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The Varieties of Dream Recall

Why it matters what kind of dream recaller you are.

Key points

  • There is a wide range of healthy dream recall frequencies.
  • Ideas and methods that can help one type of dream recaller might not help another type.
  • If you know your recall style, you can develop an approach that’s best for your dreams.
Source: Kelly Bulkeley
Source: Kelly Bulkeley

People vary widely in how often they remember their dreams. Based on research by Michael Schredl, myself, and others, the average recall frequency in contemporary Western society seems to be a little less than one dream per week. However, the same research shows that significant numbers of people remember their dreams almost every morning, while others rarely or never recall their dreams. Age seems to have a big effect: Younger people tend to recall more dreams than older people. Gender may have an effect, too, in that women seem to remember dreams more often than men do. Cultural beliefs can also impact dream recall. For instance, and not surprisingly, people who have positive attitudes toward dreaming have relatively high recall. People with negative attitudes, not so much. So, what you believe about dreaming influences how often you remember your dreams.

Where are you on this spectrum? Regardless of your age, gender, or anything else, how often do you remember your dreams during the normal course of life? This is a valuable piece of self-knowledge. Truly, there’s no right or wrong, and no better or worse. High recallers are not more psychologically advanced than low-recallers. Instead of thinking in comparative terms, you can simply try to understand who you are as a dream recaller. This has important implications for what you can learn from the dreams you do remember. There are challenges and opportunities for dreamers all along the recall spectrum.

An Abundance

People whose dream recall is frequent, vivid, and detailed are blessed with a wide-open channel for their dreaming imaginations. However, the sheer volume of their dreams can pose a daunting challenge in terms of trying to make sense of so much symbolic information. For these kinds of recallers, relief has finally come in the form of new digital technologies for analyzing massive collections of dreams. These technologies can do wonders in identifying meaningful patterns as they unfold across all the dreams, and making those results easy to grasp.

Rare Gifts

Such technologies are not as helpful for people who remember their dreams only now and then, and never with any predictability. These kinds of recallers may not experience vast quantities of dreams, but the handful of dreams they do remember often contain remarkably rich and meaningful themes and insights. Much can be learned by long and careful contemplation of just these few dreams, perhaps with the addition of an artistic rendering in a sketch, poem, or song. A digital analytic approach would be distracting overkill for dream recallers of this type, just as a contemplative/artistic approach would be impractical for those with an abundance of lengthy dreams to consider.

A Moderate Flow

Many people’s recall is somewhere between these ends of the spectrum. For them, dream recall is frequent enough to feel normal and unsurprising, but not so frequent that it’s an everyday thing. An easy and stimulating activity for these kinds of recallers is to explore the deep potentials of dreaming, not just for themselves but for others, too. There are many entertaining stories to choose from, in both fiction and nonfiction, that highlight the astonishing powers of dreaming latent within all of us. The Matrix, Inception, and The OA; Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman; the anthropology of Barbara Tedlock and the cognitive psychology of Harry Hunt: These are just a few of the sources that people with moderate levels of dream recall might find interesting and inspiring. Digital tools and artistic practices can always help, but these kinds of recallers are primed to expand their conscious sense of what they can become as dreamers and what their dreams can contribute to their communities.


Schredl, M. (2007). Dream Recall: Models and Empirical Data. In Barrett, D. & McNamara, P., The New Science of Dreaming. Westport, CT: Praeger. Volume 2, pp. 79-114.

Bulkeley, K. & Schredl, M. (2022). Dreams, Race, and the Black Lives Matter Movement: Results of a Survey of American Adults. Pastoral Psychology 71: 29-41.

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