How Do Dreams Work and What You Can Do to Remember Them

Dreams are notoriously difficult to recall. In fact, if a dream ends before we wake up, we will not remember it. The processes that allow us to create long-term memories largely lie dormant while we sleep, which is why most dreams are forgotten shortly after waking.

For instance, an important neurotransmitter for remembering – norepinephrine – exists at very low levels during dreaming, as does electrical activity in areas key to long-term memory, such as the prefrontal cortex.

As the brain awakens, it starts to turn on processes needed for long-term storage. Thus, if we wake straight out of a dream, we have a greater chance of remembering it.

Studies show that people who have more theta brain-wave activity in their prefrontal cortex after waking from REM sleep have better dream recall. Theta activity indicates a slower-paced, more relaxed brain state, and greater theta activity has been linked to enhanced memory while awake.

The emotional content and logical consistency of a dream also affect how much of our dreams we remember. One study found that less coherent dreams were harder to recall than ones with strongly felt content and organized plot lines. The dreams we are likeliest to retain, nightmares and other vivid, emotional dreams, are accompanied by greater arousal of brain and body and are therefore more likely to wake us up.

When we fall asleep, not all the brain’s regions go offline at the same time. Researchers have found one of the last regions to go to sleep is the hippocampus, a curved structure that sits inside each brain hemisphere and is critical for moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory.

If the hippocampus is the last to go to sleep, it could very well be the last to wake up. So, you could have this window where you wake up with a dream in your short-term memory, but since the hippocampus is not fully awake yet, your brain is not able to keep that memory.

While this might explain why dream memories are so fleeting, it doesn’t mean that your hippocampus has been inactive throughout the night. In fact, this region is quite active during sleep and appears to be storing and caring for existing memories to consolidate them, instead of listening for incoming new experiences.


Capturing our dreams

The objective, therefore, is to remember what we dream about so that we can learn the meaning of our nighttime wanderings. Take a look at 9 ways to remember your dreams. Maybe these steps will guide you into those magical realms of sleep and give you the answers you seek.


1. Develop the habit of recording something every day upon waking

All new habits take about 21 days to develop, so you must record something every morning for 21 days. Even if you do not remember your dreams, write something as soon as you wake up. Remember that feelings are equally important for the interpretation of dreams as images and words, and can help reveal a large part of the dream.

But if you do not remember anything, then write something, even as simple as “I don’t remember my dream today.” Things you write are not as important as the act of writing because you make your subconscious work. This gives you something to write.

2. Always have a pencil, notebook or sound recorder next to your bed

When you start working on a method to remember your dreams, it is necessary to record them immediately upon waking. Dreams quickly slip out of the memory, often within seconds after you wake up. Jotting down your dreams will help you remember to repeat this action until you are recording something every time you wake.

3. Learn to wake up before the alarm

The shock from sound, music or radio can easily cause you to forget what you dreamed. Alarms are just that, they are shocking and horribly loud noises designed to rip you right out of your reverie.

Try to give yourself a command to wake up at a certain time which causes the subconscious to wake you before the alarm. This will help you avoid the loud deterrent.

4. Try to remember your dreams after a nap

Set your alarm clock for 20 or 30 minutes. It is believed that it is easier to remember dreams after a quick nap because in this case, the brain does not enter the phase of deep sleep where there are fewer dreams. Some physicians even say that shorter sleep times are actually healthy.

5. Give your memory the command to recall your dreams upon waking up

This is an exercise that needs practice. Think of your memory as a muscle that should be trained in order to grow stronger. Repetitively speak strength into your memories in order to recall things better.

6. Mattress matters

When you lie on a bed, you apply pressure on the network of thin blood vessels called capillaries just under your skin, in the area of your body which is in contact with your mattress.

This results in restricted blood flow in those particular capillaries. A message gets sent to the brain through nerve cells and pain sensors, telling the brain that you need to shift your position.

Unfortunately, this shifting, commonly known as “tossing and turning”, causes an interruption in the sleep pattern, so it needs to be minimized.

A good mattress reduces force on the pressure points, which results in better blood circulation and in turn, a sounder sleep with satisfying dreams.

7. If these techniques do not work on you, try reverse psychology

Give yourself the command not to remember any dream. Sometimes the subconscious is “reverse” and refuses to do what you are saying. So try telling it not to do what you really want to do.

8. Read something spiritual at bedtime

This can help provoke the emergence of a few subconscious visions related to your daily life. These will appear in your dreams and help you interpret.

9. If you finally recall a particular feeling, try to connect this feeling to an image or situation.

In this case, try to find traces of the dream in your memory. This technique can bring back a piece of the dream. If you’ve had these dreams before, they will return more often than not. When this happens, remember to write down all the details before they are forgotten.


Dreams are fleeting

Dreams come and disappear quickly. Some may return in what’s called repetitive images or sounds, but many of them never do. In order to understand how to remember dreams, think fast and utilize these steps. Maybe, after a bit of practice, you can fill a journal and decipher their meaning.

Although many people are predisposed to remembering their dreams due to a heightened sensitivity, you too can remember your dreams with a little practice.


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