Dreams can be some very intense experiences. They are the way your brain gets to play while you sleep, exploring the boundaries of your imagination without you having to do any work. However, some dreams can be so intense and feel so real that you don’t even know you’re in a dream. Have you ever woken up in the morning trying to figure out what you just experienced but cannot remember a thing? This occurrence is quite common and has happened to most of us.
So why, then, are our dreams so hard to remember if they provide us with such intense emotional responses? There’s more involved than just lousy memory. Our gender, personality type, and even vitamin intake can affect how our brains function as we sleep. As Billie Eilish sings, “When we all fall asleep, where do we go?” It’s an interesting question to ponder. For more information on how your brain processes information, leads to vivid dreams and holds on to that information, keep reading!
The ideas, emotions, images, and sensations that we involuntarily experience in our minds during sleep are known as dreams. Scientists have yet to understand dreams fully, but they have been studied throughout history by philosophers. The method of drawing meaning from dreams and looking for an underlying message is known as dream interpretation. The study of dreams from a scientific perspective is known as oneirology. The rapid-eye-movement stage of sleep, or REM cycle, is when brain activity is at its peak. It is the sleep stage where dreams tend to happen the most. Dreaming can occur during other stages of sleep, but it won’t be as vivid.
Though most people dream in color, about 12% of dreamers claim to only dream in black and white! In some studies where dreamers were woken and asked to pick colors that most closely resembled the colors from their dreams, pastel colors were most often chosen. Of course, if you’ve ever watched a sleeping pup twitch its nose, you also know that animals most likely dream too. Scientists have determined that most animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, go through REM and non-REM sleep stages, even if they don’t experience dreams the way we do.
As we mentioned before, assigning meaning to the dreams you have is called dream interpretation. Many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Egyptians, took dreams to be communications with supernatural entities as well as divine intervention. In more modern times, many psychologists have turned to dream interpretation. It’s essentially the process of giving specific meanings to your dreams, and various psychological and biological theories have been offered in that vein. Dreams have also long been used in religious and spiritual backgrounds as a type of prediction. Experts say dreams happening in real life are more likely due to coincidences than anything else, however.
Most people consider their dreams significant and tend to put more meaning on their dreams than on everyday waking thoughts. They emphasize specific dreams, especially those that confirm the feelings they have while they are awake. On the other hand, dreams that contradict ideas tended to be ignored. Some people feel that their best insights are gained when they dream and their best ideas while dreaming. If you’re serious about trying to understand your own dreams, try keeping a sleep journal or dream diary!
Dream interpretation dates back to 3100 BC to the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia. Kings in Mesopotamia felt that dreams were essential for divination; thus, they paid close attention to their dreams. For example, one king rebuilt an entire temple based on a dream that told him to do so. Many dreams that were evaluated depicted various events, including workdays, trips, family conflicts, and human interactions. In ancient Egypt, priests also worked as dream interpreters. Researchers have found many hieroglyphics that display stories of dreams as well as their interpretations. Like many cultures throughout history, dreams were considered to be essential and divine.
The Old Testament involves many stories about God speaking to his prophets through dreams. It was believed that sleeping was a “little death.” As such, it thinned the veil between the world of the living and the world beyond. Native American cultures gave dreams great spiritual significance and viewed the dream space as sacred; it was a way to connect with the universe beyond. The Australian aboriginal cultures believed that their ancestral spirits dreamed the world into existence. This period of creation called “The Dreaming” is a continuing reality that must be passed on to each generation to keep it alive.
Another society that valued dreams was ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks built temples called Asclepions, which were intended for healing sick people. They believed that the sick could be cured by divine grace brought on by incubating dreams in the temples. The ancient Greeks also believed that dreams were incredibly prophetic and could bring forth significant omens. Some philosophers thought that dreams could predict the future. Others thought they presented the dreamer with coded messages that needed to be decoded. In the time of the ancient Greeks, many professional diviners worked as dream interpreters.
Ancient Greek writers focused on dreams that were either literal visions of what was to come, dreams that were visitations by gods, and symbolic dreams that required translation. Just like the Egyptians, Greeks placed significant importance on the presence of gods in their dreams. Death was also a recurring theme in their dreams, but they did not worry; it was a sign of good fortune and prosperity from the gods. Aristotle, ever the science-minded man, suggested even then that dreams were not messages from the gods but something brought forth from our imaginations.
Medieval Muslim psychology divides dreams into three separate categories. Dreams were false, pathogenetic, or accurate. A renowned dream interpreter known as Ibn Sirin wrote a book on dreams that included 25 sections of dream interpretation called Dreams and Their Meanings. This book featured etiquette guidelines for interpreting dreams. It also highlights how a person can recite specific passages in the Qur’an in their dreams. This valuable dream book stressed the importance of a layperson joining together with a Muslim scholar to accurately interpret one’s dreams and understand them per cultural context.
Ibn Shaheen indicated that interpretations would change the meaning of a dream based on who was seeing the dream and interpreting it. For example, seeing handcuffs in a dream may be displeasure to some, but a “righteous person” might see them and believe it means stopping hands from doing evil. Ibn Shaheen deduced that there were nine dream interpretation methods, many of them based on Islamic reasoning. In his consciousness studies, Al-Farabi distinguished between dream interpretation and the nature and causes of dreams in his book Book of Opinions of the People of the Ideal City.
One of the most common plot devices in literature is the dream world. More than likely, you’ve read a book where the main characters are transported into a dream that is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced in real life. Though it can be a severe letdown at times, this literary trick is dramatic and hooks the reader when done well. Some authors choose to do it to indicate repressed desires (hello, Freud, we’ll get to you shortly!) or to foreshadow things to come. Dreams in literature may also show memories or backstory that the author doesn’t want to engage in through dialogue.
The best-known example of a dream world in literature is in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is similar to our actual dreams and has various transitions as well as flexibility with cause and effect. Other books that feature fictional dreamlands are The Neverending Story, H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, and Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass. It’s essential to consider the symbology when reading a dream sequence in a story – the author put it there on purpose. What stories can you think of with dreams in them?
Many dreams in popular culture stem from the theory that dreams depict our strongest desires and fears. Characters in film and television shows are frequently tasked with interpreting unusual dreams to solve a problem. We can see it in The Manchurian Candidate, Inception, and Spellbound. Another example of dreams in popular culture is in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s trip into the colorful world of Oz happens entirely while she’s asleep. Her natural world is in black and white, but everything is in bright, beautiful colors when she’s dreaming. In most depictions of dreams, the message is straightforward and directly mimics the dreaming character’s desire.
Dreams aren’t only explored on TV or the big screen, though. They are frequently a topic in music, too, like in Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song became the band’s only number one hit and sold over a million copies. The musical Les Miserables “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of the most poignant arias in musical theater, expressing aspirations for a better life and grief that the singer has lost the life she had imagined for herself. Dreams often revolve around unanswered questions in pop culture, so why not unachieved goals too?
Though some scientists suggest that we dream because it is essential to our mental and emotional well-being, others claim that it serves no real purpose to our health at all. Dreams and their interpretations fall under the category of dynamic psychology. Dynamic psychology is defined as the study of people’s emotional processes and the reasoning behind them. The most common psychological theory behind dreams comes from Sigmund Freud. Freud hypothesized that a person’s unconscious wish fulfillment drove dreams. He believed that the content of our dreams is related to the experiences and memories made during childhood. His theory was challenged and later disproved by other psychologists, including Carl Jung.
Jung believed that dreams were necessary to pay attention to because they present revelations intended to help the dreamer overcome their fears and emotional problems. Jung saw the psyche as a combination of the mind, body, and feelings. He believed that the psyche is self-regulated and purposive; it tries to communicate important things to the individual and assist the individual in developing personality. Freud believed that dreams indicated forbidden wishes hidden under the surface, while Jung saw them as expressing things honestly and openly. Essentially, Jung boiled down dreams to the simplicity of their face value, while Freud believed in reading between the lines.
Apart from psychology-based theories of dream interpretation, scientists have come up with several neurological methods. Researchers J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley changed dream research in 1976 with their philosophy. They believed that the areas of the brain that are responsible for REM sleep also produce sensory information. Hobson and McCarley discovered that the brainstem circuits are activated during the REM cycle, leading to areas of the brain like the amygdala and hippocampus becoming active. Changes in a person’s physical environment like temperature, humidity, and physical stimuli, along with this brain movement, can all work together to produce dreams.
In 1951, George Humphrey and Oliver Zangwill studied the neurology of dreaming and found a link between visual imaging and the ability to dream. Unfortunately, studying dreams is difficult because reporting dreams is narrative and therefore unreliable. When monitored with an EEG (electroencephalogram), clinical findings and data are widely accepted in cognitive neuroscience. Though you may not have thought of this, brain-damaged patients also offer valuable information about how our brains function, especially through REM sleep observation. Most of our dreaming happens during REM, and scientists have determined that through sleep studies and observations of the different sleep cycles.
Semantic memories are one of two types of memories stored in the brain. This type refers to the general knowledge that a person gathers throughout their life. A recent study found that random characters, locations, and dream flow could help the brain strengthen its semantic memories. Experts believe this is possible because the brain reduces the flow of information between the neocortex and hippocampus during the REM cycle. It occurs because of an increase in the stress hormone cortisol levels in the brain while you sleep, primarily during REM sleep.
While you sleep, the brain performs this process to consolidate memories, especially ones that are broken or not strong enough to exist on their own. Sleep is the optimal state for our brains to facilitate this process, too. Our most vivid dreams feel like reality, and that’s because they replicate our memories and experiences. It has been proven that patients with amnesia or damage to the hippocampus have less vivid dreams, with fewer sensory details! We’ll talk more about the hippocampus later, but for now, know that it plays a huge part in learning and memory.
We’ve mentioned REM sleep, but we’re not just talking about the band. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement sleep, the phase of sleep where your eyes move rapidly in various directions. The other stages of sleep are referred to as non-REM sleep. Until the 21st century, it was believed that we only dream during REM sleep, and scientists didn’t even see a need to study dreams. Now, though, it is accepted that we dream during both REM sleep and non-REM sleep, though the two states differ significantly. The dream quality and complexity vary, and some reports even indicate that non-REM dreams are closer to being “thoughts” than actual dreams. REM sleep dreams are more frequent and more prolonged, too.
There have been distinct types of dreams that have been discovered for both the REM and non-REM sleep stages. During REM sleep, you are more likely to have vivid dreams that are extremely strange. These are the types of dreams that you can remember when you wake up in the morning. During the third or fourth stage of non-REM, or quiescent, sleep, you will experience static, thought-like dreams. The hippocampus drives dreams like these as it works to consolidate memories. Memories that will appear in your dreams will look as if they happened and not include any weird occurrences.
Waking up through the night happens most often during REM sleep. That makes it more common to experience wild, vivid dreams. The human brain is at its most awake point during the REM cycle. Most of our dreams will last between 5 to 20 minutes long. In the average lifespan, a person will spend around six of those years in a dream state. Thanks to the prefrontal cortex, a person dreaming will not be aware that they are while a dream is happening. During a dream, the prefrontal cortex has a decreased level of activity. It allows the dreamer to fully immerse themselves in a dream without worrying about what will come next.
Let’s also take a look at non-REM sleep stages. The first stage of sleep just lasts a few minutes. It allows your body time to slow down, including your heart rate and your muscle activity. In the second stage of sleep, muscles can contract, and your body temperature may drop slightly. Our brain waves change and become slower, though some bursts of rapid waves, called sleep spindles, may occur. This stage is where our body prepares to enter deep sleep. Deep sleep, the next phase of sleep, is where our brain produces delta waves – the slowest brain waves of them all. It is the hardest to wake someone out of deep sleep, and if you wake someone out of this stage, they’ll likely be foggy and disoriented. We need all of these sleep stages to build our immune system, bone and muscle strength, and tissues.
One of the main goals of a sleep researcher is to discover what area of the brain is responsible for powering a dream’s audio and visual experience. Upon waking, the brain’s front controls the mind’s internal imagery using the lateral prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain conducts a constructive imagination that takes care of strategizing, reasoning, and planning. During the REM cycle, the lateral prefrontal cortex is not active. It may seem like the lateral prefrontal cortex controls dreaming, but researchers have determined that it does not. People who have sustained damage to that part of the brain have not experienced any differences in their dreams.
Recall that in the non-REM sleep stages, our brain activity is slower than our waking state. When we enter REM sleep, our brain activity increases again, which means our sleep is also not as deep. That’s why our dreams are more intense – our brain is functioning pretty much the same way it would like when we’re awake. Our muscles, on the other hand, are practically paralyzed. Another interesting fact about REM sleep is that the length of the stage changes as we age. During infancy and childhood, our REM stages are the longest, and it declines with time. It’s probably why older people seem to get up earlier, and teenagers always want to sleep in!
We know quite a bit about how dreams affect humans, but how do other animals dream? It’s safe to say that REM sleep and the ability to dream is something that happens to all humans. Scientists have discovered that all mammals go through REM sleep. All mammals that have been studied have been proven to sleep in a REM state. That includes dogs, cats, monkeys, elephants, and rats. Even birds and reptiles have been known to dream. One thing is clear: all animals need sleep to survive. Another thing we know is that dreaming is much more common in animals than we thought.
Research has shown that animals might be reactivating their version of memories during sleep, though only a handful of them, like chimps and dolphins, can recall and evaluate specific, detailed events after they happened. Since humans and animals share the need for sleep, it makes sense that we would or could also share the reasons to need sleep, too, right? Our bodies need sleep for physical recovery, and our minds need rest to consolidate what happened to us during our waking hours, so why wouldn’t that apply to animals in some version?
Through dream studies and surveys taken, scientists have discovered a wide variety of visuals found in dreamland. Our dreams’ visual world is based on fantasy, as people, locations, and objects blend. What we see in dreams is close to what is stored in our memories and what we’ve experienced. It’s also possible to dream about entirely new people and places. Your brain can create large, complex worlds filled with things you may have never seen before in the real world. Also, people who have been blind since birth will not have visual dreams. Their dreams will be related to other senses like touch, taste, smell, and hearing.
When you look back at them, you may notice that your dreams often have a hazy quality – nothing like reality or real memories. That’s probably because dreams have layers, one of them made of vague images and imagined concepts. This constructed idea you’ve formed in your head may feel flimsy to you because it isn’t rooted in reality, nor is it a firm, solid concept in your memory. The more you work on your awareness of something, the more solid it becomes like an image. Eventually, you might even get to lucid dreaming!
You can experience a wide variety of emotions during a dream. According to research conducted on dreams, the most common feeling felt in a dream is anxiety. Other possible passions include happiness, anger, abandonment, fear, and joy. Roughly 10 percent of dreams are sexual in nature. These types of dreams tend to happen for young people around their mid-teens. In terms of visuals, a small percentage of the population only dreams in black and white. That happens most often, or those who grew up watching only black and white TV shows and movies during childhood.
Recent research has shown that if we try to avoid or suppress our emotions in our waking hours, they can “rebound” in our dreams and manifest even more in our sleep. Our dreams can become sad, angry, and anxiety-ridden, and we might even have trouble falling asleep or experience poor sleep quality. It’s much healthier to try to process any negative emotions and face them head-on rather than avoid them, as it seems that they will chase us after all. Meditation and journaling can help address our feelings and process our days as they come.
Recent studies have shown that most people consider their dreams meaningful and that they can reveal hidden truths. More than 50 percent of people think that they can get meaningful insight into their subconscious desires and beliefs through their dreams. Freud’s dream theory has become the standard for how people view their dreams. These days, people tend to put a lot of meaning into their dreams. A person is more likely to cancel a flight if they dream about the plane diving the night before takeoff than if they thought about it crashing while they were awake.
Dreams are thought to have deeper symbolism in association with our daily life. Modern psychoanalysts believe that unresolved conflicts and even genetic history can manifest themselves in our dreams. The way we communicate our dreams for interpretation can also be relevant to someone interpreting our dreams, as our choice of words and what we choose to emphasize is essential! The main pattern found in the 1990s dream research in dreams was that people experience intense emotions, but not necessarily significant traumas. In more recent studies, the pattern seems to be that, in general, dreams tend to reflect the concerns of the individual’s waking state.
Gender differences aren’t limited to just our waking hours. It turns out. Studies have shown that women tend to experience higher levels of insomnia and worse sleep qualities, and they suffer from more nightmares, as well! Compared to men, women tend to reference more emotions overall in their dreams. They also related more experiences in their dreams with their families, friends, and, interestingly enough, colors. Compared to women, men had more references to physical aggression, transportation, money, work, and violence. Though it may sound stereotypical, it is steeped in actual science, though the reasons are unknown.
On average, science has proven that women have an easier time recalling their dreams than men do. Scientists aren’t sure if this has something to do with biology or differences in hormones, but it’s not to say that only women are good at recalling dreams. There are some women with low dream recall and some men who have high dream recall. Within the sexes, there are more differences between specific individuals as a whole. It boils down to how your brain is built and how it, in turn, processes information. Interestingly enough, this can also impact whether a person dreams in color or black and white.
As we age, it can be hard to remember whether we locked the front door or not, so it’s going to be objectively harder to remember dreams the next day. The ability to remember dreams is much stronger as children and hits its peak in a person’s twenties. Younger people also have an easier time training their brains to remember dreams after they wake up. However, there are some outliers; some people have reported being able to retain more of their dreams as they age. Perhaps this is a hindsight thing, wanting to have more memories of experiences as we head towards our senior years.
Children tend to dream of emotional interactions and sometimes more scary monsters, while adults tend to dream of more adult-oriented experiences, nightmares notwithstanding. As we’ve already mentioned, men and women have different dream experiences as well, though as a whole, adults tend to dream more about more realistic concerns. In contrast, elderly adults and people’s dreams in their end-life stages have dreams filled with supernatural and otherworldly settings. As we get older, our REM sleep stages get longer and non-REM phases get shorter, and our dreams seem to pull more and more from older memories instead of creating new material.
The amount of sleep that you get per night can make a tremendous difference in whether you remember your dream or not. Everyone is unique and functions well with different levels of sleep. Some of us need eight or more hours to perform at our best, while others are good to go with just three or four. On average, a person has a dream every ninety minutes during REM sleep. These REM periods are getting longer and longer throughout the night, so you tend to do the most dreaming right before you wake up. So if you’re spending less time sleeping, then you’re spending less time dreaming.
We spend about two hours each night dreaming, even if we don’t remember a single moment of it when we wake up. As we mentioned previously, dreaming is believed to be how our mind processes emotions and events from the day. If you have a hard time falling asleep or even staying asleep, we have some tips for you to get your forty winks. Make sure you stick to a routine. It’s essential to try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time to allow your body to fall into a rhythm. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine late in the day since those will disrupt your body’s natural rhythm!
Some studies have correlated personality types with the ability to recall dreams. On average, more practical and logical thinkers were less likely to remember their dreams, while those who tended towards more psychological thinking tended to be better at it. To strengthen the point, completing certain activities during the day had a mild correlation with remembering one’s dreams more vividly. Unfortunately, those activities are not listed. Think of what type of personality you have. If you are an A-type and your friend is a B-type, ask them about their dream experiences. Perhaps you both have similar dream patterns or some that are vastly different.
It may make sense if you think about it in a broader sense. Type A personalities tend to be more driven, stressed-out individuals, so their dreams most likely reflect that highly emotional state, right? If their waking hours are filled with urgent, race-against-the-clock workaholics, then maybe their brain feels that stress in their dreams as well. That doesn’t mean Type B personalities don’t achieve or like to compete; it just means that they don’t attach the same stress to their achievements or their outcomes. This lower level of stress is also more likely to be reflected in their dream state.
With the latest technology, scientists have seen which parts of the brain are active when dreaming occurs. The brain section responsible for processing information and emotions is known as the temporoparietal junction. This area of the brain is more active in those who can recall their dreams. This part of the brain also helps people pay more attention to external stimuli, so those who are more aware of these factors also have a more active junction. The temporoparietal junction is also responsible for any out-of-body experiences you may have. These occur primarily in people who have sustained damage to this part of the brain.
Scientists have also found that when the temporoparietal junction is damaged or the white matter of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), dreams can cease altogether. That is huge news since it can mean that these two parts of the brain have an essential role in the dreaming process and encoding memories. Another interesting fact about the high activity levels in the TPJ and the MPFC is that high-recall dreamers tend to wake up more frequently through the night about twice as often than their counterparts, aka the low recall dreamers. Remember, high-recall dreamers are people who were able to remember their dreams more accurately and vividly than others.
Another area of the brain that’s at work during the dream recall process is the medial prefrontal cortex. It is responsible for the memory encoding of dreams and abstract thinking. The prefrontal cortex is also the link between a person’s personality and their will to live. It performs executive functions such as differing between conflicting thoughts and recognizing what is good or bad. Studies revealed that those who had high dream recall had high activity towards the front of the brain. These are the same people who are also better at lucid dreaming: becoming aware that one dreams without waking up.
We have already mentioned the medial prefrontal cortex, but it can’t hurt to talk about it a little more. During non-REM sleep, it has the highest voltage in the brain (isn’t that cool to say?) and the slowest brain waves compared to other areas in the brain. The brain releases acetylcholine during REM sleep, which helps with muscle contraction, blood circulation, and slowing the heart rate. It’s essential for us to receive the chemical during REM so we can become “paralyzed” and avoid harming ourselves (or others) when we’re fighting off a bear mid-dream.
As mentioned earlier, those who remember their dreams more frequently have higher response rates to hearing their names being called while they’re awake. When listening to names, there was a decrease in a brain wave called the alpha wave. This wave is produced when the brain is in a state of rest. Scientists believe that this is an evolutionary result. Our body and brain need mindful rest, but there is also the need to wake up to any danger that may be around us. Being able to go back to sleep after examining the immediate area is also vital for recovery.
This “arousal threshold” is higher during our sleep state than it would be during our waking hours, and of course, our sensory physiology is quite different too during our waking hours, REM stages, and non-REM stages. Think back to any time you’ve tried to wake someone up. It’s always a bit harder than merely saying their name, which would typically work if they were awake. Naturally, different people have varying levels of arousal thresholds, and our own thresholds will vary throughout our lives. For example, mothers with newborns might be much more sensitive to external stimuli than mothers with a teenager.
When you go to sleep at night, not all the areas of your brain turn off simultaneously. In fact, one of the last regions to call it a night is the hippocampus. That is the brain area that moves information from short-term memory to long-term memory to become more permanent in our minds. Because the hippocampus is the last part of the brain to go to sleep, it could be the last to wake up in the morning so that the dreams you’ve had don’t get sent to the long-term section of the brain.
The hippocampus is a tricky and essential part of our brain’s anatomy. It may not look like much, but it has a pretty big function in our body. Damage to the hippocampus has negatively affected memory processing, but its effect on dreaming has been unclear. Some patients reported no effect whatsoever, others said repeating dreams, and others wrote an inability to dream after the damage. It remains unclear whether the hippocampus is needed for dreaming to happen, but it has been proven necessary for our learning and memory functioning.
Even when your brain is “turned off” at night, the hippocampus is still sort of active. It’s taking care of the memories you have without having to take in new information. However, it’s also in one-way communication with the prefrontal cortex: sending memories to be stored, but no new memories, such as your dreams, are not stored in the hippocampus. It can take at least two full minutes for the hippocampus to start doing its job on waking. Talk about a late riser! There are two main modes of function for the hippocampus: theta and sizeable irregular activity. Theta mode is most active during REM sleep.
Theta waves generate the “theta rhythm,” which can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG). These theta waves have lower frequencies and are linked to memory formation and navigation. We even demonstrate higher theta brain waves when we meditate! The second hippocampus mode, the considerable irregular activity, or LIA, refers to the slow waves with fluctuations of sharp spikes activity. However, the main pattern of LIA is slower than theta waves. The main difference between the two as far as purpose goes is that theta waves are thought to be involved in learning and retrieving memories. At the same time, LIA is more concerned with the consolidation of older memories.
Along with the hippocampus, two neurotransmitters are responsible for retaining memory: acetylcholine and noradrenaline. When we go to sleep, the levels of these neurotransmitters drop drastically. That is until we start REM sleep. This time of night is when the most vivid dreams occur. At this point, acetylcholine becomes active again, but not noradrenaline. The former places the cortex in a state similar to being awake, but the latter produces recall. Without any noradrenaline, it becomes effortless to forget our dreams. It’s necessary to have noradrenaline to wake up with memories of a dream.
Noradrenaline is also called norepinephrine. Its primary function is to mobilize our bodies and brains for action – mainly when we wake up. It is at its lowest levels in our body when we are asleep, especially during REM, and rises when we wake up. It reaches much higher levels when we are stressed or in danger; this triggers our “fight or flight” reaction. In our brain, it works to trigger our alertness and focus. Physically, it affects our heart rate and blood pressure, too, moving our blood away from our organs to our muscles.
One reason people may not be able to remember dreams is that they just weren’t that memorable. The brain may not catalog mundane dreams because they’re seen as nonessential information. It is easier to recall dreams that have a more emotional attachment to them, however. They trigger a more awakened state in the brain and have an organized narrative that makes it easier for the brain to store them. Dreams that are especially unusual also tend to be remembered more than simple ones. Keeping a dream journal can help you retain all of your dreams, even the boring ones.
Just because our dreams might be boring doesn’t mean we’re boring, though. It just means our brain has more essential information to store than that trivial dream of us strolling down the grocery aisle with a shopping cart where absolutely nothing happens. After all, it’s not like we try to make that a lasting memory out of our waking hours, either! We remember dreams most vividly when we wake up from them, so if we sleep through the night, then the chances of remembering bizarre or fascinating dreams drop significantly. Besides, who wants to be woken up during the night?
Not at all! You can take specific steps to start remembering your dreams a bit better, but it requires some effort. There is more miracle solution to remembering every single dream that you have every single night, so don’t be dismayed if these steps don’t start working instantly when you go to bed tonight. It takes time to train your brain into holding on to dreams. Changing your sleep habits, keeping a dream journal, and even eating certain foods can improve memory recall. Trying a few different techniques could help you vividly remember your dreams.
That will sound silly at first, but hear out the logic: drink a lot of water before bed. No, the water does not have magic properties that will affect your dreaming abilities, but your bladder is limited on how long it’ll hold on before it’ll wake you. Waking up during the night, especially after a REM cycle, will prompt you to remember your dreams more clearly. Before you fall asleep, try to meditate for 20-30 minutes, and when you’re finally up for the day, try to write down your dreams exactly as you remember them. With time, these habits will train your brain to remember your dreams better!
As we have touched on previously, everyone needs to develop and stick to healthy sleeping routines. Aside from avoiding stimulants before bed like caffeine and alcohol and trying to go to bed, and wake up around the same time, you can try things like making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment. We’ve all heard about the benefits of daily exercise, but did you know it helps you sleep better too? Try to avoid napping too close to your bedtime, also, since that could throw off your circadian rhythm. Applying these different measures can help you sleep more hours, with a better quality of sleep!
Sleeping eight hours one night and then four the next isn’t healthy for you. It’s not going to help you recall your dreams, either. It’s wise to find a good bedtime routine that can help you fall into a peaceful slumber in no time. You can listen to a white noise machine, take a soothing bath, or drink a hot cup of tea to fall asleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and getting 8 hours of sleep can lead to dreams that can be anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour long. That’s a lot of dreaming and will make it much easier for you to recall them the next day.
Before we extoll the virtues of a sleep journal, let’s talk about what one is, exactly. It’s a record of your sleep patterns and habits. You can write down things like what time you’re going to bed, how long it took for you to fall asleep, what you did before you fell asleep, how long you were sleeping and how many times you woke up, how refreshed you feel in the morning, how many caffeinated drinks you’ve had, if you’ve exercised. Any record of dreams you might have remembered. These are all great in determining what does and doesn’t help you create a healthy routine!
Keep a sleep journal beside your bed so that as soon as you wake up in the morning, you can start making notes before you forget everything. Even if you wake up in the middle of the night, jot down everything you can remember. It will be easier than waiting until morning. Draw doodles of objects or pictures instead of using words, if that’s easier for you. Getting into this habit will make you more mindful of what your brain is doing at night, and you’ll be able to hone your memory towards your dreams. That is not only a great way to remember your dreams, but it can also help you get rid of things that are weighing on your mind.
Some people are incapable of waking up independently without an alarm, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Still, not everyone has the luxury of staying in bed to contemplate their dreams when they have work to go to. However, you should choose an alarm that eases you out of sleep instead of shocking you awake; it tends to make you forget your dreams. It should be a gentle sound that doesn’t stress the mind, like a white sound machine. You’ll ease into the waking state and be better at recalling what you’ve just dreamed.
If you struggle with waking up in the morning, try moving your alarm a bit out of reach. That will make the snooze option a bit less tempting! If you prefer to wake up with natural light, light-up alarm clocks gradually get brighter and mimic sunrise. If an alarm clock just doesn’t cut it, try planning something that you look forward to each morning, whether it’s a cup of coffee or a nice walk. That coffee cup is beneficial since caffeine can be useful in increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. Raising these levels can boost your mood, keep your energy up, and help you focus. If you’re not a fan of coffee, opt for black or green tea, as that’ll have the same effects.
Many people who want to experiment with lucid dreaming are aware of dream anchors. These are objects in the room that people focus on that they can see when they wake up. These objects are supposed to be reminders to remember their dreams. The key to using a dream anchor is to stay in the same position when you wake up and don’t start thinking about things you have to do that day. Choosing the object is supposed to train your mind to recall your dreams whenever you look at it. A lamp, a poster on the wall, or even a plant can work like a dream anchor.
The music anchor technique is excellent for lucid dreaming, especially in an unfamiliar environment. The technique’s steps are simple: start playing a relaxing piece of music or a repetitive sound on a loop. As you drift off to sleep, attach your awareness to the music as an “anchor” so you can maintain mental focus during sleep. If your mind drifts, try to return to the music and allow it to act as a reminder to stay alert. If there are fluctuations or distortions in the sound, it can be a sign that you’re dreaming. Once your mind shifts into the dream state, go with the flow!
What we’re saying is that you should take notice of any specific details that lead to having vivid dreams. It could be anything from eating certain foods to what positions to fall asleep in. These things, combined, can improve your chances of having vivid dreams and remembering them the next day. It doesn’t hurt to try a combination of things to see what works best. Make a note of these in your dream journal. As you discover what sorts of things help trigger a dream, incorporate it into your daily life. Don’t be discouraged if the item doesn’t always lead to a vivid dream.
If you are testing different factors out as an experimental element, avoid layering them. That will allow you to properly evaluate the effect of each one without interference from other factors. Try increasing your melatonin levels before bed – you can do this by adjusting your light exposure or eating cherries and other melatonin-rich foods. Your body position influences the type of dream you may have, too – stomach-sleepers have more positive dreams! If you sleep on your side, try switching sides and see what effect on your dreams. Right-sided sleepers report more positive dreams and fewer nightmares.
Eating certain foods rich in vitamin B-6 or taking vitamins before sleep can increase your ability to remember your dreams. B-6 also helps to make your dreams more clear, making them much more memorable in the first place. It also allows you to retain the whole dream instead of fragments of it! It shouldn’t affect your dreams’ vividness or bizarreness, nor should it change other elements of your sleep patterns. Be careful with vitamin B-6 however; taking too much can lead to insomnia, heartburn, nausea, and other side effects. The ideal dosage of B6 daily is about 100mg or less.
There is a wide variety of foods that are rich in vitamin B-6. It’s found in a lot of dairy products, including milk and ricotta cheese. Vitamin B-6 is in many protein sources like salmon, eggs, tuna, beef, and chicken liver. You’ll find this vitamin in sweet potatoes, spinach, bananas, chickpeas, whole grain cereals, legumes, and avocados. It is perfect for those who don’t eat meat. Most people who eat a normal diet do not need extra vitamin B6, though some medical conditions may require it. Of course, you can take supplements of B6 or a vitamin B complex for multiple vitamin Bs.
Another essential compound you can look for in certain foods is melatonin. It has been known to affect REM sleep, improving and increasing its length. Foods high in melatonin include bananas, oatmeal, almonds, goji berries, eggs, milk, fish, and cherries. Melatonin is often used for insomnia and improves sleep in different conditions like jet lag or adjusting sleep-wake cycles. Its main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles. Darkness makes the body naturally produce more melatonin, making us sleepy and promoting a healthy circadian rhythm.
You could start adding them to your diet as well if you want more memorable dreams to jot down in your dream journal. You can also find synthetically produced melatonin supplements in your local pharmacy. They can help you fall asleep easier and have a deeper, more restful sleep as well. If you choose to take melatonin supplements, be advised that you may end up building a tolerance if you take it over a long period, though that fades relatively quickly. A usual dose of 3 mg can be tolerated for up to 9 months.
Another consideration is to start drinking tea of specific herbs. Please be careful with any of these, and you should consult your doctor first to see if they have any side effects with any medications you may already be taking. Some “dream herbs” include mugwort (inspires more colorful dreams), blue lotus (promotes vivid thoughts as well as memories), Ginkgo Biloba (useful for memory), and clary sage (improves restful sleep). These types of tea contain natural ingredients like lavender and mint to aid in digestion and have a sedative effect. It can help you relax more as well as lead to a night of deeper sleep.
Other teas can either soothe you to sleep or make for quite a wild night. Calea zacatechichi, or the ‘dream herb’ tea, is a shrub that grows in Mexico. It has a history of being used for gastrointestinal concerns, though some indigenous groups have used it for dream enhancement. It can also induce hallucinations or lucid dreaming in some cases. Users of the herb have reported more vivid, memorable dreams, a sense of deeper knowledge and understanding of your dreams, lighter sleep, and the ability to control your dreams. Here’s the catch – it can also cause hallucinations when you’re awake! Please exercise caution and do not try anything that has not been tested and medically approved.
Binaural beats are white noise machines that can stimulate and change the state of your brain. They play different frequencies to produce the other brain waves to alter your condition. These white noise machines combine two slightly varying sound frequencies to create one new one. When exposed to the two frequencies, the idea behind it is that the brain goes through a process that eventually slows its brainwave activity, which leads to you relaxing and falling into a deeper sleep. A small study showed that binaural beats could lead to changes in three hormones that help us sleep better: DHEA, which benefits our immune system. Along with cortisol, which stimulates alertness. The last hormone is melatonin, which you already know so much more about after reading this article.
There are beta waves (when the brain is alert or stressed), alpha waves (when the mind is relaxed), theta waves (reduced consciousness), and delta waves (when there is deep sleep). Listening to different frequencies can stimulate these other waves, raising your level of “sleeping alertness” and making it easier for you to remember your dreams. You can find white noise machines to play while you sleep or download an app on your phone. The noises can range from static background noises to jungle noises, running water, rain sounds, crackling fire, or anything else you could imagine!
It isn’t a trick that will miraculously work. You have to exercise the effort to remind yourself to dream and to remember it. To help you, try writing “I can remember my dreams” on a sticky note and place it somewhere that you’ll see it before you fall asleep. Getting into this routine will train your brain to pay attention to the details actively. Moreover, with the positive affirmation that you will remember your dreams, you’re likely to be more responsive to them. You can also set up an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to remember your dreams.
Try repeating “I will remember my dream” before you fall asleep. Make this your mantra before going to bed, and chances are it’ll be easier to remember your dreams in the morning (or maybe when you wake up during the night). Giving your brain a task to work on during its sleeping hours is an exciting technique that can be used to achieve individual goals, like waking up at a specific time. Another method is meditating on a problem you have. Your brain may fixate on it and could come up with a solution for you in the morning!
If you’re still having problems remembering your dreams, try giving your brain some exercises to do throughout the day. Sit by a window and look outside. Take in all the details of the world around you. What do the clouds look like? How many different kinds of plants are there? Describe the scene before you in as many different ways as possible to train your brain to notice more details. Write them down or record them in your voice. These exercises can be a proper warm-up for pointing out more information in your dreams.
Start paying more attention to your evening patterns and trying to improve your sleep quality – that’s not just a plus for your dream recall; that’s a bonus for your quality of life. After all, is said and done, there’s no guarantee that these strategies will work for you. There are just some people who won’t remember their dreams, no matter what they try. However, there’s no hurt in giving it a go, as your mind will thank you for trying some creative encouragement along the way.