A recurrent dream

November 27, 2020 • 11:30 am

You’ve probably noticed that the site has a new look, which is similar to the old one but has eliminated many of the glitches. It’s still a work in progress. Do have a look on your mobile device and see how it looks there as well. And email or comment below if you have any beefs or suggestions.

I wanted to relate a recurrent dream I’ve had, which has replaced my old recurrent dream in the last five years. The old one is familiar to many academics, and involves being late for a class or an exam, or being in an exam and not having studied for it. I had that dream every week or so for decades after college. I later learned that my old Ph.D. advisor, Dick Lewontin, had it every night. Other academics have told me of such dreams as well, which shows that a). dreams are not completely meaningless, and b). we’ve internalized the anxiety that comes along with being a teacher and a professor, and that’s expressed in our dreams. Or so I think.

But I no longer have “college dreams”. Rather, I have a dream related to the “can’t-find-the-exam-room” dream. In this one, I’m in one locality and have to get to another one, and am severely time limited. Sometimes I’m with someone (usually a woman I don’t know), but often not.  Last night I was alone somewhere in New York City, but it was a city with very narrow, twisted streets, all confusing, and I had to get to Grand Central Station by a certain time. (I have no idea why.) I kept trying to make my way there, but kept getting lost. One time I found myself in a miniature suburbia, complete with cute houses, lawns, and picket fences, occupying a single street in the city. Then I found myself in a Chinatown, with narrow streets filled with Chinese restaurants.

In none of these dreams do I ever make it to my destination; I always wake up knowing that I didn’t make it on time. In this way the dreams resemble the “frustration dreams” involving exams and classes.

What does this mean? Beats me.

If you have a recurring dream—and I’m sure many of you do—by all means share it with us.

101 thoughts on “A recurrent dream

  1. My main two recurring dream themes have been fading lately. They were the classic university class problems (example: finding myself enrolled simultaneously in graduate school at two different universities hundreds of miles from each other) and gigantic run-down buildings (usually where I live) I’m responsible for fixing.

    I’ve no idea why these are fading of late. They haunted me for decades.

  2. I have had this dream dozens of times with varying frequency over the years, most recently a week ago.  I am in a laboratory and am talking to someone about my research but I realize I have absolutely no data to discuss – all my experiments have been contaminated or inconclusive due to my poor planning.  As the dream progresses, I come to the realization that all my research has been failing like this for as long as I can remember.  And then I’m hit by the fact that I really don’t understand anything about the system that I’d been trying to analyse.  I am petrified.

    1. Janet, one of mine’s along those lines. In it, I have come back to my old college to do some postgraduate research. I have forgotten how to design an experiment, and even how to use basic lab equipment. In the dream I am a few days from my assessment, and I have done no work and got no results.

      I have not worked in a lab for 45 years, and yet this dream comes round every few months. I have long since come to terms with my decision to give up research chemistry. So why the recurring dream? Damned if I know!

  3. The new-look website seems fine to me. It seems a little odd that the current post appears in the list of recent posts, but that is a quirk rather than a problem.

  4. I had variations of that dream for many years. And I think your explanation of the dream is the most plausible, Jerry.

    But how about this dream that I have had for many years? I am outside generally, and come into the presence of other people, and realize that I am naked from the waist down. Sometimes completely so, but if I am wearing a shirt I am trying to pull it down to cover, in vain, my nether parts.

    The craziest one of those dreams had me going out my door, naked, and hearing a bird song I didn’t recognize (I am a retired ornithologist, but still an active birder and bird bander.). So I try to track it down. Somehow I discover I am not utterly naked, my binoculars are hanging from my neck.

    Next thing I know I am on a street of the closest small town, about 5 miles from home, still looking for the bird. I look and see the town cop cruising down the street in my direction. With nowhere to hide, I spot a real estate “For Sale” sign in a yard. I jerk it from the ground and hold it in front of my groin. And the dream ends.

    Anybody care to interpret this dream?

  5. During this pandemic, I’ve had a recurring dream-theme where I find myself surrounded by people indoors and nobody has masks on. I suddenly realize this is a very stupid place for me to be and try to get away from everyone ASAP, and then wake up.

  6. No doubt from my experiences as a starving musician and student:

    I dream I’m at a reception or a gig and I see really tasty looking food that I plan to get back to later. Just last night, I dreamt that I saw some red-colored alcoholic punch that I noted I should try, and then I saw in a corner a small stand with cups of cherries in them that looked really good. I rarely get to taste anything in these dreams, but it’s not a bad dream, I’m happy that I’m noting the things that I plan to get back to.

  7. This is very common in food service. For those in the front of the house, it is called the “Waiter Dream.” You can’t get the food out of the kitchen, two of your tables are getting upset, your busboy is nowhere to be found, and here comes the host about to seat a party of six at your big table. Inevitably, you serve something wrong to a table and they start yelling.

    Usually, the chef is not your friend, and likes to see you falling apart.

    No matter what you do, you can’t get control.

    1. I used to be a waiter and had the very common “waiter dream,” though it wasn’t so much
      of a dream as thoughts that made it hard to sleep. I used to work at an extremely busy deli/family restaurant.

      After yet another hard shift I’d try to sleep, and just as I would start to enter sleep my mind would bolt awake “did I bring the coffee to table 7????”

      During serving your mind is struggling to juggle all the tables and orders you have to remember and it’s very difficult for the brain to shut down that process.

      1. Until this past March, I managed a movie theater. I occasionally had frustration dreams related to the job: I go into the booth to start the movie and the projector has been disassembled and I have to reassemble it; the window between the booth and the auditorium is blocked up; the movie is on film, and I am trying to figure out how to thread it through a digital projector. The theater closed due to the pandemic and there are no plans to reopen; it will be interesting to see if these dreams about the theater continue [I have been out of college for 40 years and still have the “I forgot that I signed up for that class” dream]. I now work in a supermarket, and, yes, have started having frustration dreams about it.

        Other recurring dreams: I rediscover a room (sometimes a whole apartment) in my house that I knew about but forgot; I drive by an airfield where the sky is full of weird-looking biplanes, like a scene from an 1890’s science fiction story; I suddenly find myself in New York City (one minute I am in my home state of Connecticut; I turn a corner and am in NYC. I am surprised but not astonished: “Oh, I’m in New York. I’ll look around.”)

  8. I’m a classical music recording engineer, and my recurring nightmare has something to do with being about to record a concert, but becoming distracted by a pointless conversation with someone, and then the music starts and I haven’t set up my equipment, then discovering I hadn’t brought the correct cables or something, and finally I wake up in a panic. I then lie there berating myself — “How could I have been so stupid!” — even though I realize it was only a dream.

    Of course, once in a while something like that happens in real life! But perhaps the frequent nightmares help to keep me prepared and focused.

    The website’s new look is fine and seems to be working well for me. The current sans serif font seems a lot easier on the eyes than the serif one you had earlier today! But we still can’t preview our comments.

  9. Jerry, it sounds like your dreams are telling you how much you miss traveling.

    I still have the academic dream. I got my PhD in 1980, so that’s 40 years.

    L

  10. I periodically have dreams in which I can, simply by picking up my legs from the undersides of my thighs, “hover” above the ground and then zoom around as I please. And every single time, I remark to myself some variation of “I can’t believe I completely forgot I could do this AGAIN!”

    1. That is another recurrent sort of dream. I love that dream! Sometimes when I wake up there is this marvelous moment where it still seems true and real. Then reality starts to upload into my brain, and that is a bit disappointing.

    2. I have a similar dream all the time. One is that it’s a fairly windy day and I realize that if I hold my arms out and lean just right, I can be swept up in to the air and maneuver around, flying over houses. The other is I simply have the power to fly, similar to superman and, as you say, I always think in the dream “I forgot I could do this!”

      1. I’ve been having “hovering” dreams for many years now. Then a couple years ago I began lucid dreaming wherein I’m dreaming and confront something that is just totally unreal and seemingly impossible. I think to myself, I must be dreaming. How do I test this? And then it hits me — see if I can hover. So I then begin hovering and enjoy whatever comes my way for the rest of the dream because I know that it’s only a dream. Fun times!

  11. I don’t think I have reoccurring dreams any more. Maybe being retired a long time you lose them? Your dream about getting lost in NYC reminds me of long ago getting lost in London. Probably the only time I was attempting to drive there. I was dropping a guy off to pick up his new car. After that I must have made a few really wrong turns and ended up lost in London. Really stupid. I knew I was really lost when I ended up on a boat, a ferry crossing the river. I wish this had been a dream but it was real. I can’t even remember how I did it, but eventually found my way out.

  12. I am long retired, but am sometimes back in the lab in my dreams, pottering about with Petri plates. I also often dream about wandering around in a city. The city is generally a distorted version of one or
    anther of the European cities in which I have spent a good deal of time. One characteristic distortion
    is a presence of water everywhere, as in a flood. More than one time, I found myself half walking, half
    swimming through streets of what might have been a Swedish city, flooded so thoroughly that whales were swimming along past me. Water, swimming, boats, and sometimes whales turn up with an odd
    frequency in my nocturnal adventures.

    1. My recurrent dream is about the ocean inundating the shore. Huge waves over 20ft tall, but people are still swimming in the water. I feel amazement. In these dreams I tend freak out only when I lose my child but later see her happily swimming in the sea. Each dream has different detail, different beaches, different neighborhoods. Mostly I enjoy these dreams.

  13. Mine shifted over to having a class to teach for which I am totally unprepared. Sometimes I’m also naked and trying to hide behind the lectern. Occasionally, I realize late in the semester that I’m enrolled in a math class that I have not attended.

  14. I don’t think I have any recurrent anxiety dreams…in fact, I’m disappointed that I so rarely remember any of my dreams. But once, when I was much younger, I had a vivid dream in which I had left a novel in the bathroom, and instead of going to get it, I tried to pull it to me psychokinetically, and it worked! In the dream, I was so startled that I dropped it partway, but I could feel exactly what it felt like to do it, and when I awakened I found the sensation so convincing that I immediately (and then repeatedly afterwards) tried to do it. Needless to say, it didn’t work while I was awake.

  15. My version of the recurring academic nightmare is that it’s the day before a final exam during the last semester of 3L, and I suddenly remember that I signed up for a course I never attended — a course I need the credits for to graduate. I always figured I was a quick study and had pretty good test-taking skills, so I think that if I can get my hands on the casebook and someone’s notes, and maybe one of those commercial study guides they publish for neurotic law students, I can cram for 24 hours and bullshit my way through a blue book, at least enough to get a passing grade and graduate. But I’m running all over campus and the university bookstore doesn’t have the casebook or materials in stock and, since I haven’t been to the class all semester, I don’t even know which fellow students to ask to borrow notes from.

    I always had this nightmare later, during the last week(s) of intense preparation just before a big trial — based, I assume, on the buried anxiety that there was some aspect of the defense I was overlooking.

    When I was actually in law school taking exams, I used to have another version of the same nightmare — I was back working in the restaurant business, the joint was slammed with customers five deep at the bar, and I realized there were patrons at the end of the bar I would never even be able to get to take their drink orders.

  16. At present it, at least for me, in Safari the sidebar is way down at the bottom of the comment thread, while the sidebar is up top and on the side in Firefox. Having that block on the bottom greatly widens the text field which to me is a good thing.
    It looks very nice either way. Our names are kind of big…

  17. I think a psychologist once said that dreams were a collection of unrelated snippets of information, many derived from stressful events, and then cobbled together by, I think it was the hippocampus/amygdala, into a kind of stream of consciousness, all really meaning nothing in particular. Why they recur- I’m don’t know.

  18. I went back to school in my late 40’s and ended up finishing a B.S. and 2 Master’s. Ever since then my recurring dream has been having multiple term papers due at the end of the quarter and getting closer and closer to due date with no work started (pretty close to how I actually did them). The I get to the last 2 days of the quarter with 4 papers to write, then 1 day, then increasing panic about how I can get them done or how I can graduate without doing them. Twenty years later I am still having the dream occasionally. By far the most disturbing dreams I have.

  19. Yes, I’ve had the dream that it’s the end of the semester and I’m late for class or the final for which I am totally unprepared, sometimes as a student and sometimes as the teacher.

    I also frequently have travel dreams where I’m in a city with which I’m familiar in the dream but not in real life, trying to get from one place to another and being unable to do so. Sometimes I’m late for a flight. Sometimes I make the flight, which takes off but never manages to attain altitude.

  20. 1. The site works fine for me now — thanks!

    2. For an interesting popular account of dreams I always recommend J. Allan Hobson’s “The Chemistry of Conscious States”.

    The account of dreams in the book, is that, though detailed, dreams many times are a confabulation – that is, my impression was that meanings of dreams can simply be an illusion composed of whatever is sitting around on the surface of the brain, like stuff we are exposed to on a daily occupational basis – sometimes.

  21. I have the recurring nightmare that I am in an A level exam (UK exams taken at 18) which I am not prepared for. In my case, my teacher actually taught the wrong syllabus for 18 months, discovering the mistake shortly before the exam, so I seem to be reliving an actual traumatic event. It’s interesting that many people have a similar dream and I wonder whether they are reliving the experience or imagining it.

  22. On my iPad the comment section comes up as a half/ split screen. Dunno if that is due to the upgrade of the OS last night or the redesign from WordPress. I actually think it has more to do with the OS and/or the browser than the site redesign. Yes, and in Safari all the stuff that heretofore has been in side bars is now at the bottom. And I managed to get the split screen to expand to full page by fiddling around. The only constant is change.
    But notifying of new comments is back!

  23. Strange how long formative stressors can last in the mind!

    For years through the 80’s and mid 90’s I played in a large funk tribute band (playing covers, earth wind and fire, etc). As a keyboardist I had a ton of parts to learn for each gig. This was extra difficult because I wasn’t actually a keyboard player by trade, just did it in my off-time, so each gig meant getting my chops back up to snuff.

    This left me with the recurring stress dream. I’d be woken up by a call from someone in my band that we were about to play a concert and I wasn’t prepared: I hadn’t practiced enough, didn’t know my parts, the band was setting up on stage, and…here we go! Total stress mania. Those continued many years after our last gig in ’95.

    Well what happened a couple years ago?

    I get woken up by a call from an old band member: “Hey, we got a gig! We are all getting back together for a re-union! You ready to go?”

    Holy crap, my stress-dream come true! No I wasn’t remotely ready to go and I had the same stress as my actual dream for the next while. (Didn’t actually end up playing the gig for various reasons – the rest of the members did, and are still playing once in a while).

    Which reminds me of my ultimate fear-come-true dream:

    I was exhausted and fell in to a nap. I have a fear of heights and in my dream I was stuck on the side of a mountain, in the snow, trying to cling on, but my grip and my body kept slipping, threatening to plunge me down the side of the mountain. One “slip” in the dream was so violent it woke me out of my dream….only to find myself ON THE LEDGE OF A MOUNTAIN PEERING DOWN A SHEER ICE STREWN CLIFF! It was utterly disorientating, like waking up from a nightmare only to find it was real.

    The fact was: I’d joined a day trek up the side of a local volcano in Chile, laboriously climbing using crampons on feet to dig in to the ice/show in scaling the side, and the whole bit. Nearing the top we’d stopped for a moment, just on the sheer side of the volcano. Seems as soon as I lay back I was so exhausted I fell asleep…had the dream because in fact my body WAS trying to cling to the side of the volcano, and woke up disorientated forgetting I actually was clinging to the side of a volcano!

  24. As for dreams- recurrent anxiety dreams relating to school and work have tapered off in the last few years. I kind of miss them. And I seldom recall dreams, other than fleeting glimpses these days. At one time I trained myself to lucid dream but have neglected the discipline of late. In those the metaphorical and bizarrely imaginative nature of one’s mind is quite evident.

  25. Testing out my access … like the new format … miss being able to scroll from one post to the next using the next and last feature at the top though.

    Regarding dreams … generally they vary but the theme is something is always inhibiting obtaining my objective.

    Occasionally, very occasionally I have had flying dreams where I could I could fly; essentially in Douglas Adams’s words, throwing myself at the ground and missing. I can fly so long as I don’t try to control or focus on the act of flying.

  26. New layout looks good but I’ll miss the numbering system which made it easy to go back and find a comment. Editing- great!

    The only dream I recall is when I wake up in a panic every 2-3 weeks because I haven’t prepared a lesson for class X that day – this is now eight years into retirement.

  27. Interesting. I wish I remembered my dreams, but I very rarely do. I know we all dream, even those of us who might think we don’t, but I retain no memory of my night-time adventures.

    New layout looks good! Though I liked being able to like comments and it seems you can’t like posts anymore.

  28. well at 81 I still have the exam dream – it’s usually the advanced applied mathematics exam (the one with Laplace transforms). I also have a major recurring theme of being in an enormous engineering plant full of enormous machines or else an enormous office building. Both have a maze of corridors and walkways many of them blocked but not until I round a final corner. I’m trying to find a way out. Only once did I ever find it, quite recently, only to find myself on the wrong side of the mile long building from my car.

  29. I don’t have a recurring dream, but I do know the shortest “lost in New York City joke:” A tourist cautiously approaches a local New Yorker and asks, “Sir, can you point me to the nearest subway station, or should I just go f*#k myself?”

    1. I spent a couple of years in a relationship which I knew deep down wasn’t right. Every night I dreamt I was in some large shadowy house with other people I didn’t know, and every turn through the cobwebby corridors brought me closer to the center of the house, where the devil was waiting for me. Every night I’d wake up in a sweat of fear before I got there.

  30. Off topic, but not totally …

    The most haunting dream film I ever screened was L’avventura (1960) with Monica Viti. It has the exact weirdness of things happening that are impossible, but made okay to accept because we somehow know we are dreaming. The film never specifically tells you it is a dream, and I never see any analysis that claims it, but it is so obvious.

    At one point, a small boat approaches an island. It does not look unusual or overcrowded. But when it docks, we see just the embarkation point, and person after person gets off. Far too many to be real. It is truly odd, in a poetic way. There are many other scenes that support my claim, including the very last shot.

  31. I infrequently remember my dreams, but just the other night I had a school anxiety dream of the standard sort. I was on some unknown campus and suddenly remembered I had classes to attend right away. I began walking but then realized the semester was already well under way and I had not attended any class yet. I’d be miles behind! I also realized I could not remember where my schedule of classes with room numbers was. And where were my books and papers? I was getting pretty panicky. Then I woke up.

    (This is an edit. Woopie! I can correct my spelling).

  32. The new layout seems nice, but I still can’t get the website to work on my iphone.
    It keeps re-loading and timing out. Anyone else having this problem?

  33. I have two recurring dreams, one of which I call a “Bad House” dream, because I am in a location that should be familiar to me, like my current residence, the house where I grew up, or a relative or friend’s place, but there are things wrong with it. There are rooms, hallways and other features that don’t belong there, and it is frequently populated with people who shouldn’t be there, separated by time, distance or death.

    My second recurring dream is that I discover that my late wife isn’t actually dead, but has been called to work towards some end she cannot talk about. In these dreams, I try to persuade her to come back to resume our life together; she wants to, but she has to wait until her mysterious errand is complete. A variation of this has the return of an old girlfriend.

    Sometimes, the two are juxtaposed – the familiar but alien setting and the presence of my wife.

    There have been times these dreams were so vivid that I woke not realizing that I was actually in my own current home, in bed with my cats.

  34. I have a question about dreams. Although in my dreams I have sight and hearing, and perhaps touch, I do not recall a dream in which I can smell or taste. Do other people have dreams with smell and taste?

  35. I am a retired accountant ( corporate not public) and a frequent dream is my trying to solve an accounting problem and discussing it with the company CEO. The problem never gets solved and when I wake from the dream I continue trying to solve it until I realize two things. First, the whole premise of the problem makes no sense and second, that’s it’s a dream so why am I worrying about it.

    Another recurring theme in my dreams is driving or walking somewhere that should be easy to find but when I turn what should be the right corner the city looks subtly different and I no longer know where to go.

  36. I had many interesting dreams.
    Seven years ago I dreamed that I was running around the city for a long time, I finally stopped and started looking around myself, remembering the details, the buildings, the light from the lanterns and the general mood of the moment. Then I forgot about that dream, only to remember it after five years of actually running about the city for a long time, finally stopped and started looking around me, remembering details, buildings, light from street lamps and general mood in a moment.

    In fact, I was repeating the same movements that I did 5 years ago “while sleeping”

    As if I was doing the same thing twice as a reflection in the mirror with a slight delay.I repeated what I had done while sleeping with precision as if I had been imprinted in the same form on a film (this is a metaphor)

    [wish I had telepathic witnesses who could testify to this strange phenomenon 😉 ]

  37. In addition to my recurring lab nightmare, as mentioned in response to Janet Dreyer in #4 above, I have a dream a bit like PCC(E)’s. I have decided to walk to a specific place, often but not always in London, only to find myself in unfamiliar surroundings. I feel sure I know which way to go, but I always end up getting further away from my destination, often getting into country lanes or even fields. This of course means that I am late for whatever I am supposed to be doing, and I wake up in a state of some anxiety (and, about 30 seconds later, relief).

    I am intrigued not only by my own recurring dreams, but by those of others, like those detailed above. I wish I knew what’s going on! Does anyone know of any serious work (not pseudo-scientific pop psychology) that throws any light on the phenomenon?

  38. My version begins very optimistically. I’m back in my old high school and thrilled to be there. I am finally ready to do the reading and study hard, at least in history. Oh dear, can’t find my locker, which has my textbooks inside it. Also, don’t have a copy of my schedule. No problem! I will go to the guidance office and they will have everything I need. Oh dear, I can’t find the guidance office. I wander the halls interminably, looking, looking, and eventually wake up. So sad.

  39. I wouldn’t call myself an academic, at least not in the sense of what—I assume—is the level of education among most of the regular contributors to this blog. I have a bachelor’s degree from a state school in the Midwest.

    My recurring dream: I arrive at a final exam—typically an hour late—for a class I hadn’t even realized I was enrolled. I never actually take the exam, nor do I ever interact with the professor. My fear is that, because of this oversight, I’ll never graduate from college.

  40. My recurring dream is the actor’s variation of the “academic exam” dream…I’m on stage with no idea what my lines are, or in many cases even what play it is!

  41. I have recurring style dreams, but not a particular one.
    The ones I do have are where there is a task of some kind the completion of which is always beset by one problem or another and I never quite get there.
    I love dreams and dreaming and have never had a nightmare as an adult.
    I like waking up in the middle of a dream and being able to go back to sleep and hopefully play the second reel of the story.

  42. Anxiety dreams like the ones about college exams sort of make sense to me. But I don’t understand why our waking anxieties are so often not the source of our anxiety dreams. Why do our brains send us back to these other times and places to work out our fears (or do some other work)?

    I loved taking exams when I was a student. It was never a source of anxiety. But my waking anxieties are about teaching (not taking) university courses: I’m a good but not great teacher, and I really like my students, but I am endlessly anxious about failing to do a good job. The start of every semester is fraught with worry. And yet I never dream about my teaching fears, while I do occasionally dream about being caught out unprepared for a course I never attended and an exam I never studied for.

    It’s almost enough to make a person a Jungian.

    1. I read long ago that the base source of dreams is the rudimentary emotion. The brain then goes around looking for a dramatic situation to match the emotion to try to put it into some context. Don’t quote me on that.

  43. Back when I was an actor, I’d get through productions generally okay but, about a week or so after we’d closed, I’d dream I was in the dressing room and could hear my cue coming up. Racing up the corridors, I’d pound into the wings only to find myself enveloped in the curtains. No way out, and the cue is but three words away. Just making it out of the curtains, into the bright lights dead on time, but shocked that I’d forgotten to put on my costume and was stark naked. Wake in a sweat.

    Now retired for many a year but have recently been dreaming I’m to be in a play again – generally tonight, and onstage in an hour or so – but I haven’t learnt my lines, can’t find my costume or I’m the other side of town, two hours away. Weird.

    Really heavy stress and anxiety though produces a recurrent nightmare where the wall at the opposite end of the bedroom explodes through with a storm of giant black spiders – an utterly terrifying spectacle that wakes me screaming. Not too good for the neighbours either, I’m sure.

  44. Right out of college I worked for 8 years as an elementary schoolteacher. Even after switching to a completely unrelated career in industry and now being retired for 12 years, I occasionally have panic dreams about an elementary classroom. In some of the dreams I am partially or completely naked. Other times I am unprepared for the lesson and an administrator is there to evaluate me. I have no idea what all this means or why the dreams continue.

  45. I have similar “exam” and “paper not done” dreams and it has been 17 years since I graduated law school. I wake up so happy, realizing “Oh, I’m actually an attorney so it must have worked out OK.”

    If you have your “Bewildered in NYC” dream again, professor, with all our confusing streets, just email me in the dream and I’ll pick you up. We’ll have a glass of wine and wait for the dream to pass.
    hehhe
    best,
    D.A.,J.D., NYC

  46. I have many recurring dreams, the ‘unprepared for the exam’ being only one of many.
    I also have this dream we are preparing for an operation, but we never get started because of all kinds of things intervening, by the time it is midday without having started, I generally wake up.
    Strange thing is that I have several completely different ‘narratives’, at least a dozen or so, which may go on in a next dream, sometimes months or even years apart. Occasionally one narrative segues into another.
    My best dreams are where I can fly, albeit with great effort at take off.
    In fact, the best dreams are where my mother is still alive and sharp (she died with Alzheimer’s), you see this dementia was all a mistake, nephrotic insufficiency now solved, etc. They rarely end well, for one reason or other her death comes back before I wake up, like when I’m complimenting her on how nicely her daughter (my sister) and her husband were organizing her cremation (tilt! and I wake up).

  47. I usually dream lucidly, but my weekly recurring dream is never lucid. I am in a hotel room in a village in southern Europe. I and my coworkers have completed field work, and a bus will collect us at the hotel and drive us to the next locality after breakfast. Hammers, chisels, bags of rock samples and dirty dishes lay strewn on the floor, desk and chairs. A clock shows that I have almost two hours to pack and eat breakfast. I begin to tidy up, but the clock now shows that the bus will leave in five minutes. In panic, I throw my belongings into a rucksack and run to the reception and out the entrance to see the bus driving away without me. I wake up with my heart racing.

  48. I have a few recurrent themes to my dreams. I’ve certainly had a few that were late for class/exam or not having studied for the exam, like you, but I haven’t had any like that for quite a while now.

    In other, more recent, dreams, I’m either being chased by someone or someone’s invading my home. I never find out who or why I’m being chased or invaded and waking up with my heart racing from either trying to fight back or just straight up hiding.

  49. Wanted to share a similar one. I completed graduate school at MIT in 2012, and since then have had different variations of a “can’t find the classroom” dream every few months or so.

    In almost all versions, the dream starts mid-way through a semester, and I realize that I haven’t yet attended any sessions of some or all of my classes. It occurs to me that I’ll likely fail the courses if I don’t immediately begin attending, but I don’t know where to find the classrooms.

    In some instances, I get lost navigating various MIT websites to find out which courses I’m registered for and where/when they are held, but can never seem to find my credentials or the right page. In others, I wander endlessly through strange versions of the campus that are most certainly not Cambridge, MA looking for a specific building that I usually can’t find. Occasionally I do find the room, but I’m late and/or discover that I’m already so far behind in the course that catching up is hopeless. I could go on with more examples, but these are the most common.

    I usually wake up right when I reach the peak of a distressed state after realizing that it is in fact “too late”. Similar to you, I’ve never been able to pin down what this means, especially since I never found grad school to be particularly stressful, and rarely missed a class. I suppose it could be a metaphor for missing something else in life, but I haven’t been able to figure out what!

  50. Like many others here, I have the usual academic dreams, e.g. finding out I didn’t take a required course for graduation even though that was over 50 years ago. I don’t think I have seen anyone mention recurring water disaster dreams. Mine usually involve huge rainfalls around our mountain home with ever-enlarging streams rushing past our house. Another water dream involves huge waves with rising tides crashing into our house. Dreams are weird.

  51. It sounds like you already kind of know what it means!
    Sounds like your Subconscious is trying to work through your worries about being late and come up with solutions that can help you!
    Maybe before falling asleep set an intention for your dreams to reveal more to you about what could helps you most in the future!
    Learning to receive wisdom from our dreams is an incredible gift!

      1. I do often get told I capitalize too much. XD
        All I’m really saying is that if your dream is reoccurring it likely has a deeper meaning trying to express itself which could help you in current waking life.

        1. You mentioned, “In this way the dreams resemble the “frustration dreams” involving exams and classes. What does this mean?”
          I was suggesting that you already see a correlation, that your Subconscious (mind) is trying to work through a situation that’s causing you anxiety.

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