The Art of Dream Interpretation

Dreams are images or stories that our minds create when we are asleep. They can occur at any time during sleep, but mainly in the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage, when brain activity resembles that of being awake. 

We spend about six years of our lives dreaming – it is a normal and healthy part of sleeping. Everyone dreams between three to six times a night, and the length of a dream can vary. Some can last seconds, while others can last up to half an hour. Most dreams are quickly forgotten, while some can stay in our memory forever.

In order to find out more about why they occur, what they mean and if we can control them, I spoke to Michael Sheridan who has been working as a dreams expert for over 30 years.

Michael, who is originally from Dublin but is living in the United States, is the author of two books and is a radio host. Speaking to me from Seattle, Michael explained to me that his journey started when his sister forced him to attend a dream class by George Rhatigan. With reluctance, Michael eventually attended and according to him, this turned out to be the best thing he ever did.

Michael turned up to the second week of the class and submitted one of his dreams to be interpreted anonymously: “A lady in the class interpreted it, and it described me to a tee, it explained the good and the bad. It wasn’t pretty, it was just factual. It just blew me away and it had the answers to the questions I was asking”.

“After that I was like ‘I am definitely sold on this’ and I just threw myself into it from that point forward. Every class was as good as that, it was just amazing. 30 years later I’m more enthusiastic about dreams than I ever was.”

Michael Sheridan and I via Zoom.

What can your dreams tell you?

Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to your dreams. As Michael explained to me, your dreams can tell you a lot, including if you have an illness: “Everything in your dreams is you. It’s a creation of your mind. Your physical body is represented by physical objects, your spiritual life is represented by symbols of water, your emotional state is symbols of fire, your mental state is symbols of air.”

“If you have a physical health condition, then it will be a physical object in disrepair. So if you have a problem with your digestive system, then you could see that the fridge in the kitchen isn’t working. If there’s a crack in the fireplace it’s to do with your heart, since fire represents your emotional state.”

“Whatever condition you are going to hit, you will see it years in advance in your dreams. Your dreams can warn you so that you can avoid it.”

According to Michael dreams are a “message from your higher self, giving you guidance and healing for things that are happening in your life. They can be a comment on any area in your life. They can be a comment on something that has just happened, or it can be a comment on what your life purpose is, what your gifts are, or what you’re meant to learn in this lifetime”.

“My favourite aspect of the whole thing is spiritual gifts, discovering what your abilities are. Do you have a special writing ability, are you a musician, are you a channel or are you a hands-on healer?”

He further explained that we fully understand our dreams. They are our first language. We dream while we’re in the womb, and we dream all the way through infancy before we can speak. Then we learn language.

Michael stated that dreams are super important: “There are studies done of them all the time. They help us shape our future. Most of the time our higher self has a request of us, and it will take a number of dreams before we actually do something about the request, and then we stop dreaming about it”.

He continued: “Our higher self doesn’t give up. When it comes to the progression of our life, our higher self doesn’t just give us the ten things you need to do. It just says ‘here’s where you’re at, here’s what you need to address and here’s what you need to heal and change’. Until you do that step, your dreams are going to say the same thing over and over. You’ll have a different dream, but the message is going to be the same.”

Vivid dreams

I find that my dreams are very realistic, they are extremely vivid, and 90 percent of the time, I seem to remember them. Michael explained to me why this occurs.

“What it means is that you have a very strong intellect and you rationalise your way through life. You can take a lot of data, figure it out and say ‘this is the best solution for me’. We’re all very creative in our dreams, even if we don’t do any other creative work outside of them.”

Lucid dreams

Lucid dreaming has been studied for many years. It can be described as a type of dream where you become aware that you are dreaming. It’s where your brain is in a state between REM sleep and being awake. During a lucid dream, you may gain some amount of control.

“There are levels of lucidity, and I encourage people to become lucid in their dreams, and then play along. So if there’s something you’re afraid of in the dream, like being chased, turn around and face whoever or whatever is chasing you.”

Michael clarified that if you can become lucid, that’s a fantastic thing and if you can identify guides in your dreams, they can give you a meaningful answer.

“If you re-enter a dream after you wake up, you can do what you should have done in the dream. Sometimes it doesn’t work in one go, it might take a number of attempts across a few days.”


Nightmares are unpleasant dreams and they are common in both adults and children. They can occur due to stress, trauma, illness or emotional problems.

According to Michael, kids dreams are horrific: “If you ask a kid what their dreams are, they get killed multiple times a night. They’re nightmares in comparison to adults dreams”.

Common dreams

There are lots of common dreams and according to Michael, 66 percent of people have most of them.

Teeth falling out is in the top ten most common dreams: “It’s about raising children and everything in the dream is a sideways connection to what it actually is about. We’re animals in the animal world and the one time you’re going to see an animals teeth or claws is if they have young that they are protecting. So, it symbolises that for us too”.

“It can also be about taking a bite out of life, but 90 percent of the time it’s about child rearing. You would definitely have that dream if you discovered your kids have gotten into drugs or something like that, and you feel powerless and helpless. Not having the teeth means you feel incapable of raising your kid.”

Michael pointed out that you can also have the dream before you ever have kids: “that shows that you don’t think you are cut out for it”.

Being chased or running away from something or someone is also a very common dream.

“Anything behind you in a dream is the past, anything in front of you is the future. So if you’re being chased it’s obviously something that you are running away from, so it’s an issue in the past that you need to deal with.”

“Whatever you are trying to avoid in a dream, is something that you have to face. Most of our issues come from childhood. A lot of dreams will bring you back to early days and they will say ‘this is where you lost your confidence’ or ‘you were impacted by whatever at this time’.”

“That’s strange for people, because they think ‘that’s in the past, why do I have to deal with that’, but quite often those things block us today, they hold us back in some way. Our dreams say ‘this is something you need to look at’. When you address it properly, going through that trauma is really going to help you in life going forward.”

Michael explained to me if something is up ahead in your path, then it’s something you are going to come across. So it’s going to happen, or very likely to happen, in your future.

“Quite often in those dreams, it’s around the corner aswell. We even have the expression ‘it’s just around the corner from you’, so our dreams will show it that way too.”

Michael explained that you could dream about a car crash, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean you will be in one. It might mean an event is going to happen that’s going to make you stop and take stock of your life.

If you dream about falling or a plane crashing it means you are “moving from a high location to a low location” and it is “indicative of moving from the spirit world to the physical world, or the heavens to the earth. An aeroplane crash says that it wasn’t an easy entry for you (via birth).”

I often dream about spiders, which I am petrified of. I decided to ask Michael what it really means to dream about our phobias.

He explained to me that if you’re anxious about something at a particular time, then the perfect representation for your anxiety is going to be a phobia.

“The more likely reason you’re going to dream about a phobia is not to actually help you heal it, it’s most likely to bring up how you feel. It could be total fear, or blind panic, whatever the phobia brings up for you, then something in life is causing you to feel an element of that feeling.”

Michael pointed out that dreams are a comment on what went on during the day. Everything is a symbol in a dream, but trying to find the key ones is really the trick. It’s the differences in your dream that are significant, so he advises us to look for them.

“For example you could watch a scary movie, have a bad dream and then put it down to the movie. But you might have watched Dracula and then dreamt about Frankenstein. Or in your dream you could be driving a car and it’s red, but your car in real life is actually yellow.”

Pregnancy is a very common dream, or re-doing the Leaving Certificate. Michael broke these dreams down and stated that they’re super positive.

“Pregnancy is about a new aspect of you that’s about to be born. They’re good dreams. So for instance if you were thinking of changing career or going to college for something new and you had those dreams, they would both be positive and a real encouragement to take that step.”

Another common dream is of your partner dying. When you have decided you are going to commit to a person, that’s typically when you’ll have this dream: “Because now it becomes ‘I don’t want to lose this person’, so you dream about them dying. Dreams are all about us facing our fears.”

But what if you have experienced death and you dream about the person you’ve lost?

Michael translated this for me perfectly. He said that if a parent dies, you may not dream about them for some time. He pointed out that this can confuse or upset people, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing. It might mean you are not ready to dream about them yet.

If you do dream about them, and if that person died from an illness and they are younger and healthier in your dream, then Michael considers that “really good”.

He continued: “It’s their way of saying ‘I’m ok where I am’.”

What about distance in those dreams? What does it mean if they stand far away from you, or stand closer to you?

“That really depends on how much you miss them. If you have any kind of subconscious desire to be with them because you miss them, then they’re going to keep their distance or they might even stay out of your dreams. That’s because that subconscious desire is not good for your health.”

“If you’re aware of that and say to yourself ‘no, I’m committed to living my life fully’, then you’re much more likely to dream about them in more positive ways.”

Overall, my conversation with Michael was truly incredible. To end on a very interesting note, we discussed animals and their dreams: “We know they [animals] dream because they enter the REM state, we can see that. What they dream about, I have no idea!”

To read more about Michael Sheridan, see here.

This article was also published in the Irish Daily Mail’s YOU Magazine on Saturday 11th December 2021.

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