By Claire Schild

Dear Claire,

The following dream happens regularly, but in different ways. However, the focus of the dream is always the same; I will be dreaming that I can’t breathe. It happens in many situations. Sometimes, it is because something is causing me to be unable to breathe. Like I am in a small room, and there is no air. Or, I am in an area filled with fumes. Most of the time, it is just a feeling of not being able to breathe or a feeling of weight on me, squeezing me, and not allowing me to breathe. In my dreams, my lungs will sometimes hurt or feel heated or pressed, and then I will wake up. In fact, I always wake up right after dreaming that I can’t breathe. Thank you for any information you can provide me with.

As noted in previous columns, dreams fall into different categories. Some dreams are merely expressions of what is physically happening to the dreamer at that time – hunger, thirst, discomfort, and such. Other dreams are merely a review of daily events and experiences, where the brain decides how to process and store information for future use. Another type is the illogical and/or total nonsense dream – perhaps the by-product of brain metabolism or the result of falling asleep with a TV or radio turned on too loudly. And then there are those dreams which have great significance and/or symbolism, and most dreamers know when this is the case. This is the dream that often leaves a lasting impression, can cause great emotion and/or reflection, or keeps returning – sometimes, for years on end. The above dream about being unable to breathe appears to be either a physical or a symbolic dream – and, in either case, this dream is one of significance and needs to be taken note of and addressed.

In a dream, breath is commonly thought to represent life and life force. Breath can also be a symbol for the human spirit, as well as a universal spirit. As a matter of fact, the word for the act of breathing, “respirate,” is a derivation of the word “spirit” – which comes from the Latin “spiritus,” meaning “breath.”  The word “inspiration” derives from this word, as well, and it is these meanings and connections that give the act of being able to breathe, or not being able to breathe. such great significance and/or symbolism in a dream. In many religions, the god’s breath brings about human life, further demonstrating the dream significance. Because, in the final analysis, without breath, there can be no physical life. If this is a symbolic dream, the inability to breathe would indicate that this dreamer is somehow feeling stifled or “unable to breathe” in either her work life, social life, or personal/home life – perhaps, the result of being involved in some situation or relationship which is stifling or oppressing. Furthermore, this inability to breathe could also be a reflection of the fact that this dreamer’s life, in general, needs new life and new breath—and, as a result, she has an overall feeling of being trapped, oppressed, or suffocated. If this could be the root of her recurring dream, then this dreamer needs to identify and address what, or who, could be squeezing the life out of her in her waking world.

However, there is also the very strong possibility that this is not a symbolic dream whatsoever; that it is, instead, a physical dream, acting as an “emergency warning signal” being sent from the brain to alert the dreamer to potential physical problems or life-threatening issues. Accounts of people being made aware of serious medical conditions by way of their dreams are numerous. Furthermore, there are medical conditions which can cause an inability to breathe while sleeping. Because the brain sends us important messages by way of recurring dreams, this could actually be a physical issue which needs medical attention. For this reason, it would be advisable for this dreamer to have a thorough physical examination in order to determine why she feels like she cannot breathe when she is sleeping.

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