6 Steps to Help You Remember Your Dreams

These small steps can help you improve your memory when it comes to your dreams.

Posted Jul 29, 2019

Deposit Photos
Source: Deposit Photos

Dream work is not something I do a lot, because the science has always bothered me.

I know there are some very serious dream researchers out there, and I know how hard that work can be, yet some researchers are not using standardized methods in order for us to come to trusted conclusions.

However, answering the question about remembering dreams is something we can tackle with a little science.

Dreams are weird, and they are certainly something we need to understand better. As far as remembering our dreams, this feels like a “hit or miss” situation. Either we do, or we don’t, but when we do, they seem to feel very “real.” We accept the weirdness while it’s happening as “usual,” and we accept it as truth, at least for the time being.

The weirder the dream, the worse your memory. Upon waking, we have discovered that the more bizarre the imagery, the more difficult it is to remember. If the dream is following a logical path, then the brain kind of knows what’s going to happen next and stores it in memory.

Slow and steady wins regarding dream memory. We have REM (rapid eye movement) sleep more at the back half of the night, which is the state of sleep where you are most likely to dream. But it seems that how we wake up may have something to do with this memory process, and the details involve our neurochemistry, more specifically noradrenaline levels. When noradrenaline is high, we forget.

So, what could we be doing to elevate our noradrenaline? The answer: using an alarm clock.

If you wake by an alarm, it is surprisingly more difficult to remember your dreams. This is due to the spike in noradrenaline levels as a reaction when the alarm goes off.

Also, if you are very sleep-deprived, and you fall asleep too quickly, your brain does not experience hypnogogic dreaming. This is a process your brain seems to go through when shutting down for sleep properly (meaning over 15-20 min). But if you are so sleep deprived that you fall asleep very quickly (under 15 min), then your brain doesn’t get a chance to store these “early dreams” to start the evening.

Remember: If you fall asleep in under 15 minutes, that’s a bad sign telling you you’re sleep-deprived.

So, what should a person do if they want to remember their dreams?

How to Remember Your Dreams

1. Go to bed according to your chronotype and be consistent with your timing. This way, you don’t fall asleep too quickly or slowly, because you’re going to bed at the right time for your sleep pattern. Then wake without an alarm. Both are good for the memory of dreams.

2. Use the "Power-Down Hour." Give yourself 20 minutes for meditation or relaxation, in the dark, while falling asleep (then you can get the hypnogogic dreaming in).

3. When you wake up, don’t jump out of bed; take it slow, even drift in and out a little bit. Try to remember what you were dreaming; it will take a day or two, but you’ll get it eventually (try this starting on the weekend).

4. If you really want to remember your dreams, another trick is to drink three big glasses of water just before bed. This will prompt you to urinate several times throughout the evening. Most of the time, your body will wake you up to urinate just after a REM cycle, when you are most likely to remember your dreams.

5. Repeat to yourself while falling asleep, I want to remember my dreams, and over time you will. While not particularly scientific, this method does seem to work.

6. Write your dreams down in the morning. Once you’ve let your mind “drift” for five minutes, start writing down everything you can remember from the dream. With practice, you’ll start to remember them more fully and quickly.

A quick word of caution. Do not try this if you don't want to remember every dream. This is much like an on-switch that does not seem to turn off easily. If you suffer from trauma, nightmares, etc., speak to your treating physician about this process. You have been warned.

Sweet Dreams,
Dr. Michael Breus

Facebook image: Ruslan Galiullin/Shutterstock