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Dream Article

Why we dreamed about floating down stairs when we were kids

Floating down the stairs in your dreams has become a hotly-discussed phenomenon on Reddit – why do so many of us remember having that one, same dream?

I vividly remember the first time I dreamed about floating down the stairs. Drifting off to sleep after a lengthy session on the Game Boy, I could hear a familiar voice calling out my name and an odd compulsion to go and investigate. Standing at the top of the stairs, my body all of a sudden became weightless and I began to levitate in a way similar to when Mario develops cape ability and can fly. For what seemed like an eternity, I slowly floated to the bottom of the stairs, with my feet completely above the ground at all times. As soon as I landed, I could see the silhouette of a distinctly male figure facing away from me. But, before he could turn around, the dream was over and my seven-year-old-self woke up feeling strangely relaxed. The next day at school, the vast majority of my friends shouted back “me too” as we all discussed the dream and how we had managed to use our souls to fly. 

The benefit of hindsight would suggest me and my friends were liars, or just fucked up kids on the same wavelength. However, a quick Google search reveals this is a somewhat of a global phenomenon. Having read up on hundreds of accounts online, two things quickly become apparent; the majority of floaters were below 10 when they experienced the dream and also appear to be in my generation. Reddit user awESOMEkward remembers: “I suppose I was about three years old. I was standing at the top of a carpeted staircase, about 12 steps in total. For some reason, I knew I could jump down them unharmed. And so I did. I floated down the stairs, and I remember feeling very protected as if something was carrying me.”

Another Reddit user, MissLilyAnne,adds: “I was going to jump from the very top of the stairs but when I jumped, I ended up floating down instead, with the tips of my fingers just lightly touching the banister as I was floating down. I was highly aware that it was strange as it was happening yet I wasn't scared but more joyous.”

Others see the dream as evidence of an out-of-body experience; a term widely attributed to physicist George Tyrell and his 1943 book Apparitions, and with a history that harks back to the Ancient Egyptians, who presented the ‘soul’ as having the ability to hover outside of the physical body. Londoner James, now 27, remembers: “When I was very young I had regular dreams where I would float down the stairs and also around my house. I even used to float to positions in the ceiling where I could hide and I’d look down as my parents were arguing. I was using my muscles to control the movement and I still believe it was an out-of-body experience.”

So what could the floating dream mean? And could us floaters actually be remembering some sort of astral projection? Interestingly, Professor Martin Conway, head of psychology at London’s City University, admits his own 29-year-old son has had the same dream. However, he says the dream is "most likely" just another example of collective false memory. “It isn’t uncommon to remember these crazy experiences that become widely shared. Thousands of people every year still remember God sending them down to earth be born or having watched news reports of Nelson Mandela dying while in prison in the 1980s. The reality is obviously very different.”

Conway is particularly interested in how the floating dream has had such a profound impact on a generation born in the 80s and 90s. This is something he says would give any scientist “pause for thought”. His theory is that my comparison to a floating caped Super Mario is more than just a coincidence. “You were the first generation to be brought up in video game culture and characters like Sonic drift and float around very dreamlike landscapes. Maybe there’s a link?”

“You were the first generation to be brought up in video game culture and characters like Sonic drift and float around very dreamlike landscapes. Maybe there’s a link? – Professor Martin Conway

According to dream psychologist and expert Ian Wallace, who has been researching dreams for over three decades, the earliest published report of the floating dream dates back to 150 A.D. and in Oneirocritica, the writings of Artemidorus, an ancient Greek astrologist. He says the primary reason reports of the floating dream, of which he claims to have “tens of thousands” in his archive, have become so popular among millennials is because of their access to publishing tools such as the internet. He says he has spoken to people born in the 1920s who also share the dream.

Wallace says the dream is the brain’s way of processing a new skill. “I’ve spoken to people who have had this dream that live in bungalows and yet they still remember floating down a staircase – that isn’t a coincidence,” he says. “Nearly everybody I speak to experiences the floating dream when learning a new important skill in their life and that’s because the stairs represent the step-by-step process of your brain turning a procedure into an unconscious process. Once you learn to ride a bike, it becomes an unconscious skill and the floating dream signifies the process of getting to that stage.”

“The stairs represent the step-by-step process of your brain turning a procedure into an unconscious process” – Ian Wallace

I tell Wallace that my father passed away unexpectedly, just a few years before my various floating dreams. He confidently responds: “The voice you heard was that of your father, as many people who float hear the voice of a person they’ve recently lost. The dream forms part of the grieving process or letting go of something. The floating is about becoming more relaxed in your self. Much like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Steps of Grief theory, the steps in your dream represent how your brain was gradually learning to move on.”

Interestingly, Luke, a 26-year-old, was also called downstairs by a familiar voice. “It was always my mother calling in the floating dream, which was strange as she had moved out the house at that point and was very ill in the hospital.”

But what of those who claim dreaming allows them to activate their soul? Thomas Graham Brown, a neurophysiologist popular in the 1920s and a contemporary of Freud, claimed the human brain continuously generates unconscious imagery, which we only process when dreaming. “That animus is what your soul is. The idea of the soul comes from that image generator in your brain,” claims Wallace.

The floating dream is a very real thing of which Wallace continues to receive “dozens” of annual testimonies. But it isn’t a coincidence that it primarily impacts young people. He explains: “When you’re a kid that’s when your brain is learning the most so that’s why you commonly experience the floating dream then. It’s as simple as that. However, older people learning a new skill are just as likely to have this dream. And they do.”

While it is difficult to argue with an expert and best-selling author, who wrote the Complete A-Z Dictionary of Dreams, for those who experience floating down the stairs, it isn’t always so easy to explain. “I know I wasn’t dreaming,” passionately argues one user on the 'Unexplained Mysteries' forum, who weirdly claims he could float down the stairs in everyday life as a child. Another user mocks: “I remember being this chubby little kid who tried to float down the stairs with my Batman costume; I failed every single time.”

Did you ever have this dream? Tell us about it in the comments.