The Real Reason You Keep Having Recurring Dreams

Ever have a recurring dream? If so, you're far from alone. That strange feeling of deja vu upon waking, realizing you "had that dream again," can be unsettling or confusing depending on the content and emotion involved in the dream. So what does it mean? Why does it keep happening? We sat down with dream expert and interpreter Kelly Sullivan Walden of to learn about this strange phenomenon.

Whether your recurring dream happened during your childhood or adulthood, it's perfectly normal, although it happens more in adults than children (somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of recurring dreams are reported by adults). Interestingly, they occur more often in women than in men, but since male and female brains are structured differently and operate differently, this is not the only neurological phenomenon that occurs more in women than in men (like migraines, for instance, according to NPR). 

So what does a recurring dream mean? "I believe recurring dreams are like a highlighter pen from the universe, drawing attention to a theme and letting us know that it's important and worthy of our attention," Walden tells us. "I also think of recurring dreams like a UPS delivery person on a mission — until we receive the message it's trying to send us, it will keep coming back to us, trying again and again until the message is received and decoded successfully." She went on to say that these dreams can change when we do, commenting, "Recurring themes change and transform when you change and transform."

Are there common themes in recurring dreams?

We asked Walden if people tend to have recurring dreams about specific genres, such as love or traumatic thing. She reported that the theme of recurring dreams is as diverse as the dreamers, saying, "Our recurring dreams can be pleasant, unpleasant, boring, or bizarre. We all have recurring themes, people and places — our own dream playlist, as it were." So it's really up to us to analyze and try and understand the people, places, and events we are experiencing in the dreams, and to focus on what they mean to us personally. 

"If the recurrent dream theme is challenging or traumatic, I believe it is an attempt to help us work through a painful issue or event that happened to us in our waking life," Walden explained. "I believe our dreams are helping us seek for and find solutions to help us repair the damage to our psyche by showing us a different perspective, or a way that we could handle the situation differently, should it happen again."

How can we use these dreams for personal growth?

Walden also shared how someone might be able to use their recurring dreams as a tool to help themselves learn or grow. She said, "I believe one of the best ways to look upon our recurring dreams are like a litmus test. We can ask ourselves, upon awakening from these dreams, 'Are we getting better, handling the circumstances more masterfully; are we less afraid?'" The reason for these self-analysis questions is to try to recognize and internalize how the dream is changing. "It's important to note what is changing — are the circumstances becoming more intense or are we becoming more victorious?" This can help us understand if we are moving through the issue at hand in a productive, progressive way. 

Interestingly, she says some of us may even be able to take the changes in these dreams into our own hands because, she explains, "one of the most powerful things about recurring dreams, is that they can be a powerful trigger for lucid dreaming. If we have the dream often enough and intensely enough, at some point we will realize we are dreaming while we are dreaming and begin to direct it in interesting ways." This means that we might actually become aware we are in the recurring dream while it is happening, and be able to choose our actions and affect the change we want or need to occur for a better resolution or outcome, effectively negating the need for the dream in the first place.