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What Does It Mean If You Dream About Dying?

by Jimmy Leonard | Updated 20 Apr 2024

Sueño Labs does not provide medical advice. See our terms and disclaimers.

A ghostly specter over a person dreaming about death
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Dreams about death can be chilling. You might wake up with feelings of sadness and isolation, or you might just be genuinely freaked out. Yet dreaming of your death or the death of a loved one is far more common than most people realize, and it’s often profoundly symbolic.

One of the most common misconceptions about a “death dream” is that it’s some kind of premonition. Hollywood depictions and scary ghost stories don’t help with this, and there are certainly people who have described profound spiritual significance to dreaming about death and the afterlife. But in most cases, psychologists agree that dying or attending a funeral in your dream is nothing to fear.

Dream interpretation gets tricky because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but there are some common circumstances associated with subconscious thoughts of death. If you’ve recently had a dreamland encounter with the Grim Reaper, here’s what it could mean.

Dreams About Death

Why We Dream About Death

We already know that dreams are highly symbolic and metaphorical. It’s hard to think of something more figurative than death. Think about how casually we say things like, “You’re killing me” or “I’m starving” or — to channel my inner Gen Z — “Slay.”

That’s not to say real-world loss isn’t a factor. A psychology study in 2020 analyzed dream reports of 200+ participants whose romantic partners had recently passed away. The study authors concluded that dreams about dying generally fall into three categories:

  • Processing trauma
  • Maintaining a bond
  • Regulating emotion

Nightmares and anxiety dreams are extremely common after a traumatic event, and most experts agree this is the brain’s way of processing what just happened. Losing a loved one is confusing and upsetting, and sometimes your subconscious is simply trying to work that out: What happened here? Did I do something wrong? How do I feel about it? What do I do next?

In the same way that we often think about someone in our waking lives, dreaming about someone who’s passed away could simply just mean that you miss them. It’s the literal fulfillment of saying, “I wish Grandma was here right now. She’d know what to do.”

Alternatively, dreams can also be about the death of an idea. Maybe you have a big transition happening in your life — new job, relocation, new relationship, new baby, surgery, or anything that changes your day-to-day. We experience change as loss. In other words, your brain is going to focus on the old thing “dying” more easily than it will conceptualize the new thing “coming to life.” Kind of a bummer sometimes, but that’s just how it works.

Finally, you might have a dream about death simply because it was on your mind. Maybe you watched a scary movie right before bed and then you dreamt that a clown was chasing you with an ax. Next time, just read a nice book and sip some chamomile tea instead of freaking yourself out.

Dreams About Yourself Dying

Let me guess. You had a dream your daughter-in-law killed you for the money. She thinks you left them in the will.

No? At Sueño Labs, we talk to a lot of people about their dreams, and in our (informal, unscientific) surveying, it seems that dreaming about yourself dying is more common than dreaming about someone else dying. As is often the case in dream interpretation, it’s important to focus on how the dream makes you feel.

Sometimes dreaming about dying is actually kind of peaceful. Maybe you say your goodbyes, you’re surrounded by people you love, and you float down a winding river at sunset. I don’t personally have those kinds of death dreams, but for some people, these images can represent acceptance of a change in their lives.

The more common experience is to have a violent dream about your death. These are frequently experienced as nightmares, but not always. You might wake up in a cold sweat, heart thumping, mind racing — or you might just wake up feeling a heightened sense of alertness. In any case, these dreams are usually correlated to a change in your life that you’re experiencing as a loss or is causing some resistance.

For example, let’s say you’re contemplating quitting your stressful job, but you’re fearful about the change. You’ve talked to your best friend about it for advice, and they’ve suggested you should take a risk and follow your heart.

This normal situation could manifest as you dying in an avalanche (“mountains of work consuming you”), your best friend stabbing you (“they want you to change, and they’re pointing to your heart with a knife”), or even a suicide attempt (“only you can make this change”). It’s freaky, but it’s actually your brain’s healthy way of processing the big decision.

For lucid dreamers, I’ll throw out that sometimes a dream about death is akin to a “game over” message. Maybe you’re flying through a city and you crash into a skyscraper. The logical part of your brain thinks, “Wait, that would hurt! Wake up, quick!”

Dreams About Other People Dying

Apply the same death is change logic, and a dream about someone else dying could indicate your own trepidation about change in a relationship. For example, if you dream that your child dies (hands down, the scariest dream a parent can have btw), it could be as innocuous as your brain realizing that your little baby is growing up and the relational dynamic is changing between you.

Some psychologists believe that dreaming of someone else dying could signify unresolved issues with that person or a fear of abandonment. In some cases, it’s more literal. If you have an ill, elderly family member, you may dream about what your conscious mind knows is coming soon.

Dreams About Attending a Funeral

On that note, sometimes a funeral dream is mental preparation for a funeral that you will have to attend in real life. Especially if you know the person in the casket, this type of dream is a contextually specific manifestation of an otherwise typical dream about death.

It’s interesting when you don’t know the person whose funeral you’re attending, or it never comes up. Maybe you realize you’re at church during a funeral service, but you don’t bother to wonder whose memorial it is. In this case, a funeral likely has ceremonial symbolism. Maybe a season of your life is coming to an end, and your brain is marking the passage of time.

Dreams About Animals Dying

If you haven’t had a stress dream about your fur baby dying, are you even a dog mom?

The most common reason to dream about your pets dying is that you love them like they’re people. You’re concerned about them and anxious about your life without them. You will definitely come across some theories of dream interpretation that say a part of your spirit comes in animal form, so seeing a dead animal is an introspective analysis of “part of you” dying. Your mileage may vary on that one.

Dreams About Killing Someone

No, it doesn’t mean that you have some repressed murderous rage. I mean, I suppose it could mean that. But usually not.

Think about how we use the phrase in waking life: “Great job in that meeting today! You killed it!” In a metaphorical context, killing something is often conquering it. You’ve solved a problem, overcome a challenge, or removed a psychological barrier. You did it. Go you. Slay.

If you dream about killing someone you know, it’s likely just a more intense version of a “someone else dying” dream. You could be frustrated with them or upset about something you said to them, but it’s a perspective on your relationship, not your inner Mr. Hyde.

Conversations with Dead Relatives

If you’ve never experienced this, it’s powerfully cathartic. Dream conversations with dead relatives are highly personal experiences, so it’s tough to generalize their meaning. It mostly depends on your relationship with the person in real life, but I’ve heard far more stories of people receiving words of comfort and encouragement from loved ones than words of accusation or ridicule.

Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you may have a conviction that the person’s soul has moved on to an afterlife, but it can be reassuring to know that a loved one still lives in you as a cheerleader and advisor.

Coping Mechanisms for Dreams About Death

I tried to end this article on a happy note above, but it’s possible you may still want fewer dreams about death in your nightly routine. I get that. Here are three tips to take your mind away from dying:

  • Deemphasize the dreams. Reading an article about it is probably a step in the wrong direction here, but it does help to normalize and deemphasize. Remind yourself that dreaming about death is as normal as getting hiccups. Acknowledge that you had a scary dream in the morning, but then start your day. Nothing is wrong with you, and if you go about your business as usual, it’ll relieve some mental stress.
  • No social media before bed. Want to know why your brain is thinking about all your relationship drama and life changes while you’re sleeping? It’s possibly because you spent your last hour of the day scrolling through pictures of people you haven’t seen in a while and mentally comparing your life to theirs. Instead, try some calming meditation before bed that will relax you, not put you on alert.
  • Try lucid dreaming. If you’re having recurring unwanted dreams, lucid dreaming can be a great way to train your mind in how to change the channel. Check out our guide to see what lucid dreaming feels like and some find some easy ways to get started.

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Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy is a marketing content strategist and copywriter who moonlights as the editor of Sueño Labs. He writes about the weird things that happen inside our brains to show they aren't so weird after all.

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