Health And Wellness

5 Foolproof Tools To Help You Remember Your Dreams

Photo: Kuz Production / Shutterstock
sleeping woman

How often do we wake up fascinated by a dream and determined to understand it, only to have it vanish forever by the time we check our email?

When we first wake up, dreams have not yet been placed in the long-term storage areas of the brain. If we want to remember our dreams, we must move the “files” from the dream we just had. How do we do that? Here are 5 foolproof tools to learn how to remember your dreams.

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The 5 best tools to learn how to remember your dreams:

1. Act quickly to remember your dreams.

If you distract yourself, if you say, “I’ll just check my emails then record my dream” it’ll be gone. Record it RIGHT AWAY. I use the memo recorder on my phone.

As a physician, I tend to keep my phone beside me for emergency calls, so it’s right there. I hit the voice memo button, talk, and the dream is saved.

Often, as I begin to record a dream I go back into the dream world and recall more details of the dream. Then it's recorded forever, and I can go back to sleep if it’s the middle of the night.

A pad of paper works just as well for those of you who don’t have the bad habit of sleeping with your phone.

2. Keep a dream journal.

Remember and record your dreams, don’t try to understand them immediately. If you record the dream you'll have the rest of your life to figure it out. Don’t get stuck on the first dream image or character.

If you dreamt of Uncle Joe, and start to wonder how Uncle Joe is doing and think to yourself you need to call him, you'll lose the rest of the dream. Recording a dream in a dream journal puts it into long-term storage, not only in your laptop but also in your brain. 

3. Make dreamwork a ritual. 

When you go to bed at night tell yourself to remember your dreams, and when you wake up think back to see if you had any dreams. Think of the dream maker inside you as someone you need to develop a relationship with. She is a friend, but you have to get to know him and talk to him regularly.

4. Don’t be afraid of nightmares.  

I know that’s a paradox. Fear is generally part of the nightmare. But there's a difference between experiencing the fear and being overwhelmed by it.

The fear is there for a reason. Often the intent of a nightmare is to metaphorically “wake you up” to an unhealthy way of dealing with the world. Nightmares often have great wisdom hidden within them. Sometimes people don’t want to remember dreams because they're afraid to.

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5. Sleep more, keep a sleep schedule, and sleep in when you can.  

Our modern world has trapped us in an endless summer of short nights and long days. This helps us be productive, but not creative. 

Our cave-dwelling ancestors lived in a world where winter nights where nights were 12-15 hours long, and there was nothing to do but sleep and dream. It was probably during those long, dreamy nights that the first works of art, the first cave paintings, were made. 

REM sleep phases get longer and longer as the night goes on. If we go to bed at midnight and our alarm buzzes at 5:30 am, we will dream very little. 

What stage of sleep do dreams occur? 

Dreams occur during rapid eye movement or REM sleep. REM sleep is a virtual playground where the mind explores new and creative options for processing emotions and solving problems.

In a sleep lab, if you awaken someone from REM sleep, you'll recall a dream 80% of the time. Many of us think we don’t dream. We remember few or no dreams, and the ones we do recall we quickly forget.  

Actually, we have many dreams every night, but we must teach ourselves to remember them.

Is it important to learn how to remember our dreams? 

YES! Dreams can contain wisdom and creative solutions to problems. Edison found that dreams were so important to him as a source of inspiration that he rigged up a way to wake himself from sleep to remember his dreams. He slept in a chair, put ball bearings in his hand and a pie tin of the floor below his hand. 

When he fell into deeper dream sleep his hand would relax, the ball bearings would fall out, hit the pie tin and wake him up, fresh from a dream.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Twilight novels, the Beatles song “Yesterday” and the Stones song “Satisfaction” all had their origins in dreams. We may not be novelists or in a rock band, but dreams can provide creative insights and solutions to life's problems for all of us.

Everyone can learn to remember their dreams, it just takes practice.

Learning how to remember your dreams can change your life. 

Understanding your dreams can change your life. Dreams come from outside of what we think of as ourselves: they come from outside our ego. They are crafted in a language that's different from the language of our everyday.

This language has been called “mentalese,” the language of the mind. Mentalese is a beautiful language of images, puns, and wordplay. As we come to learn this language our dreams will become easier to remember and understand.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a family of shepherds, they knew nothing of what these papers in a clay jar, written in a foreign language meant or how priceless they were.

Pages were lost as kindling, wrapping paper, even sections of kite. Dreams are like that; they are priceless gifts from our psyche that we discard because we don’t understand them.

RELATED: What It Really Means When You Dream About Your Teeth Falling Out

Greg Mahr, MD is a psychiatrist and student of dreams in Detroit. He is part of the Henry Ford Hospital sleep research program. His book, The Wisdom of Dreams: Science, Synchronicity and the Language of the Soul, co-authored by Chris Drake, PhD will be published by Routledge in early 2021.