I have a recurring dream. Actually, I have a few—one is about dismembering a body (I’d rather not get into it), but the more pertinent one is about college. It’s the end of the semester, and I suddenly realize that there is a class I forgot to attend, ever, and now I have to sit for the final exam. I wake up panicked, my GPA in peril. How could I have done this? Why do I so consistently self-sabota—oh. Then I remember I haven’t been in college in more than a decade.
Someone with intimate knowledge of my academic career might point out that this nightmare scenario is not that far removed from my actual collegiate experience, and that at certain times in my life, it did not take the magic of slumber to find me completely unprepared for a final. And, well … regardless of what may or may not be true of my personal scholastic rigor, I suspect the school-stress dream is quite a common one. Even among nerds.
Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher at Harvard University and the author of Pandemic Dreams and The Committee of Sleep, confirmed my suspicion. She rattled off a few common school-dream variations: The dreamer has to rush to an exam after having overslept, or they can’t find their classroom, or they prepared for an exam by studying the wrong subject, or they sit down for an exam and the text is in hieroglyphics, or they show up to school nude. “It’s a really common theme,” she told me. “And it’s common not only for people who are still in school … It’s a very common theme for people who are far into adulthood, who have been out of school forever.”