Three Reasons to Start a Dream Journal

More time inside allows you more opportunity to explore your inner world.

Posted Mar 25, 2020

Kelly Bulkeley
Source: Kelly Bulkeley

Keeping a dream journal is a powerful way to learn about the nature of your unconscious self and the path of your future psychological growth. If, like many of us, you suddenly find yourself with more time on your hands than you were expecting, here are three reasons why this might be a good chance to start following your dreams more closely.

1. When you begin a dream journal, you inevitably begin paying more attention to your sleep. And right now, good sleep is extremely important. Indeed, the healthy functioning of your body depends on the natural rhythms of sleep. William Dement, a pioneering researcher of sleep’s impact on the immune system, has said, “The more we study sleep, the more it emerges as an integral and inseparable part of the body’s vital cycles.” (The Promise of Sleep, 1990) So if you start tracking the patterns of your dreams over time in a journal, you will also gain new insights into the patterns of your sleep. You can use that valuable self-knowledge to minimize the factors that disrupt your sleep and enhance the factors that improve your sleep. Your immune system will be grateful.

2. Dreams help us process experiences of fear, stress, confusion, and vulnerability. This is one of the key functions of dreaming, as many therapists and counselors know. Especially in times of crisis, vivid dreams are part of the psyche’s emergency response system. Listening closely to your dreams during times like these will give you new insights into how you are emotionally weathering the storm. For some people, their fears in the present will revive fears from long ago, merging together in their dreams. Although upsetting in the moment, such dreams can be useful because they activate a deeper store of memory, knowledge, and experience to help you navigate through the present challenges. As Dr. Clara Hill has noted, “A great deal of evidence indicates that dreams often are triggered by events or issues that are salient to us during waking life…When events occur, we react on the basis of the memories of past experiences stored in our brains about that stimulus.” (Working with Dreams in Psychotherapy, 1996)

3. Dreams revitalize your sense of hope, of possibility for life in the future beyond the dire challenges of the present. One of the many dangers during a crisis is that we become frozen in the present: Consumed by immediate threats and dangers, our waking minds have no room for anything but what is happening right now. In such situations, dreaming kindles the inner flames of hope and makes sure that we don’t forget our deepest capacities for creative change, adaptation, and new growth. These capacities may emerge, for example, in a simple dream of discovering a new room in a house, or in an unusually long and intense dream with complex symbolism that speaks not only to your personal situation but also to the collective experience of everyone at this moment (what C.G. Jung called “big dreams”; see Dreams, 1974). If you start keeping a journal, you will be ready when rare but powerful dreams like these come along to shed a more positive, hope-inspiring light on the world and your place within it.

Here is an earlier post describing the basics of keeping a dream journal. It's really easy: Just place a notepad and pen, or your phone with a voice-to-text program, by your bedside when you go to sleep each night, and be ready when you wake up to record whatever was going through your mind.

Everyone responds to crises in different ways, of course, but right now your dreaming imagination is almost sure to be highly stimulated and very active. Why don’t you listen in and see what it’s saying?