“But I don’t Dream!” Many people tell me. I tell them, “no, you really do”. They insist that they don’t. What they really mean is that they don’t remember their dreams.
All of us dream all night long. The most vivid dreams occur in the REM phases of sleep. Depending on the day and the person, we have between four and six REM phases, at intervals of about 90 minutes one from another. Each REM phase is longer than the previous one, the longest being the last one, which is the one that precedes our waking up. That’s why it’s is easier to remember a dream at that moment than in another, especially if you are a beginner dreamer.
In time, as you become a regular dreamer who pays attention and records your dreams, you’ll notice that your brain has a magic bell that rings to wake you up in the middle of the night, sometimes several times, without the need of hearing a sharp sound or the call of the toilet, to allow you record your dreams.
There is an interesting scientific study that proves that, if for any reason, you have one or several nights of disrupted sleep and decreased REM activity in which you won’t dream much, once your sleep and your REM activity get back to normal your brain will compensate and rebound, producing more dreams than usual, so your dream recall will also increase. Your brain wants you to dream!
Factors that Favour Dream Recall.
These are your family environment, your attitude towards your dreams, the things that you do before you go to bed and those you do upon waking up. Let’s examine them in more detail.
People who grow up in a family environment that has sharing dreams as part of the daily routine, tend to remember their dreams naturally. The opposite is also true. If your family environment considers dreams as something unimportant, illogical and meaningless, it will be harder for you to remember them. That is why it’s important to pass this habitude on to our children. If you have young children, ask them about their dreams in the morning, and let them see you and your partner sharing your dreams at the table. In my family we are all dreamers, and this is because both my parents did exactly that.
Attitude towards your Dreams.
It’s important to highlight that if you dream and discard the dreams you have for whatever reason, especially because you attach negative labels to them, you are building a mental wall that dreams finds difficult to get through, and you’ll have more difficulty recalling them. Don’t put negative labels on your dreams!
Before you Go to Bed.
Sleeping well favours dream recall.
The better your sleep, the more you dream, and the more you remember them. That’s why it’s important to get enough sleep and have a good rest. Different things work for different people, but there are general factors that improve your sleep and your dream recall:
- Have a bedroom with a relaxing orderly atmosphere.
- Use a good mattress.
- Control the bedroom temperature and make it adapt for the season you are in.
- Avoid having noisy alarms or watches in the room. Switch your phone to silent mode.
- Do meditation, whichever form you prefer.
- Exercise! Have a workout, do stretch exercises, yoga, run, walk, whatever way of exercising leaves you in a relaxed state of body and mind.
- Play relaxing or meditative music before going to sleep.
- Avoid consuming alcohol, coffee, tea or other any chemical stimulant because they alter your sleep patterns.
- Avoid eating heavy meals for dinner.
One of the tips that you find spread all over the Internet is not to take any medication before going to bed if you want to improve your dream recall. Asking people not to do that is plain ridiculous. What about if you need that medication?!
It’s true that some studies connect some medication and drug use to sleep disturbance, type of dreams you have and dream recall. The most obvious drugs are sleeping pills, anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, and anti-psychotics, which certainly disrupt your natural sleeping patterns. However, the list include also medication as common as anti-cholesterol or steroid antiinflammatories, which might affect sensitive people. Personally, I’ve taken medication of different sorts before going to sleep (painkillers, cholesterol pills, non-steroidal and steroidal antiinflammatories among others), and they’ve have never affected my ability to remember my dreams or the type of dreams I have.
Notepad & Pen or Voice Recorder.
Put a notepad and pen, a voice recorder, or your smartphone (depending on your personal preference), on your bedside to have then at hand when you wake up and remember a dream. If you wake up at night, just record it roughly, so you can use the notes or voice recording to write the dream in detail later on in the day.
The easiest tip to remember your dreams is to want to remember them, and paying attention to them. Before turning off the lights and going to sleep, tell yourself in your mind “I’ll remember my dreams in the morning”. Sometimes it works the first time, others takes a few nights; don’t give up. Probably you’ll begin by recalling dream snippets or short dreams, but if you keep an interest on your dreams, you’ll remember more dreams, and these will be longer and more detailed as time progresses.
Upon Waking Up.
Sometimes we wake up with the dream clear in our memory, so we can jot it down immediately. However, most times, the dream seems to be a fish swimming through an imaginary pond that escapes before we put our hands on it just upon waking up.
Wake up slowly.
One of the best tips to catch the fishy dream is to wake up naturally, if possible without an alarm clock, and make a conscious decision to stay a couple of minutes in bed with your eyes closed, without moving or changing position, and with your mind focused on sleep or the vanishing dream. This aims to prevent the thoughts and worries of the previous day and those of the day to come to flood your mind and wake you up fully. If you follow this tip, you’ll recall more dreams, and will be able to reel back dreams that seemed to be vanishing.
Write or record your dreams.
Devote some time during the day to note your dreams down properly and in detail. You can do that any time that you have ‘you-time’. Once you start writing your dreams, you’ll notice an increase in the number of dreams you remember and in the details they have. That is why I recommend starting and keeping a dream journal.
There are some studies about age being related to dream recall, with the elderly supposedly recalling fewer dreams as a result of declined cognitive faculties. A study by Mangiaruga et al. that goes through the scholarly literature on the subject points out to methodological lacunae, and fragmentary studies that cannot be taken as conclusive.
Just a personal note, my father died at 92y.o.a. with mental clarity and high cognitive function, and he dreamed a lot all along; his last dream (a recurrent dream) occurred two days before he died.
According to some studies, gender is a factor, with women recalling dreams more often than men. However, a study done by Michael Schredl & Iris Reinhard analysed data from 175 studies and concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to support gender differences; at best, there might be evidence of gender-based dream socialisation affecting dream recall. To me, that reads as if you have a supportive environment to share and discuss dreams you’ll recall more dreams; women, culturally, find it easier to do just that. My own family is an example that men (four in my family) have no problem recalling dreams if they grow in a dream-sharing supportive environment.