Remembering Your Dreams

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Remembering Your Dreams? Do you remember the dream you had last night? First thing in the morning you might, but later in the afternoon, it’s probably a no-go. That is, if you’re someone who tends to remember your dreams. Others don’t — what does that say about the quality of your sleep?

Remembering Your Dreams
Remembering Your Dreams
“Everyone dreams, but not everyone remembers it,” said Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center.
Dreaming occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) part of sleep, which takes up 20 percent of the night, said sleep specialist Shyam Subramanian, MD, of Mercy Health-West Pulmonary, Sleep and Critical Care in Cincinnati.

If you remember your dream, it could be that you simply woke up during it, so it’s fresh in your mind, said Deborah Givan, MD, medical director of the Riley Hospital for Children Sleep Disorders Center at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. Or it could be that you’re remembering the very last dream you had. People tend to have most of their “dream sleep” in the second half of the night, she explained.

However, whether you recall your dreams doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how restful your sleep is, Harris said. People are more likely to remember their dreams when they’re anxious or depressed, she said, perhaps because they also tend to wake up more when they’re worried, perhaps in the middle of various dreams.

Health problems can affect your ability to remember dreams. Certain medications, including some that treat depression, can suppress dream sleep, said Dr. Subramanian. So can sleep apnea, the condition characterized by short pauses in breath many times while you sleep.

Gender can also influence remembering dreams. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2011 showed that adolescent girls were more likely than their male counterparts to remember their dreams. It’s also common for people who consider themselves creative to have stronger dream memories.

Why should you remember your dreams?

  1. Your dreaming mind has access to vital information that is not readily available to you when you are awake. Your dreams serve as a window to your subconscious and reveal your secret desires and feelings.
  2. In remembering your dreams, you gain increased knowledge, self-awareness and self-healing. Dreams are an extension of how you perceive yourself. They may be a source of inspiration, wisdom, joy, imagination and overall improved psychological health.
  3. Learning to recall your dreams help you become a more assertive, confident and stronger person.  By remembering your dreams, you are expressing and confronting your feelings.   
  4. Dreams help guide you through difficult decisions, relationship issues, health concerns, career questions or any life struggle you may be experiencing.
  5. Remembering your dreams help you come to terms with stressful aspects of your lives.
  6. You will learn more about yourself, your aspirations, and your desires through your dreams.

Why Some Remember Dreams, Others Don’t

People who tend to remember their dreams also respond more strongly than others to hearing their name when they’re awake, new research suggests.

Remembering Your Dreams
Remembering Your Dreams
Everyone dreams during sleep, but not everyone recalls the mental escapade the next day, and scientists aren’t sure why some people remember more than others.

To find out, researchers used electroencephalography to record the electrical activity in the brains of 36 people while the participants listened to background tunes, and occasionally heard their own first name. The brain measurements were taken during wakefulness and sleep. Half of the participants were called high recallers, because they reported remembering their dreams almost every day, whereas the other half, low recallers, said they only remembered their dreams once or twice a month.

When asleep, both groups showed similar changes in brain activity in response to hearing their names, which were played quietly enough not to wake them.

However, when awake, high recallers showed a more sustained decrease in a brain wave called the alpha wave when they heard their names, compared with the low recallers.

“It was quite surprising to see a difference between the groups during wakefulness,” said study researcher Perrine Ruby, neuroscientist at Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France.

The difference could reflect variations in the brains of high and low recallers that could have a role in how they dream, too, Ruby said. [7 Mind-Bending Facts About Dreams]

Who remembers their dreams

A well-established theory suggests that a decrease in the alpha wave is a sign that brain regions are being inhibited from responding to outside stimuli. Studies show that when people hear a sudden sound or open their eyes, and more brain regions become active, the alpha wave is reduced.

In the study, as predicted, both groups showed a decrease in the alpha wave when they heard their names while awake. But high recallers showed a more prolonged decrease, which may be a sign their brains became more widely activated when they heard their names.

In other words, high recallers may engage more brain regions when processing sounds while awake, compared with low recallers, the researchers said.

While people are asleep, the alpha wave behaves in the opposite way —it increases when a sudden sound is heard. Scientists aren’t certain why this happens, but one idea is that it protects the brain from being interrupted by sounds during sleep, Ruby said.

Indeed, the study participants showed an increase in the alpha wave in response to sounds during sleep, and there was no difference between the groups.

One possibility to explain the lack of difference, the researchers said, could be that perhaps high recallers had a larger increase in alpha waves, but it was so high that they woke up.

Time spent awake, during the night

The researchers saw that high recallers awoke more frequently during the night. They were awake, on average, for 30 minutes during the night, whereas low recallers were awake for 14 minutes. However, Ruby said “both figures are in the normal range, it’s not that there’s something wrong with either group.”

Altogether, the results suggest the brain of high recallers may be more reactive to stimuli such as sounds, which could make them wake up more easily. It is more likely a person would remember their dreams if they are awakened immediately after one, Ruby said.

However, waking up at night can account for only a part of the differences people show in remembering dreams. “There’s still much more to understand,” she said.

The study is published online today (Aug. 13) in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

How To Remember Your Dreams

Remembering your dreams is the starting place for learning to have lucid dreams. If you don’t recall your dreams, even if you do have a lucid dream, you won’t remember it! And, in order to be able to recognize your dreams as dreams while they are happening, you have to be familiar with the way your own dreams work. Before it will be worth your time to work on lucid dream induction methods, you should be able to recall at least one dream every night.

Remembering Your Dreams
Remembering Your Dreams
Getting plenty of sleep is the first step to good dream recall. If you are rested it will be easier to focus on your goal of recalling dreams, and you won’t mind so much taking the time during the night to record your dreams. Another benefit of getting plenty of sleep is that dream periods get longer and closer together as the night proceeds. The first dream of the night is the shortest, perhaps 10 minutes in length, while after 8 hours of sleep, dream periods can be 45 minutes to an hour long. We all dream every night, about one dream period every 90 minutes. People who say they never dream simply never remember their dreams. You may have more than one dream during a REM (dream) period, separated by short arousals that are most often forgotten. It is generally accepted among sleep researchers that dreams are not recalled unless the sleeper awakens directly from the dream, rather than after going on to other stages of sleep.

It can be useful while you are developing your dream recall to keep a complete dream journal. Keep the journal handy by your bed and record every dream you remember, no matter how fragmentary. Start by writing down all your dreams, not just the complete, coherent, or interesting ones–even if all you remember is a face or a room, write it down.

When you awaken in the night and recall what you were dreaming, record the dream right away. If you don’t, in the morning you may find you remember nothing about the dream, and you will certainly have forgotten many interesting details. We seem to have built-in dream erasers in our minds, which make dream experiences more difficult to recall than waking ones. So, whenever you remember a dream, write it down. If you don’t feel like writing out a long dream story at 3 AM, note down key points of the plot. Also write down the precise content of any dialogue from the dream, because words will almost inevitably be forgotten in a very short time.

Possibly, all you will need to do to increase your dream recall is to remind yourself as you are falling asleep that you wish to awaken fully from your dreams and remember them. This works in a similar manner to remembering to awaken at a certain time in the morning. Additionally, it may help to tell yourself you will have interesting, meaningful dreams. A major cause of dream forgetting is interference from other thoughts competing for your attention. Therefore, let your first thought upon awakening be, “What was I just dreaming?” Before attempting to write down the dream, go over the dream in your mind, re-telling the dream story to yourself. DO NOT MOVE from the position in which you awaken, and do not think of the day’s concerns. Cling to any clues of what you might have been experiencing–moods, feelings, fragments of images, and try to rebuild a story from them. When you recall a scene, try to recall what happened before that, and before that, reliving the dream in reverse. If after a few minutes, all you remember is a mood, describe it in a journal. If you can recall nothing, try imagining a dream you might have had–note your present feelings, list your current concerns to yourself, and ask yourself, “Did I dream about that?” Even if you can’t recall anything in bed, events or scenes of the day may remind you of something you dreamed the night before. Be ready to notice this when it happens, and record whatever you remember.

If you find that you sleep too deeply to awaken from your dreams, try setting an alarm clock to wake you at a time when you are likely to be dreaming. Since our REM periods occur at approximately 90 minute intervals, good times will be multiples of 90 minutes after you go to sleep. Aim for the later REM periods by setting the alarm to go off at 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours after you go to sleep. Once again, when you wake up, don’t move and think first of what you were just dreaming before writing.

To remind yourself of your intentions and get yourself into the spirit of your dreams, read through your dream journal at bedtime. Learning to remember your dreams may seem difficult at first, but if you persist, you will almost certainly succeed–and may find yourself remembering four or more dreams per night. Of course, once you reach this level, you probably won’t want to write them all down–just the significant or compelling ones. And, the more familiar you become with the style of your own dreams, the easier it will be to remember you are dreaming while you are dreaming–and explore the world of your dreams while still on the scene.


You can improve your dream awareness, said Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. “The most important thing,” she said, “is giving dreams time and attention.” The best time to try to recall your dreams is in the first 90 seconds after you wake up, before the memory goes away. And, she said, keep your body in the exact same position that you were in when you woke up, as this will help boost your dream memory.

Writing down your dreams right away also can help you remember them. “If you don’t write your dreams down or tell your partner, they’ll likely be gone after breakfast,” said Loewenberg.

She also suggests paying attention to nutrition — specifically vitamin B6. Anecdotal reports have shown that vitamin B6 can help with dream vividness and recall, though there have been few clinical studies to prove this. But if lucid dreaming is a desire you have, boosting your dietary intake might be worth a try. Just remember, if you resort to supplements, do not take more than 100 milligrams a day, considered the safe upper limit for adults.

3 Way to Remember Dreams

Method 1 of 3: Before you Go to Bed

1 – Plan to get a good night’s sleep. Dreams occur when our bodies are in the sleeping stage known as REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. The body is at rest, but the mind is active with dreams. If you don’t get enough sleep at night, or your sleep is interrupted a lot, you get less REM sleep, and fewer dreams. Try going to bed every night at the same time, and waking up at the same time every morning, to make sure you’re getting the right kind of rest.
  • Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night to achieve the right amount of rest. People who sleep less than six hours have a hard time remembering dreams, because longer, more vivid dreams take place later in the sleeping cycle.
  • Create a restful sleeping environment. Eliminate noises and distractions that might be preventing you from falling into a deeper sleep. Wear earplugs if necessary, and make sure you have heavy curtains that block out light from outside.
2 – Put a pad and pen or pencil within easy reach of your bed. It’s best if it just has plain paper with no designs or other distractions. Use this pad only for recording your dreams. Before you go to sleep, make sure it is open to the next page on which you can write so you don’t have to search for a blank page when you wake up.
  • Always put the pen in the same spot so that you don’t have to search for that, either.
  • An alternative to writing your dreams is to keep a tape recorder near your bed or under your pillow so that you can verbally recount what happened in your dream.

3 – Keep your alarm close to your bed. If you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you will be more likely to forget what you were dreaming about. Set your alarm to go off after you’ve gotten an adequate amount of sleep. Try not to use a radio alarm clock, since the ads and chatter on the morning show will be distracting. [1]
  • If you can wake up without an alarm clock, you won’t have to worry about turning it off.
  • If possible, try using a gentler way of waking up. Ask someone to wake you gently and without talking to you, or hook up a timer to the lights in your room. Many people find that they are able to better recall dreams if they don’t use an alarm clock.
  • Place a post-it note on the alarm clock, with the words “What did you dream?” or similar in large letters, so that it’s the first thing you see when you open your eyes (and turn the alarm clock off).
4 – Don’t eat, drink alcohol or take medication right before bed. The chemicals in these items can affect your brain’s ability to remember dreams. Try not to ingest anything for at least a few hours before going to bed, so that nothing interferes with your memory or your sleep patterns.

5 – Calm your mind and body before bedtime. Is your brain typically buzzing before bed? Having a lot of stressful thoughts in your head can make it harder to remember your dreams, which requires deep focus. Before you go to bed, let your mind relax and be free of heavy thoughts. Let it drift calmly into sleep.
  • Avoid taking your phone or laptop into bed with you. Emailing and checking texts right before bed doesn’t give your mind the time it needs to clear.
  • Try meditating, or using the classic counting sheep technique, to free up your mind.
6 – Make a conscious decision to remember your dreams. You’ve got a better chance of remembering your dreams if you really want to remember them. Assuming you do want to, tell yourself that you’re going to remember your dreams and conscientiously follow the steps to make your desire to remember your dreams come true.

7 – Think about a major problem or emotional concern right before you fall asleep. Think deeply about the situation without pressing for solutions or coming to conclusions. Just thinking about the problem opens the door, in a sense, to more vividly remembered dreams, and the dreams may even offer more insights regarding the problem at hand.

Method 2 of 3: The Morning After

1 – Concentrate on recalling your dream as soon as you wake up. Typically you can remember only the last dream you had before waking. Don’t move and don’t do anything. Stay in the same position as the one in which you awoke and try to remember as much about your dream as possible before you think about anything else. Think it through from start to finish.
  • While you’re remembering, focus your gaze on the first object you see as you open your eyes. Look at the object; focus on it. That object will most often take the vague recollection of your dream to a place mark in memory where it is easier to recall details. A doorknob, a light bulb, or a nail in the wall, for example, will help you to settle into memories of what you had experienced while sleeping.
2 – Record your dream in your dream journal. Jot down as much as possible about your dream, starting with a basic sketch that includes such things as the location of the dream, the basic plot, the characters, the overall emotion of the dream (i.e. were you scared or happy in the dream?), and any prominent images you can recall.
  • If you can remember any dialogue, you may want to write it down first, as words in dreams are easily forgotten. Record everything you can, even if you can only remember one image. As you get the basics down, more of the dream may come to you.
  • If you can’t remember anything about your dream, write down the first thing that comes into your mind upon waking. It may be related to the dream in some way, and it might trigger recollections. Also write down how you’re feeling when you wake up. The emotions you experience in a dream typically remain, at least for a brief period, when you awake, so if you wake up anxious or elated, ask yourself why.
3 – Increase the number of dreams you can remember by waking up more often in the night. We have several REM cycles in the night, and they get longer and longer toward morning. If you only record the last dream you had before you get up in the morning, there are more dreams you might not be remembering. It’s always tempting to go right back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night, but take the opportunity to remember what you were dreaming before you do—in all likelihood you will not remember it in the morning.
  • Since you usually only remember the last dream you had, you can remember more dreams by waking up several times during the night. We go through a complete sleep cycle approximately every 90 minutes, so you may find it productive to set your alarm to wake you at some multiple of 90 minutes (such as 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours) after you expect to go to sleep. Dreams in the later half of the night are typically longer than those you dream soon after going to sleep, so you probably want to wait until at least the 4.5 hour mark to intentionally wake yourself.
  • This is only recommended for people who get adequate sleep and who can fall back asleep easily. Otherwise, skip this step.

Method 3 of 3: For the Rest of the Day

1 – Keep a notepad or voice recorder with you throughout the day. Often something you see or hear later in the day will trigger a memory of a dream from the night before. Note these recollections without delay, and think about them to see if you can remember how they fit into the rest of the dream. It also helps to continually think about your dreams throughout the day.

2 – Go back to your bed and lie down. Sometimes the memory can be jogged when you assume the same physical position you had while dreaming. Try to put your head in the same place on the pillow, arrange your body the same way, and close your eyes. If the dream comes into your head, think it through before getting up to write it down.
  • It might help to open your eyes and look at the object you first saw when you woke up.
  • Try creating the same atmosphere in the room – close the curtains, turn off the lights, and eliminate noise.
3 – Practice again the next night. Remembering your dreams takes effort and practice. The more you become conscious of your dreams, the more likely you are to remember them. Get into the habit of committing to remembering your dreams and night and writing them down first thing when you wake up. The process will become easier over time.

4 – Notice patterns. Eventually you’ll figure out what factors help you remember your dreams. Try to notice patterns pertaining to the time you go to bed and wake up in the morning, the temperature of the room, what you ate for dinner. Do any of these variables seem to influence your ability to remember your dreams?

…or 5 Tricks for Remembering Your Dreams

Start the Countdown

Don’t you hate it when you’re having an intense dream, filled with sights and sounds so vivid, you’re not sure if you’re asleep or awake? And then all of a sudden…BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, you’re startled by the buzzing of your alarm reminding you it’s time to begin another day. As you rise, your dream steadily fades as fast as you hop into the shower. The pictures that were so clear in your head only minutes ago have dwindled, leaving not a single suggestion of what you were dreaming about. By the time you leave house, your dream is nothing but a distant memory.

Spells of dream amnesia, like this one, are extremely common. In fact, we forget more of our dreams than we retain. And even though remembering our dreams can be difficult, we’ve compiled five unique and effective ways to diminish the overpowering effects of dream amnesia. So click on to the next page to find out how you can wake up remembering your dreams.

1 – The Window Treatment

The meaning of our dreams lies primarily within the fine details, and yet, most of us pass over these in our waking-lives, and even less in our dreams. To focus and recall details in these nighttime reveries requires a refined skill, or just a window with a view.

Take a five minute break from your routine and peer out a window to focus on a scene below you. Let’s say the window overlooks a park. Take in the various colors you see in the sky and in the different trees, grasses, flowers, etc. Identify as many species of plant life as you can. Are the walkways similar to well-worn garden paths, or are they paved or gravel-lined? Study any benches, monuments or other decorative features. Notice any wildlife present or passing through like ducks, birds, butterflies or squirrels. Do you see a lake, pond or a brook? If there are adults in the park, are they walking, jogging or pushing baby strollers? Watch how the children are playing–on swings or slides, or perhaps with toys such as balls or kites. Make note of any vehicles or buildings.

After you’ve taken in the scene below you, take out a notebook and write down everything you’ve noticed. This process of experience and direct reflection is an easy and effective way to remember detail in ordinary life and your dreams.

2 – Rewrite History! Well, Maybe Just Your Day

If gazing out a window isn’t your thing, there are other ways to help encourage dream recollection. An easy way to get in the practice of remembering is to muse over the events of your day, and then flourish it with dream-like touches. Choose a specific occurrence that you enjoyed and pretend it was a dream. Write it down using the present tense, reliving it as you write. For example, you could write about your morning commute to work, or how you spent your lunch break. You could begin by asking yourself these questions:
  • What time do I leave and arrive?
  • What am I wearing?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • What day of the week is it?
  • What is my mood?
  • Do I speak with anyone?
  • How do I travel?
  • Am I alone?
You can extend the exercise for as long as you want while including as much detail as you can. Recalling, considering and recording these real-life details as though they took place in a dream helps train your mind to remember your dreams, and writing out an event mimics writing in a dream journal–an extremely important tool in dream work.

3 – The Power of Suggestion

Another effective approach is to frequently suggest to yourself that you will remember your dreams. Select a short, positive phrase such as, “I remember my dreams easily.” Rather than implying success at some point in the future, you will achieve better results if the statement is in the present tense.

You may want to choose a “suggestion trigger” to remind you to repeat your phrase throughout your day. For instance, every time you look at your watch or at a clock, repeat the phrase (either aloud or in your mind) as though it is an established fact. While doing so, visualize yourself writing out or sketching the details of your dreams.

You could also post reminder notes wherever you will notice them often, such as on your bathroom mirror, in your car or on your computer at work. It doesn’t matter if you write your phrase on the notes or leave them blank, as long as they remind you of your intent.

4 – A Peaceful Start

For many of us, it is much easier to remember our dreams when we wake up naturally rather than to the sound an alarm clock. Waking naturally allows our dreams to linger into our conscious mind as we slowly rise out of REM sleep.

Those who simply cannot live without an alarm clock should take advantage of down time in their schedules. The best time to practice dream recollection is during a weekend or a vacation, when you can maximize your opportunity to awaken with your body’s natural clock. You can also take advantage of extended naps. During naps longer than 20 minutes, the brain goes into the REM stage of sleep, so we dream. If you are able to wake soundly from an extended nap, take advantage of this time to also recollect dreams.

5 – Get Me From My Good Side

Prepping your mind to remember your dreams is essential for dream recollection, but you must remember to prep your body as well. Dr. Patricia Garfield suggests that the position of your body during dreams is essential to recollecting them.

For instance, if you typically sleep on your right side but wake up on your left side and can’t seem to remember your dreams, slowly roll over on to your opposite sleeping position and lie there for a moment. Usually, the dream comes fluttering back and you can start to remember events and instances within it.
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