Everyone dreams, but many people struggle to remember their dreams. In fact, according to Lee Ann Obringer in her article “How Dreams Work,” on Discovery Health, people often forget more than 50 percent of a dream’s content within five minutes of waking up. And within 10 minutes, 90 percent is gone.
“Why is that?” Obringer ponders, adding. “We don’t forget our daily actions that quickly. The fact that they are so hard to remember makes their importance seem less.”
Many researchers have puzzled over why dreams are so hard to recall for some people but others can remember specific details, even down to what — if anything — dream characters are wearing. Some researchers have hypothesized that western culture doesn’t value dreams.
Others have said that people aren’t supposed to remember their dreams. But whatever the reason, most dream researchers agree that dreaming is important to a human’s psychological well-being.
Is Remembering Dreams Important?
Dream researchers like Ryan Dungan Hurd, founder of DreamStudies.org and a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, believe the that fact that people dream is sufficient incentive, and people shouldn’t feel slighted if they can’t recall dreams.
“As to why [dream recall] is important – well, that’s really a judgment call,” says Hurd, in a July 20, 2010, interview with Suite101.
“For me, my dreams offer insight, opportunities for spiritual growth, and lots of sheer entertainment,” Hurd continued. He also indicated that whether people remember and consciously appreciate their dreams, this does not deter from the purpose of dreaming – to help the dreamer integrate experiences and quicken learning, according to Hurd’s theory.
“Still, those who can remember their dreams are given a leg up, in my opinion, on learning about themselves and how to adapt to this crazy world,” Hurd concluded.
Why Are Dreams So Hard to Remember?
Hurd explains that dreams are difficult to remember because of the chemistry of the human brain. “When we are dreaming, [the brain] is the cholinergic system that is running the show. The brain is more plastic in this state,” says Hurd.
According to Biology-Online.org, the cholinergic system is a structure of nerve cells that uses acetylcholine to transmit nerve impulses that are involved with memory regulation and learning.
“But as soon as we wake up, this system radically shuts down and serotonin levels rise, along with noradrenaline, bringing back the familiar waking cognition style that is more linear and logical in structure,” says Hurd. And once awake, dreams quickly slip away.
So how can people remember what they dreamed? There are a number of methods such as keeping a dream journal – but that will only work if the dream is remembered in the first place. Hurd says his favorite dream recall method is what he calls the “snooze method to dream recall.”
Hurd’s Snooze Method for Dream Recall
Usually, people wake up and immediately change their body position. “This actually dispels the body’s emotional traces of the last dream,” says Hurd. “And it’s totally over for remembering dreams once we start thinking about the day ahead.”
Hurd believes that memory traces are not just stored in the brain; he says they can be stored virtually anywhere in the body. The lungs, the belly, and the heart are among the largest of these body-cognition centers, and they process memory and emotion. It’s said that people can use this same natural capacity of the body to help remember dreams, too.
So, to improve dream recall, it can be helpful to remain in position upon waking; avoid moving into a new position. Then, actively attempt to recall the dream. If no images come, try to focus on any emotion the dream may have left behind. Hurd says that determining where the feeling “lives” will help with recall.
Where in the body is the emotion felt? In the chest, the belly, other parts? This is called “body scanning.” With practice, the dream image will come back with a flash, and sometimes an entire dream narrative will come with it.
Hurd says that even if people use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning, they can still use his dream recall method. Hit the snooze and then move back into the same position, with the eyes closed. Start scanning the body for dream memories and watch what shows up in terms of images and thoughts.
If waking world worries intrude, say, “I don’t need to worry about that right now.” Just turn back to the dream scanning, focusing on the emotions or any dream image that comes to mind. “Some people may fall back to sleep at this point, but hey – that’s why we have snooze button in the first place,” says Hurd.
Then once the dream narrative comes to mind, write down the dream in as much detail as possible. Even jotting down some shorthand and revisit the notes later over breakfast will keep the dream in mind.
Practicing Dream Recall
When turning in for the night, it is important to set the intention to remember any dreams. If one works with guides or angels, it is possible to ask for their help in having dreams during the night and to remember those dreams.
One can also state the intention to dream by saying an affirmation, such as “Tonight I will dream and I will remember my dreams.”
Practice is the best way to assure dream recall. Keeping a dream journal is a sure fire method of making dream recall a habit. And remember, the best way to remember a dream is to stay put after waking up.