The Real Meaning Behind Naked Dreams

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
We've all been there. You're out with some friends or in an important meeting at work when you look down and you're... completely naked. You start to panic — how could you have let this happen? And, more importantly, what do you do next?!
You're dreaming, of course. (Probably.) You might start to suspect this while you're still asleep, or maybe you don't realise it until you woke up in a cold sweat.
Naked dreams can be a terrifying experience. I know firsthand — every so often, I have one. Since it's a recurring theme for me, I started to wonder what causes them. Are they stress dreams, like the ones people have about missing an important school exam?
I asked Stephanie Gailing, dream analyst and author of upcoming book The Complete Book of Dreams (on sale September 2020), to weigh in on what's behind my nudist fantasies.
"Being naked in a dream may mean something different to you than it would to me," she says. "And it could mean something different to each of us throughout our lifetimes, depending upon the situation."
The dream might pop up at a time you feel unprepared for something at work, for example. (Big presentation, inadequate time to prepare.) Or it could be triggered by embarrassment. (Spilled an entire cocktail on a new date.) Gailing says the common thread is vulnerability — they may be a way you process your sense of powerlessness, especially if you've been feeling anxious or upset about anything.
I'm always horrified to "discover" that I forgot to put on clothes — but some people remember feeling totally fine with it in their twilight state, Gailing notes. "That type of naked dream may be a reflection of some area of your life where you're feeling more liberated," she adds. "It might also be a call that you want to be less encumbered about something."
The fact that I wind up sans clothes in my sleep repeatedly offers another clue to my mental state. "Recurring dreams are like a mirror of how we're moving through and processing life events," she says.
Next time I have one of these dream, Gailing suggests I ask myself what it's showing me about my feelings regarding recent experiences. In other words, is there something I'm anxious or embarrassed about? Then I can make a list of those insecurities and stressors.
Identifying is the first step to finding a way to cope with the emotions, Gailing says.
If I notice that my naked dreams crop up when I'm super-stressed, the next time it happens I'll know my anxiety levels are tipping into the danger zone. Then I can ask myself what's making me tense, and take steps to ease the burden. I might exercise, gratitude journal, make time to see friends, finally try a sound bath, or take a meditation class.
I may never stop ditching my clothes in my sleep — but understanding some possible root causes actually turns the habit from a nightmare into a something of a superpower. Sweet dreams.

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