How to Remember Your Dreams

Tips for Better Dream Recall

A child dreams in tree rings

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You spend about one-third of your life asleep, so it makes sense if you'd like to remember part of the experience. Remembering your dreams may help you understand your subconscious mind, make difficult decisions, deal with stress, and lucid dream, and can serve as a source of inspiration or entertainment. Even if you don't remember your dreams, you almost certainly have them. The exception includes persons with fatal familial insomnia, which (as its name suggests) isn't survivable. So, if you can't remember your dreams or can't recall details about them, what can you do?

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Sleeping Well Improves Dream Recall

Lamp illuminating a sleeping woman with cozy, dreamy light
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If you're serious about remembering dreams, it's important to sleep well at night. While people dream during the first 4 to 6 hours of sleep, most of those dreams are associated with memory and repair. As sleep progresses, periods of REM (rapid eye movement) become longer, leading to more interesting dreams.

You can improve the quality of sleep by making certain you're allowing at least 8 hours to rest, turning off distracting lights, and making certain the room is quiet. It may help to use a sleep mask and earplugs, especially if you're a light sleeper.

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Keep a Dream Journal

A woman writing in a notebook while sitting in a bed of cushions

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After dreaming in the REM stage, it's not uncommon to wake up, and then fall back to sleep. Most people forget dreams during these short arousal periods and move on to another sleep cycle. If you wake up from a dream, do not open your eyes or move. Looking around the room or moving may distract you from the dream. Remember the dream as fully as you can. Then open your eyes and write down as much as you can remember before going back to sleep. If you're too tired to write down details, try to record important points and then flesh out the description after you wake up in the morning.

Be sure to keep a pen and paper on the nightstand rather than in another room. If you have to leave the room to record dreams, chances are good you'll forget the dream or else lose the motivation to record it as soon as you wake up.

If writing isn't your thing, record your dream using a tape recorder or your phone. Make sure to go back and listen to the recording, to see if it jogs your memory, allowing you to recall more detail.

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Look Through a Window

A woman looks out the window, and writes down observations in her notepad
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It will take less effort to recollect dreams if you develop the power of observation. Look out a window and pretend it's a dream that you're observing. Describe the scene, including the colors and sounds. What season is it? Can you identify the plants that you see? What is the weather like? If there are people in your view, what are they doing? Do you see any wildlife? What emotions do you feel? You can write down your observations, record your voice, or draw a picture to capture the practice "dream". Over time, as you repeat this exercise, you'll gain an awareness of details you may have missed, and it will become easier to describe the scene. Training yourself to observe the waking world will translate into improved skill describing dreams, and practice linking the real world to the experience of dreaming is necessary to interpret dreams.

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Turn up the Volume

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It's easier to remember dreams if they are interesting, exciting, or vivid. One of the ways to stimulate vivid dreams is to do something unusual or interesting during waking hours. Try learning a new skill or visiting a different place. If you're stuck in a routine, try taking a different route to work or school, brush your hair differently, or put on your clothes in a different order.

Foods and supplements can also affect dreams. For example, melatonin affects REM sleep. Foods that contain melatonin include cherries, almonds, bananas, and oatmeal. Bananas are also high in another chemical that affects dreams—vitamin B6. A 2002 study of college students indicated vitamin B6 increased dream vividness and recollection. However, too much of the vitamin led to insomnia and other negative health effects. The "dream herb" Calea zacatechichi is used by the Chontal tribe in Mexico for lucid dreaming and to induce prophetic dreams. Calea leaves, stems, and flowers may be made into a tea.

Other foods and drinks may adversely affect dream recollection. Alcohol and caffeine affect the sleep cycle, potentially making it more difficult to remember dreams. Persons wishing to recall dreams should avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, coffee, or tea at least two hours before going to sleep.

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Remind Yourself to Remember

A woman writes reminders on post-it notes
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For some people, the only tip needed to recall dreams is to tell yourself you can remember dreams and then remind yourself to do so. An easy way to do this is to write, "I can remember my dreams" on a sticky note, place it somewhere you'll see it before you go to sleep, and read the note aloud. Even if you've never remembered a dream before, believe that you can do it. The note serves as an affirmation, fostering a positive mindset.

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Choose a Dream Anchor

Flowers, glasses, and light sources on a bedside table
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For some people, it's easier to remember dreams before opening their eyes. For others, it helps to set a dream anchor. This object should be visible as soon as you wake up, so you condition can yourself to associate it with your morning goal of remembering dreams. Rather than staring off into space and struggling to remember a dream, look at the dream anchor. You don't have to focus on it—looking past or through it is fine. Possible objects could include a lamp, a candle, a glass, or a small object on the nightstand. Over time, your brain will associate the object with the task of dream recollection, making it easier.

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If You Still Can't Remember Dreams

Woman stares at beautiful mountains from on high

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If you try these tips and still can't remember your dreams, you may need to change tactics. Remembering dreams takes skill and practice, so start small. When you wake up, think about how you're feeling and see if the emotion causes you to think about a particular person or event. Maybe you can only recall a single image or a color. Start with your waking impressions, consider them throughout the day, and see if the single event triggers anything more.

When you experience success in remembering a dream or a dream fragment, think about whether you did anything different the previous day. Dreams can be related to exciting events or stress and may be affected by food choices, bedtime, and temperature. Try sleeping in late or taking a nap during the day, as those dreams are often easier to recall.

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Remember Your Dreams." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). How to Remember Your Dreams. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Remember Your Dreams." ThoughtCo. (accessed July 27, 2021).