How to Stop Dreaming About Work

dreaming at work

Verywell / Laura Porter

If you've been having the same work-related dreams forever, it turns out you're not alone.

It makes sense, right? In high school and college, many people swapped stories about how they were having nightmares that they missed a test or failed a class—or even that they showed up to a class not realizing that the final was that day.

It comes with the territory of experiencing stress during daily life. One study even confirmed that people who experience worry or stress in their daily lives are more likely to experience them in their dreams.

It also found that the more often you experience stress, the more often you have dreams in general. Not only did people who were more stressed experience more work-related stress dreams, but they were also more likely to interpret them negatively.

Why We Have Work-Related Dreams

As always, remember that your brain is on your team. This study found that the goal of these dreams is to help people process the experiences, both negative and positive, that they have on a regular basis.

Freud even hypothesized that these dreams are potentially the mind's way of dealing with things that it really wants to avoid (due to stress and just general annoyance) during the waking hours of the day.

Self-Determination Theory

Two psychological researchers broke down the three basic psychological needs that we have to feel psychologically fulfilled. In general, when all of these things are present, people are more likely to feel satisfied and push themselves to succeed. These themes are not only likely to influence people's psychological well-being; they're likely to show up in dreams.

  • Competence: This refers to someone's need to feel effective and capable of their pursuits. This is particularly important regarding work, especially if you're starting a new job or proving yourself after a promotion.
  • Autonomy: Everyone wants to feel like they have a sense of freedom and choice, especially in the workplace.
  • Relatedness: This refers to people's ability to feel like they fit in and relate with the community around them. While most people have many different communities (think family, friends, clubs, etc.), work is certainly one of them.

These are particularly relevant to work-related dreams because work is an entirely different environment from everyday life, but still one wherein it's necessary to cultivate satisfaction. Think about it: everyone wants to feel that their co-workers relate to them, view them as competent, and trust them with autonomy.

What Work-Related Dreams Could Mean

It has been pretty widely studied that many of the typical anxiety-style dreams are fairly universal. You know the ones: falling, being caught in a fire, swimming, being chased, being nude, or dressed inappropriately in public. Not only can these dreams reflect feelings of helplessness or uncertainty (things that are pretty common for many people in stressful working situations), they can also reflect the desire for basic psychological needs.

  • If you have dreams about being caught up in confusion when looking at spreadsheets or your to-do list for the week, consider how organized you feel when you're in the office. Then, consider if there's anything you can do to improve this situation.
  • If you have dreams that you're trapped or stuck, you may not feel like you have any autonomy in your workday. Think about why this is and see if there are projects that you can take on that will leave you feeling a bit more fulfilled in this area.
  • If you're having dreams about fitting in or awkward social occurrences, it could be that you don't feel accepted by your colleagues at work. This is particularly relevant for people who've recently started a new job or those who have recently received a promotion or gone through a significant shift at work. Consider some small things that you can do to integrate yourself into your work community better.

How to Unwind Before Bed

Taking the time to properly unwind before bed can be a critical component necessary for a good night's rest.

  • Meditation: Mindfulness has actually been shown to lower anxiety in dreams, and it has also helped people feel more satisfied in terms of the psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. So go ahead and consider meditating before bed or enlisting the help of a meditation app. Whatever it takes to clear your mind.
  • Journaling: Writing down your concerns can help you organize your thoughts so that you're not repressing them. They can also help you better understand things that happened and why. Another form of journaling known as a "worry dump" or "brain dump" can be helpful if you have racing thoughts, stress, or anxiety before bed. Write down a list of your worrisome thoughts without processing them. The goal is just to get them out to help clear your mind for sleep.
  • Limit blue light exposure: Blue light refers to the light that comes from all of your electronic devices, and it can trick your brain into thinking it's still time to be awake and alert. Instead of staring at your phone screen, consider journaling or reading. Make sure you do this at least 45 minutes before you hop into bed.

Habits for Better Sleep

The truth is, your constant work dreams may not be a result of anything that's super obvious. In general, overall health equals a higher sleep quality. That being said, here are a few other things that could help you finally get the good night's sleep you deserve.

  • Exercise: Not only can exercise help curb your overall anxiety, but it has also been shown to increase the total sleep time in healthy individuals.
  • Eat healthily: This may sound like advice you'd get from your mom, but it can actually impact your sleep quality. Make sure you avoid acidic or sugary foods near your bedtime.
  • Therapy: In particular, imagery rehearsal therapy has been studied to help people whose chronic bad dreams are interrupting their sleep. It allows people to replay their dreams while they're awake, during which time they can work to change the narrative to something more positive. Cognitive-behavioral therapy could also be a great way to determine why you're having these dreams and if they're tied to anything from your past.

A Word From Verywell Mind

If your work dreams are getting the best of you, know that there are ways to improve your overall mental health and finally get the good night of rest that you deserve. We're rooting for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Freud, S. (1913/2010). The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Sterling Press.

  3. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behaviorPsychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268. doi:10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01

  4. Nielsen, T. A., Zadra, A. L., Simard, V., Saucier, S., Stenstrom, P., Smith, C., & Kuiken, D. (2003). The typical dreams of Canadian university studentsDreaming, 13, 211–235. doi:10.1023/B:DREM.0000003144.40929.0b

  5. Errguig, L., El Hangouche, A. J., Rkain, H., & Aboudrar, S. (2019). Perception of Sleep Disturbances due to Bedtime Use of Blue Light-Emitting Devices and Its Impact on Habits and Sleep Quality among Young Medical StudentsBioMed Research International. doi:10.1155/2019/7012350

  6. Taylor, S. R., & Drivera, H. S. (2000). Exercise and sleepSleep Medicine Reviews4(4), 387–402.

By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.