A Primer on Dream Recall

posted by Jonathan Frei On Saturday, September 26, 2009
Each night I sleep between seven and eight hours. Out of 24 that is one third of my day. I never feel like I have enough time in a day to do all the things I want, and so much of my time is eaten up by sleeping. Its seems like such a waste. But it doesn't have to be.

Every night, the body goes through several distinct stages of sleep. These stages are divided between rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and three stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The body goes through several cycles of this. The phases vary in length but as the body has been asleep longer the third phase of NREM lengthens and the REM phases become closer together. It is during the REM phase where dreams occur. REM sleep takes up 20 to 25 percent of each night's sleep or about 90 to 120 minutes. Now this phase usually occurs several times per night, and within each phase the brain weaves intricate plots and unique worlds which we sometimes remember as dreams.

Most mornings I wake up remembering only scattered fragments of my dreams, and by breakfast they have mostly evaporated into nothingness. Effectively, on a daily basis, I forget one third of everything that happens to me. Based on this, I feel it would be very worth while to remember what happens at night.

Dream recall is a learnable
 skill, and below are a few quick pointers on how to get started:

1. Get enough sleep
Without dedicating enough hours to sleep, it will be nearly impossible to find the dedication it takes to remember what happened between bed time and morning. It is much easier to remember your dreams when you go to bed before you're completely exhausted, and stay in bed until you've had adequate rest. Different people need different amounts of sleep, but chances are that if you hate mornings, you're not getting enough sleep.

2. Journal
Typically, the bits of dreams that you remember naturally are most vivid immediately upon awakening. This is the prime time to capture as many of those thought and visions as possible and get them down on paper. The longer you wait, the foggier the memories will become until they've evaporated into nothing. You'll be surprised how many details you'll be able to remember after doing this for a few weeks. Also, reading over your journal days or weeks after the entry can provide some pretty good, albeit weird, reading. 

One trick to dream journaling is to write the dream backwards. First, write down the last thing you remember happening before you woke up. Then ask yourself, what was I doing before that? Repeat this as many times as you're able and you'll find a much bigger picture come into focus. After a few nights of this, you'll be surprised how many vivid details you're able to remember in the process. There will be details you didn't think of when you woke up, that will be as clear as anything that happens in the day time.

Pen and paper is the best medium for keeping a dream journal. There are far less distractions than if you were to use a computer. Also, with pen and paper, you'll be able to start and write a few lines immediately upon waking up, without even turning the light on or getting out of bed. Even if you wake up earlier than you have to, try to jot down a few notes about what you remember before going back to sleep. Chances are, after doing that the remaining sleep you get will be filled with even more vivid dreams.

3. Tell yourself you will remember your dreams
Really, you have to want it. The power of suggestion is such a powerful tool. It seems cliche, but telling yourself you will remember your dreams will actually help you remember them. Telling yourself things to make them happen only really works when the desired outcomes are in your head. Dreams and memories are both in your head, so this is why it works.

The best time for this self motivating talk is as you are laying in bed, falling asleep. Let you last thoughts of the day be of hopeful anticipation of the adventures you will have at night with a firm will to remember all that happens between going to sleep and waking up. So many wonderful things go on in your head in those hours that it is a shame to let them go to waste.

4. Talking to someone about your dreams

This will only work if you have someone in your life that you're completely comfortable sharing your most intimate thoughts with. I'm fortunate enough to have that person in my life... My four month old is a great listener, and he doesn't judge me for the things I say.

I'll probably start working on this with my wife as well, especially if I can convince her to join me in working on dream recall together. I'm not prepared to be the only one talking about my dreams on a daily basis, but if she'll join me then we'll be good to go, provided I can prevent myself from making fun of whatever goofy things she might dream about.

5. Don't try too hard, make sure to have fun with it
Developing this skill may take time and dedication, or it may come naturally and you'll enjoy the benefits right away. But whatever the case may be, have fun and enjoy it. Thinking about it too hard won't help and may even prove counter productive, but excited anticipation of all the wonderful things you might see in and do at night will, hopefully, motivate you to follow through on the initial pointers and develop this skill. 

Dream recall is really just the first step. There is much more to do to build on this initial skill, such as lucid dreaming. However, by developing this skill alone you can effectively add a third of the time to your life. Enjoy it. And thank me for adding one third to your life.
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