Remembering 'What Dreams May Come'
For the next few weeks, the Mibba Magazine is all about dreams! In this article, I’ll tell you how to remember your own.
Why is it so hard to remember dreams?
Do you ever get the sensation that you had a wild, vivid dream, but no matter how hard you try, you can only recall bits and pieces? This phenomenon is normal, and a result of how our brain functions when we dream. When you are awake, your brain engages in a very specific memory encoding process. You can actually affect how well your brain encodes memories when conscious. For example, you increase your likelihood of remembering something through repetition, like studying for an exam.
But, when you sleep, your brain is an entirely different animal. In particular, the frontal lobe of your brain functions differently, the part responsible for higher mental function like emotion and memories. Dr. Caroline Horton believes that the brain does not ”immediately encode dreams as memories,” which is why you have to try to hard and consciously think about your dreams to have any kind of recollection. Basically, dreams do not become memories automatically.
Science also knows the most vivid dreams occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. When scientists discovered REM sleep in the 1950s, an unexpected result of their sleep study was the amazing dreams participants reported having when woken up during REM sleep. However, REM sleep is the deepest, most potent sleep phase, and we rarely wake up during REM sleep without provocation. Therefore, the dreams you have are often forgotten.
Dream Recollection Tips
With a better understanding of why we forget dreams, you can use the techniques below to help you recall your own dreams.
One of the most powerful things you can do to help recall your dreams is maintain a regular dream journal. Just like using flashcards to study for a test, regularly writing down your dreams trains your brain to process the information and store it as a memory.
Formatting a Dream Journal
Figuring out how to format your dream journal can often be the most complicated part. Some dreamers like the freedom of a blank notebook, while others like structure. Try different things, and see what works best for your dream recording style.
Time and Date
If possible, you should try to record the date and time of your dream to reveal dreaming habits. For example, you may notice that on nights where you go to bed early, you recall the most dreams. You may notice that you always wake up at 3 am with a reoccurring dream, which could be useful information for dream interpretation.
Prompt questions can be a great tool for remembering specific dream details, especially bizarre ones you cannot make sense of. To use prompt questions, you can write them down in a notebook, leaving space to answer, or type up a dream journal template in a word processor and print out pages as needed. Include specific questions about the following:
- Setting: Did the dream occur on earth? Was it a place you’ve been before? What was the scenery like? What year or time period was it? What was the weather like?
- Characters: Are you in your own dream? Can you see yourself? Did you see family or friends in your dream? Did you know the people? Were the characters human? What were their personalities like? Did they look strange?
- Plot: Was your dream pleasant or scary? What were you doing? Do you remember doing something like this before? Did you do something illegal or dangerous? Did you help someone? Did you do something impossible?
- Other: How do you feel, now that you’re awake? Does this dream remind you of other dreams? Does the dream have any symbols? Did the dream feel real?
If you use questions, make sure you allow yourself some free writing room, to ensure you can jot down any fleeting memories that come to you. Prompt questions can also be useful in analyzing your dreams.
Other Dream Journal Tips
- Keep your dream journal as close to your bed as possible, like on a nightstand. The less you have to think about and do before writing down your dreams, the better. Your brain can remain focused on the dream.
- Record your dreams immediately after waking up. Don’t eat breakfast and take a shower first, that gives you time to forget your dreams. This also means if you wake up at 2am and recall a dream, write it down then.
- Use a voice recorder. Many cellphones come with a voice-recording app. By eliminating the process of writing and letting your voice flow freely, you may be able to easily recall information. A voice recorder can also be simpler to use if you wake up in the middle of the night.
If you're interested in keeping a dream journal, you should check out Mibba's current site wide contest, the Dream Journal Challenge.
Keeping a dream journal is the best thing you can do to recall your dreams, but the following tips increase the likelihood that your dream journal will be successful.
Eliminate your Morning Chaos: In order to recall your dreams, you need to be able to relax when you wake up. Make sure you provide yourself plenty of time for your morning routine, and at least 10-15 minutes to ponder your dreams in bed. If you wake up and are immediately worried about making it to school on time or running late to work, you will not recall any dreams.
Set an alarm to go off in REM sleep: The average person goes through a sleep cycle every 90 minutes, with REM sleep being the last phase. If you normally go to bed at 10:30pm, and you fall asleep by 11:00pm, you will be in or completing REM sleep by 12:30am. If you set an alarm to wake yourself during REM sleep, there is a good chance you will recall a very vivid dream. So, if you’ve got a day where you can sleep in during the morning, wake yourself up a few times during REM sleep with an alarm.
Focus on dreams you remember before falling asleep: When you’re lying in bed, read over your dream journal, or think about a dream you recall well. By focusing your conscious mind on dreams, you influence your subconscious thoughts and increase the likelihood that when you wake up from sleeping, you’ll still be focused on dreams. This is also a technique used for lucid dreaming.
Caroline L Horton. Recall and Recognition of Dreams and Waking Events. 2011.
Danilo Hodoba, et al. Dream Recall After Night Awakenings From Tonic/Phasic REM Sleep. 2008.
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