Science has yet to determine exactly why people dream or what specific dreams mean. Dreams about falling tend to occur as you fall asleep and sometimes coincide with involuntary muscle spasms.
There are some good theories about dreams and the emotions they convey. Because we’re all different, you should interpret the details of your dreams by what they mean to you personally.
Dreams about falling may reflect feelings of inadequacy or a sense that your life is out of control. Dealing with your stressors may encourage less frightening dreams.
Persistent nightmares may be due to an anxiety or sleep disorder. If dreams are affecting your physical or mental health, talk to your doctor.