How To Remember Your Dreams
Jump to the following topics:
- Awaken directly from
- Techniques for dream
- We can keep a dream
Awaken directly from a
dream. A dream is recalled most easily if we awaken during it or
immediately after it ends. If more than a few minutes lapse at the
end of a dream, we risk oneirolysis (the forgetting of the dream) --
but if we awaken too soon before the dream stops, we might miss an
important part of it. The following techniques can help us
synchronize our awakening with the dream:
- We can simply affirm that we will awaken when each dream ends
(or when each important dream ends -- so that we might
awaken only once per night, instead of several times per night).
We tell ourselves, "I will awaken at the end of every important
dream tonight"; along with this self-talk statement, we add an
appropriate "energy tone" (e.g., anticipation, confidence, joy,
etc.), and a "directed imagination" image of ourselves awakening
at the end of a dream. The mechanism by which this programming
works is the same one which allows us to specify a time to awaken
ourselves naturally (e.g., 6 a.m.) or to awaken when we hear a
specific sound (such as our baby's whimpering, but not the noise
of traffic outside).
- We can synchronize our alarm clock with the 90-minute cycle of
sleep periods. As explained later, the mind experiences a
recurring 90-minute cycle during our sleep; most of our dreams
occur near the end of each cycle. Therefore, we are most likely to
awaken from a dream if we set our alarm clock to awaken us after
we have been sleeping for any multiple of 90 minutes: 1.5 hours, 3
hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, and 7.5 hours. For example, if we fall
asleep at 11 p.m., the times would be 12:30, 2:00, 3:30, 5:00, and
6:30. We probably won't want to be awakened this many times, so we
might set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. only. If this timing isn't
exactly right for us, we can experiment by setting the alarm ahead
(or backward) slightly until we synchronize our awakening with the
end of that cycle.
- We can ask a friend or family member to awaken us when we
exhibit REM (rapid-eye movements, which occur when we are
dreaming); the eye movements can be seen beneath our closed
eyelids. The person can come into our bedroom at intervals, rather
than sitting next to us during the whole time. He or she might let
the REM continue for a while before the awakening, to let us
experience more of the dream.
- We can use a device such as The Lucidity Institute's
"NovaDreamer." This device looks like a black mask which covers
the eyes; it can detect REM, so we can use it to awaken ourselves
from a dream via the device's flashing lights or a loud sound.
- We can allow ourselves to awaken naturally from dreams. Why do
we awaken at any particular moment -- instead of several minutes
sooner or several minutes later? Usually, we awaken when a dream
is ending. Sometimes I feel that my mind has awakened me
intentionally so that I would remember a dream.
Techniques for dream
- We awaken gently -- or not. Some people remember their dreams
more easily if they awaken gently; other people remember their
dreams more easily if they awaken abruptly.
We lie still -- or not.
- A gentle awakening. We linger in a state which is "dreamy,"
drowsy, and "half-awake." We remain in the right-hemisphere
mode (which is the primary mode in which non-lucid dreams
occur) by indulging in feelings of pleasure, playfulness, and
placid emotions like contentment. A gentle awakening is easiest
when we do not use a loud alarm clock; instead, we can use an
alarm clock which has a quieter alarm (or soothing music),or we
can ask our bed-mate to awaken us softly.
- An abrupt awakening. Some people achieve better recall if
they awaken abruptly; their memories don't have time to fade
while they attain wakefulness.
We think about our dreams before we think about any other
topic, e.g., our plans for the day, or the radio's music, or our
bed-mate's conversation. If we are distracted by these other
thoughts, the memories of the dream are likely to fade before we
can retain them.
We are patient. Stay physically relaxed and psychologically
calm while you allow the dream memories to drift back to you;
don't be forceful, insistent, or frustrated. Accept the fact that
the memories have not yet come to you; perhaps last night's dreams
were for our unconscious mind's private purposes and they don't
need to be brought to our conscious attention. But be serenely
hopeful and expectant. Disregard any thoughts about other
subjects, and keep your mind clear for the return of the memories.
Give the memories some time to emerge -- perhaps several minutes.
If you still have no recollections, get out of bed and go on to
your daily affairs, but still remain optimistic that you will have
recall. During the day, the dream memory might come to us
spontaneously, or it might be triggered by an event; for example,
when we go out to our car, we might remember a dream in which we
were driving. In your dream journal, record the dream and the
daytime event which provoked the recall; that event might help you
to understand the dream.
We examine our thoughts and feelings. What were you thinking
or feeling as you awoke? What thoughts and feelings flow back to
you if you drift into delicate free-association (on both the
thought and feeling level)? If we maintain the residual mood we
experienced when awakening, and we allow it to amplify, the images
and the dream itself which were associated with the mood might
come to us. This is similar to a daytime phenomenon: when we are
in a depressed temperament, we automatically generate thoughts and
memories which match that depression. Now we are encouraging the
dream temperament to coax dream memories.
We draw a picture -- allowing the forms to be sketched without
a specific plan -- and then see whether the creation is related to
one of our dreams.
We visualize ourselves turning on a television set to see our
dreams. Or we make another visualization in which we are opening a
curtain, or walking into a room, where you can view your dreams.
We make a ritual which we suggest will cause us to remember
our dreams. One person has programmed himself to remember dreams
when he drinks a glass of water after awakening.
We visualize ourselves remembering a dream; this might induce
We consider the possibility that the dream was on any topic
which we have incubated within the past few weeks; an incubation
might take that long to appear in a dream.
We can give up. Sometimes any effort at all will prevent a
dream from coming back to us, as if the dream is teasing us with
our desire to grasp it and defying whatever technique we are using
for recall. When we surrender, and say, "I don't know how to
remember dreams; it's up to you to make yourself known," the dream
will reveal itself.
We can start with fragments. We might be able to remember only
a dream fragment -- one scene, or a person, a comment, a vague
feeling, or another single item. Dream recall can be developed
from that fragment; this is explained later. But if you cannot
elicit the remainder of the dream, be satisfied with this piece;
an individual image it can be used in interpretation or dreamwork.
And perhaps that one element is all that we needed to remember;
the essence of the dream might be contained within it.
We match the feelings of the dream. If you still have no
memories, take an approach which is more analytical (without fully
activating the left hemisphere). Try to match the residual "dream
feeling" or fragment with your current daytime concerns and
acquaintances: Could the dream have involved our spouse? (Does the
leftover sensation correspond to anything that we feel toward him
or her?) Was this a frightening dream? Did we fly (or do another
activity which occurs frequently in our dreams)? Perform this
"matching" by visualizing (or invoking the related feeling of)
other people, recent moods (such as our anxiety about our new
job), and events (e.g., a recent vacation). When we find a
"match," we will feel a sense of recognition.
We can remember the dream in reverse order. When we awaken,
the easiest scene to remember is usually the one which happened
just before the awakening. Use the images and feelings from that
scene to backtrack through the dream in reverse; the plot,
feelings, and thoughts in that final scene might imply whatever
happened previously. Do this through a combination of logic ("What
prior event might have resulted in the situation and conversation
which I recall from this stage of the dream?") and feeling ("What
might have caused the feelings which I had at this point in the
dream?"). This technique is effective with dreams which have
ongoing plots; dreams which have bizarre scene changes don't
follow a rational progression in the plot, so we would have more
difficulty in backtracking through them. (Sometimes, however, we
can backtrack into an entirely unrelated dream with this method.)
Even a well-plotted dream might come back in non-chronological
order; those fragments can be pieced together when we are finished
with the recall. And if the first fragment is apparently from the
middle of a dream, use this system to go forward and backward to
remember the previous and latter parts.
We need to record our dream immediately. Even after recall, a
dream memory fades quickly, so we must write it in our journal. As
we start writing, more of the memory will come to us -- and if we
have no memory of it at all, sometimes the act of picking up the
journal and a pen is enough to encourage the memory to appear.
We can try to recall other dreams from that night. Although we
have many dreams during the night -- one or more in each REM
period -- they might carry the same theme because the unconscious
mind is viewing the subject from different perspectives. After
recalling one dream, use the feelings of that dream to search for
another dream which expressed the same feelings.
We can use daytime activities for dream recall.
- When we awaken, we keep our eyes closed, and we do not move
(and we have told our bed-mate, in advance, not to touch us or
to turn on the bedroom light). Abrupt movements might shatter
the fragile memories of our dream.
- Some people have said that we can recall dreams more easily
if we are in bodily position in which the dreams occurred.
Therefore, our first attempt at recall is performed in the
position in which we awakened. If we do not remember any dreams
in this position, we slowly move to any other positions in
which we might have slept (and dreamed), and we try to remember
dreams there. (We can't know which positions we had on that
particular night, but we can go to any positions in which we
have previously awakened.)
- Be motivated to recall your dreams. We remember more dreams
if we have a reason to do so; the unconscious mind responds to
our desire by bringing dreams to our attention. During the
daytime, think about your objectives: to incubate a solution to
problems, or to generate ideas for artistic creations, or to
perform a dream experiment, or to receive interpretable
messages from the unconscious mind -- or simply to increase the
ability to recall. Develop goals which are meaningful and
- Appreciate your dreams. Feel respect and gratitude for
every dream and fragment which you remember; don't consider any
dreams to be unimportant or meaningless. We might show this
appreciation by attempting a full recall of each dream, and
recording it in our journal (even if we remembered only a
fragment), and doing any appropriate dreamwork and
interpretation with it -- and not resenting the loss of time
required to do these activities. (However, if this effort is
consuming too much time, we might compromise by journalizing
only the dreams which seem to be particularly important.) When
we do this, we strengthen the channel from the unconscious
mind. We cannot demand dream recall; we earn its favor
-- by being receptive and thankful for whatever dreams are
passed to our conscious mind.
- Affirm your desire to remember your dreams. Throughout the
day, whenever you think about your dreams, say to yourself, "I
will remember my dreams; I enjoy remembering them." (Adapt this
phrase to one which suits you, and include a word like "enjoy,"
to add some feeling to your statement.) Repeat this thought
while preparing for bed. We might write the statement one or
more times in our journal or on another piece of paper. Every
day, leave a hint on your pillow: a note ("Recall your
dreams"), or your journal, or an object which reminds you of
your dreams (e.g., a drawing which was based on a dream
vision); you will see this before you go to bed. While falling
asleep, repeat your phrase, "I will remember my dreams; I enjoy
remembering them," and visualize yourself awakening in the
morning with recall.
- Create a supportive environment. Our society does not
encourage dream recall; if we tell a dream to someone, the
response is likely to be boredom or amusement. As in any other
behavior, if we are not rewarded, we tend to stop doing it --
and dream recall is no different. But we can create this reward
system by associating with people who encourage us to remember
and study our dreams: a dream discussion group or class, our
current therapist (or a different one, if this one doesn't
value dreams), and new friends who have this interest. We can
also make dream-sharing a part of our family life; see the
chapter on sharing dreams. When we talk about our dreams, we
are encouraging the unconscious processes which make us aware
of dreams; our other benefit is that we often remember more
while telling someone else than we did while recalling the
dream originally. However, we must be careful to select
confidantes who respect dreams on their own terms; some people
(and therapists) are interested only in dreams of a certain
type -- "spiritual," archetypal, or another genre -- and they
will react disheartening to any other dreams. We have that same
responsibility of honoring whatever kinds of dreams are told to
us by another person; we need to show enthusiasm and
reassurance, to assist in his or her efforts to recall and
enjoy those dreams. If we can't find people to support us in
this endeavor, we can still support ourselves; this type of
foundation is strong and more reliable than whatever we get
from other people.
- Be willing to look at whatever your dreams are revealing.
Freud said that when people fail to remember dreams, the reason
is that they are simply too afraid or repulsed to acknowledge
the content; we might be concerned that our dreams would reveal
something which is unflattering, unruly, frightening, or
otherwise disturbing. (We probably dodge unpleasant challenges
during wakefulness, too, in the same way that we overlook our
dreams.) We can counteract those feelings by adopting an
attitude of self-acceptance; we all have a few monsters within
us, but acknowledgment and understanding will turn those
monsters literally into friends in the dreamworld (as explained
in the chapter on lucid nightmares). Another way to remain
unruffled by the "monsters" is to generate a perspective of
exploration, daring, innocent curiosity, and a desire to know
more about ourselves. Knowledge -- even of a fire-breathing
dragon which represents a nasty part of ourselves -- can't hurt
us. (However, if we find our dreams upsetting, we might want to
share them with a therapist.) These dreams are given to us
benevolently and privately for our education; when we accept
them without shame, we can work with them to reconcile the
conflicts which created the unpleasant images.
- Create daytime moods and attitudes which enhance dream
recall. We will remember more dreams if we are attentive to our
daytime feelings and moods; this inner awareness during the day
carries over into a perception of dreams during the night. (If
our emotions include worry, guilt, and anxiety, we are more
likely to remember dreams -- probably because we sleep more
lightly -- although no one is encouraged to develop those
states for the purpose of recall.) Let your wakeful mind be one
of imaginativeness, alertness, interest, adventure, innovation,
and challenge; these mental activities can boost dream recall.
- Incubate a memorable dream. Certain types of dreams are
easier to remember; those dreams are emotional, dramatic,
thrilling, nightmarish (threatening), weird, vivid to the
senses, or related to a current concern. If we incubate one of
those types of dreams, we are more likely to recall it. We can
also do an incubation in which we ask for a replay of a former
dream so that we can remember more of it; we would either
verbally request for a repeat or we'd incubate a fragment
(e.g., a person, a scene) from the former dream.
- Sleep more. Throughout the night, our REM periods become
longer; the first one is only a few minutes, but after several
hours of sleep, the period might be sustained for as long as
one hour. If we allow ourselves to sleep later, we increase the
probability of awakening from a dream (because a higher
proportion of our time is spent in REM at that later time), and
this longer dream will have more elements which could
facilitate recall (such as a bizarre event). Also, after a
lengthy sleep, our mind will be sharper when we awaken, so it
will be more effective in remembering dreams than if were still
- Develop your skills in lucid dreaming. When we have more
lucid dreams, we experience more recall simply because lucid
dreams are easier to remember than the non-lucid variety. And
as we develop lucidity skills, we enhance our general
calibration to the dreamworld, so we will recall more non-lucid
dreams, especially if they occur later in the same night; on a
few occasions, I have had a lucid dream which was followed by a
non-lucid dream, and I remembered both very clearly, noting
that the ensuing non-lucid dream was exceptionally colorful and
easy to recall. During a lucid dream, we can ask for further
details about a previous non-lucid dream; we might also be able
to replay that previous dream (although certain components will
probably be different when the dream is restated).
- Meditate. Some people recall their dreams better if they
meditate during the daytime.
- Try hypnosis or autohypnosis. Both of these techniques have
aided people in recalling dreams.
- Take vitamins. The B vitamins have improved recall in some
cases; some people use only vitamin B6. One of my friends
recommends a 50 mg B-complex vitamin and three lecithin
capsules at bedtime. (To help your body to metabolize the B
vitamins, ingest some vitamin C also.)
- Use visualization. Dream recall is easier for people who
have developed this skill.
- Don't use chemicals. Sleeping pills, pain pills, alcohol,
and other drugs interfere with our ability to recall dreams.
- Drink wheatgrass juice. It can cause vivid dreams and
easier recall, according to some people have used it. (I tried
wheatgrass tablets from a health-food store, but the
only effect was that I awoke frequently with the feeling that
my dreams had been more intense, though I could not remember
them; I stopped the experiment because of my allergy to the
wheatgrass.) You will probably have to grow your own
wheatgrass, using techniques that are explained in The
Wheatgrass Book by Ann Wigmore; she does not mention
wheatgrass's effect on dreams.
- Practice recall every day. Recall is a habit to be
reinforced, and a skill to be developed. When this skill is
matured, we will remember more dreams, and more details within
- Accept the dry spells. Dream recall might be subject to
many influences: our physical health, wakeful emotional state,
degree of wakeful mental activity (due to school examinations
or learning a new job), dietary changes, the phase of the moon,
or a natural rhythm in which we have periods when recall is
simply more difficult. For three months, I had no recall;
perhaps it was because I felt overwhelmed by my new job, or
maybe it was caused by my insistence on a particular incubation
(which I now admit was contrary to my values). In any case,
recall resumed after my job settled down and I gave up the
incubation. The job stress was unavoidable, and the insistence
was a lesson to me, although I don't know which factor was more
responsible for the dry spell. You, too, might find "lessons"
-- reasons why you are experiencing no recall.
- Don't demand total recall. When dream recall doesn't occur,
one reason might be the fact that the some dreams cannot be
grasped by the conscious mind; those dreams are too alien to
our wakeful world, and perhaps too subtle or archetypal or
"mystical" to be translated into symbols and memories which are
apprehendable to the conscious mind. Another possible reason
for non-recall is the unconscious mind's decision not to reveal
certain dreams to the conscious mind. We are fortunate that the
unconscious mind doesn't trouble us with all of its processing;
just as it maintains our heartbeat regardless of our awareness
of it, the unconscious mind performs dream-activities which we
don't need to perceive. Although many dreams seem to be
messages from the unconscious to the conscious, some dreams
might be for the unconscious mind's own use. After all, even
animals have REM (and they probably dream), but they are not
likely to do interpretations or dreamwork; dreams perform their
processing without conscious participation, and it is the human
ego's inflated self-importance which tells us that a dream is
worthless unless it is analyzed (although the analysis can be
valuable in some cases). During the attempted recall of one
dream, I confronted my unconscious mind's prerogative: "I
backtracked through the dream as far as I could go; I reached a
part that I couldn't access. I became aware of a 'thought' that
'someone' had left there: 'We're through; he can see the rest
of it.' It was as if the first part of the dream had been held
in 'closed session' and wasn't meant to be released to my
We can keep a dream
- The journal is useful in many ways. When we write in a
journal, we honor our dreams; this attentiveness alone often
results in better recall. Also, with this ongoing record, we see
recurring themes and the variety and evolution of symbols; this
information aids in interpretation and dreamwork. We increase our
familiarity with our dreams and their common elements, so we are
more likely to recognize them in subsequent dreams and hence
- The journal might require a substantial amount of time. The
best journal is comprehensive, with every detail of every dream.
But we might need to compromise if the journal is too
time-consuming. Some people record only dreams which seem to be
particularly "significant" or emotion-laden or vivid. Even Sigmund
Freud was troubled by the amount of time demanded by a journal; he
wrote in one for 14 years and then threw it away, saying, "The
stuff simply enveloped me as the sand does the Phoenix."
- Buy a notebook for this purpose. We show respect for our
dreams by buying a notebook specially for this purpose. We can use
any type of notebook; if we get the loose-leaf variety, we can add
pages in case we want to add further interpretations or dreamwork
to a particular dream. (If we use a notebook in which additional
pages can't be added, we might simply leave some blank space at
the end of each dream.) "Subject dividers" help us to divide the
entries by month, for easier reference. Some companies sell
workbooks to be used as dream journals.
- We can computerize our entries. There might be a database
software package specifically designed for dream-journal entries.
In any case, we can make our own, using a home computer and
database software such as FileMaker, Excel, or Microsoft Works.
Rather than typing the text of our dream into this database, we
will create fields for the date, title, and key words. These "key
words" will be the important elements of the dream: actions
(swimming, flying, sex, etc.), characters (father, dog, etc.),
emotions (anger, fear, etc.), objects (house, gun, etc.),
locations (home, job site, etc.), and other features which we
might want to examine later. After creating this database, we can
"search" for recurring symbols; for example, if we search on the
word "car," we will get a list of every dream in which we saw a
car. (This will be useful for understanding the ways in which our
unconscious mind uses that symbol.) In the database, we can also
categorize a dream as lucid, incubated, precognitive, etc. And we
can record any related dreamwork, wakeful experiences, or other
data which is important.
- We can tape-record our dreams. This might be easier than a
notebook; we don't have to turn on a light and write anything. We
simply speak into the tape recorder; we don't even need to turn on
the machine if it is sound-activated. However, some people find
that their recordings are inaudible mumblings (because of the
drowsy condition from which they were spoken). Even if the record
is audible, we must spend time transcribing the tape. Also, this
method is unsuitable for someone who sleeps with someone else; the
speaking will awaken that other person.
- Record wakeful events and issues. When we read the journal
later, we can interpret and appreciate the dreams more fully if we
remember the wakeful issues which were important to us at that
time. Before bedtime, write a brief note about the day's events
and emotional concerns; those matters might appear during a dream.
Also write any incubations or planned lucid-dream activities.
- Keep the journal next to your bed. We should be able to reach
the journal without getting out of bed, and without needing to
shift the position from which we awoke (if possible). There should
also be easy access to a light and a few pens (in case one of them
stops working). If these items are convenient, we are more likely
to expend the effort to write in the journal.
- We can use a small light when writing in our journal. This
could be a lamp next to the bed, or a flashlight, or the type of
lamp which clamps onto a book, or a combination pen/light which is
both a writing implement and a small pen; the latter can be bought
in stationery stores, or it can be made by taping a pen and tiny
- We can write our dreams in the dark. This might be necessary
if we have a bed-partner who would be disturbed by a light, or if
we recall dreams better with our eyes closed. We can write without
seeing the paper if we use our fingers to guide us along a
straight line and to find the edges of the paper.Record the dream
immediately after awakening. This memory will vanish if we don't
record it very soon. For each dream, write the date. Also give the
dream a title which expresses the most-important aspect; this will
help us to find the dream later in our journal (e.g., "The
Two-Headed Dog" rather than simply June 5, 1994). Write the dream
in the present tense (e.g., "I go" instead of "I went"), to give
the plot more of an active, emotional quality.
- We might write only a synopsis. If we awaken with dream
recall, but we want to return to sleep, we might record just a
brief summary: the main characters, the primary action, the
setting, and the feelings. Later, when our sleep is finished, we
can add the details so we have a complete record of the dream.
- Record a dream fragment, if that is all that you have. We
might remember the rest of the dream later. Or we might simply use
this fragment for dreamwork or an interpretation. The fragment
could be as brief as a single feeling, image, or action.
- Record all aspects of a dream. This includes settings,
characters, emotions and moods, actions and reactions, colors,
conversations (verbatim, if possible), and other details. Any of
these elements might be the key to interpretation or dreamwork.
Also note the emotions which you felt when you awoke and when you
wrote the dream into your journal.
- Don't interpret while you write. This might distract us from
the recall. However, if a symbol's meaning becomes clear to us as
we write the dream, we could make a brief note about it; we will
do the interpretation later.
- We can make entries in various forms. In addition to writing
the text of the dream, we can make other types of entries which
explain the dream. Some people add artwork, including drawings
(with black or colored pencils), collages, or diagrams. (Refer to
the chapter on dreamwork.)
- Read your journal. If we review the entries regularly, we see
recurring symbols, changes in types of dreams (e.g., perhaps a
reduction in the frequency of nightmares), and other factors which
help us to understand ourselves and subsequent dreams.