What Do Episodic Dreams Mean?

Empty picnic table silhouetted with two windows in the background on a dirt floor.

An episodic dream is a dream that continues in episodes over two or more nights.

On the first night, the crowd sat to eat at a long picnic table.

On the second night, more guests arrived and sat around the same table, squeezing together. Someone placed a plate in front of each guest.

The good plates were being used, the dreamer realized. It wasn’t the everyday dishes.

On night three, someone laid silverware next to each plate. The silverware glinted brilliantly.

On the fourth night, a man placed drinking glasses next to each place setting. Then somebody else poured water into the glasses.

Who were these people setting the table? The dreamer couldn’t make out their faces.

That he couldn’t see the people didn’t matter. The table was being set; that’s all that mattered. The dreamer was mentally preparing to start a new job. Everything was falling into place so he could begin.

Even though it took place over four nights, this was all really one dream in episodes. There was a common theme and a definite progression of episodes. One event followed another.

All of the events could have happened in one dream. If the events were amalgamated, it would have made sense. The people could sit down. The plates could be placed. Then the silverware could be placed.

Yet, for some reason, the subconscious didn’t present the dream in that way. By spreading out the same dream over several nights, it was trying to emphasize the importance of the symbols in the dream.

The episodic dream was a communication strategy by the subconscious.

How episodic dreams differ from other types of dreams

Many dreams stand alone. They happen once, then they’re done.

Interrupted dreams start and then are interrupted by waking up. They continue after the dreamer falls back asleep on the same night.

A recurring dream is the same dream over and over with few, if any, changes. It tends to be a type of “period piece.”

An episodic dream, on the other hand, continues over two or more sleeps picking up at a point where the dream continues the story or scene. The subconscious could choose this presentation for several different reasons.

When the subconscious spreads a dream with a particular theme out over several nights, it’s probably trying to emphasize the importance of the subject. Revisiting the same place in dreams underscores something like little other dream content can do. They’re usually dealing with a theme that extends past the events of the previous day.

What does a teacher do when he or she is trying to emphasize the key points of a lesson? Repeat them, right? It’s a similar attention-getting tactic.

If you get a dream with episodes, your subconscious wants you to deal with the theme of the dream, whatever it is. It’s also placing the dream at a time when you’re likely to remember, unlike the other dreams you have during the night.

It’s not about entertaining you while your body rests. It’s about much more than that.

Your subconscious can’t do more than this to let you know this theme is a big deal.

The only way you know it’s doing this is by keeping a dream journal. Your subconscious mind has identified the issues as being very important. You really should deal with them.

Address the situation behind the episodic dream

The people symbolize something. The plates symbolize something else, as do the water glasses, the silverware, and maybe even the picnic table.

Only you know what the dream objects stand for. Whatever the symbols of the dream might mean, the subconscious “can’t get over them.” It adds them in a sequence for impact, focusing on the meaning behind them for emphasis.

There can be a reason for the progression in symbols as well.

When you figure out what your subconscious is worried or ruminating about, it’s a good idea to spend some time addressing the issue, whatever it may be.

The goal is to convince yourself that you’re taking care of the matter. You’re not going to fail through no fault of your own.

Deep down, you’re probably very nervous about the situation, whatever it is.

Maybe nervous isn’t the word for your feelings. Perhaps “concerned” is a better way to put it. Nevertheless, whatever you call this mental state can be a problem without confidence. You’ve got to do what you can to soothe yourself. The best way to soothe yourself is to pay attention to what you’re concerned about. Not only that, but you want to convince yourself that you’re doing all you can. That’s the critical part. You’re the most important person you have to please.

Whatever it is, the problem isn’t that you’re not confident. The problem is that you haven’t done enough work on the issue, so that you feel that you can proceed confidently.

Conversely, if it’s a situation that gives you pleasure, then you’re probably having a dream over several nights because you’re enjoying the thoughts. You’re savoring them. You’re holding on to the moments and appreciating them. Even so, your subconscious is emphasizing the content of the dream.

You’re going to be writing these dreams down in your dream journal, but you may want to journal about them some more. Attack the problem or the question from every angle. State the problem clearly. Write down some possible solutions to the problem. If you implement the solution, summarize the outcome.

Draw pictures. Graph the problem. Clarify what the people and objects in the dream mean. Convince yourself that you’re paying attention to the issue by actually paying attention to it. Convincing yourself starts with writing it down.

Finally, brainstorm practical and impractical ways to solve your problem.

If you don’t, you might think you let the problem fester. You might blame yourself for whatever happens and then have to work through guilty feelings.

For Additional Reading:

The 16 Types of Problems You Can Solve With Dream Interpretation.

Put a Series of Dreams Together to Understand What’s Going On (non-episodic)


James Cobb, RN, MSN, is the founder of the Dream Recovery System, a platform where he and others share what they’ve learned about sleep and dreaming.

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