A basic skill in any study of dreaming is the habit of remembering one’s dreams. When people say they don’t dream, that almost always means they just don’t remember their dreams without realizing it. It should be pretty obvious that remembering your dreams is important if you want to get anywhere in understanding them or going into lucid dreaming.
We all have several REM sleep periods every night (assuming you sleep at night), and they get progressively longer as sleep goes on. The dreams are generally forgotten if the dreamer doesn’t put some conscious effort into remembering them, or if the dream itself was emotionally intense or interesting. I’ve had trouble finding an answer to why we forget so many of our dreams, but one theory is that the neurotransmitters involved in transferring information from short-term memory to long-term memory are inhibited during REM sleep. If I find out any more information about this, I’ll update this post.
Remembering your dreams is a habit, it’s not something you can easily choose to do in the middle of the night. If you want to remember your dreams, it’s important that you tell yourself, before going to bed, that you will wake up after your dreams and remember them. You should make remembering your dreams a priority. It is a difficult habit to wake up after every REM sleep period, but reminding yourself to do so during the day will increase the odds that you will remember to do so at night.
There are a few ways to go about remembering your dreams, but the most common way, and arguably the easiest way, is to keep a dream journal. This is essentially a pad of paper or a tape recorder near your bed so that you can record your memory of what happened in a dream right after waking up from it. Sounds simple enough, but it is important to put some thought into how you will go about keeping a dream journal.
My dream journal is a hard-cover notebook with lots of space between the lines. That way, I don’t have to worry about having a hard surface to write on, and the space between the lines means that my groggy, tired mind doesn’t have to worry about maneuvering my hand to write tiny letters. I use a ball-point pen, just because I don’t want to have to sharpen a pencil in the middle of the night. It can also be frustrating to run out of ink, however, so I always keep a second pen nearby.
When writing about a dream in your journal, you should try to write from the beginning to the end of the dream as much as possible. However, if you can only remember a section, or even just a single moment of the dream, write that down, because the goal is to form a habit. Even if you don’t remember the dream at all when you wake up, just write a little bit about how you feel and what you found yourself thinking about upon waking up. The hardest part, for me at least, isn’t remembering the dreams so much as getting into the habit of making myself write in the journal.
Note the general plot, and whichever familiar people or locations appear. Also, write down any specific phrases or interesting words you hear in the dream, because they are often very interesting (I once dreamt that I was on a mountain during an earthquake, and when the person next to me said “This isn’t good”, I replied “I’m INCLINED to agree with you”. Get it? Incline? Because it’s a mountain?). If there are any images or icons in the dream that interested you, draw them if you feel like it. I used to keep a piece of sheet music by my bed to write down any melodies in my dreams that interested me. I generally put the date in my journal before going to sleep, and then use dashes “-“ to distinguish one dream from the next. Some like to add titles to their dreams as well. If that helps, do it.
I can’t say much about using a tape recorder, because I haven’t done it much myself. I just don’t think I could easilymanipulate the buttons in the middle of the night, and the audio quality would likely distort my already tired and mumbly voice. But if you have a good tape recorder and you think you could make it work, try it and tell me how it works out.
Some people don’t keep external dream journals, they just form the habit of remembering their dreams mentally. It’s more difficult than it sounds. Generally, the process is something like this: when you wake up from a dream, you quickly go back over your dream, and consciously make an effort to go over every detail of the dream you remember from beginning to end. It’s important that you make a conscious effort, because they will fade away if you’re not on the ball. This method works for some people, but I prefer to have a solid copy. It allows me to look at dreams as far back as the journal goes, and it’s not susceptible to memory decay.
This is one of the hurdle I’ve always had trouble getting over in my attempt to learn lucid dreaming, but I don’t intend to give up this time, and writing this article for the world is one of the things I’m doing to show my commitment.