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The 10 Most Common Nightmares in America—And What They Mean

A new study shines some light on what's scaring people after they go to bed.

There's nothing quite like the safety you feel when you get nice and cozy in your own bed. But no matter how old you are, there's always the chance a terrifying nightmare will ruin a night of perfectly good sleep. Of course, these scary dreams end the moment we open our eyes. However, there are certain common nightmares that some people can't seem to shake from night to night—leaving them wondering what they could mean.

Fortunately, a new survey has finally shed some light on these nocturnal nuisances. A team from SlotsMove collected data from 1,310 U.S. residents with an even breakdown of males and females. Each respondent was given a list of 15 nightmare themes and an unlimited number of responses to pick which types they often experienced. The results were then counted and ranked based on their selections.

Besides showing how often people tossed and turned over a specific type of dream, the team also provided some context as to what might be causing them. Read on for the 10 most common nightmares in America and what they could possibly mean.

RELATED: 5 Scary Dreams That Actually Mean Something Good, Therapists Say.

Attending an exam unprepared

exam Never Say to a Teacher

Percentage of respondents: 30.4

We've all been caught off guard by a challenging exam at one point or another. Perhaps that's why getting handed an unexpected test is a relatively common nightmare, according to the survey.

Catching fire

flaming bonfire and embers.

Percentage of respondents: 32.8

It's good to have a healthy fear of fire. But it also appears that this phobia can creep into your subconscious and work its way into a scary cream. Nearly a third of all respondents listed being ablaze as a recurring nightmare.

RELATED: 60 Common Dreams and Their Secret Meanings, According to Experts.

Sustaining a physical injury


Percentage of respondents: 38

Painful injuries are unfortunately a part of everyday life in one form or another. And apparently, the idea of them can haunt you even while you're sleeping as a prominent part of your bad dreams.



Percentage of respondents: 39.4

Accidents around the water are no joke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was an average of 4,012 unintentional drowning deaths each year in the U.S. from 2011 to 2020. This might be why the terrifying situation works its way into so many bad dreams.

RELATED: 5 Dreams That Signal Trouble in Your Relationship, According to Therapists.

Death of a loved one


Percentage of respondents: 44.7

The idea of losing someone dear to us can become an all-consuming fear—even in our sleep. According to the survey, it was the most evenly split type of nightmare between women and men at 52.9 and 47.1 percent, respectively.

Unfortunately, some of these dreams may result from real-life loss, too: Additional comments on the survey showed that many who reported these nightmares had recently suffered the loss of a partner, parent, or friend.

Feeling lost

senior woman lost in the woods

Percentage of respondents: 46.1

Whether it's in a strange home, deep in the woods, or on the streets of an unknown city, it can be terrifying to dream of being lost and confused.

The team behind the survey says these types of nightmares usually suggest you've lost some sense of stability or security in your life, that you've fallen short of accomplishing a long-sought-after goal, or you've arrived at a point where you'll need to make an important career decision.

RELATED: The 8 Most Common Recurring Dreams, According to Data.


tornado in the united states

Percentage of respondents: 51.4

It's unsurprising that devastating natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes pop up in more than half of people's dreams. The team behind the survey says these destructive events are "usually considered a representation of emotional or physical turmoil" by our subconscious brain. But they can also signify the need for necessary difficult changes in your life.

Getting shot


Percentage of respondents: 54.8

Someone trying to physically harm you can make for a particularly traumatic nightmare—especially if it involves a gun. Interestingly, this relatively common nightmare might often result from having received harsh criticism or sharp words from someone in the waking world.

RELATED: 5 Dreams You Should Never Ignore, According to Psychologists.

Falling down

Falling in Dreams

Percentage of respondents: 64.7

Falling dreams can sometimes be so shocking they force us awake with an adrenaline rush. Physiologically, the survey team says this happens when your muscles relax just as you're drifting off, setting off alarm bells in your brain that you're really taking a tumble.

However, they could also represent deep disappointment in something that was highly anticipated or feelings of financial or emotional insecurity.

Being chased

Man is running away from something

Percentage of respondents: 65.3

Having someone or something chasing you in a nightmare takes the top spot on the list, with nearly two-thirds of all respondents reporting having them regularly.

This anxiety-inducing situation is usually the result of issues you're facing in real life, whether it's dealing with avoidance or coping with an unpleasant situation in your personal relationships or at work.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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