Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Do You Remember Your Dreams?

65 - Perfect Recall
65 - Perfect Recall (Photo credit: tourist_on_earth)
         Many readers of A Faraway View have said that they don't dream.   Most research would counter this claim and say that we all dream, but we often do not remember our dreams.  Not remembering dreams is probably a more common situation than having good recall.   What makes us remember certain dreams, but have little or no memory of most other dreams?   Why are the dreams we do remember forgotten so easily and quickly?

        A recent study at the University of Notre Dame suggests that walking through doorways can cause you forget.   The researchers came up with the premise that moving from one environment to another can create enough mental distraction to cause a thought change when one enters into the new place.  Perhaps this is similar to what happens when we awaken from a dream.

        During a dream our mental faculties are focused on an often abstract thinking environment that often makes little sense.   Upon awakening we enter into a mind shift that consists of the logical world that is tangible and easier to comprehend.  Our attention is now focused on our senses and our surroundings.  Like passing though a doorway into another room, we leave behind the old thinking of the dream which is typically forgotten as we now respond to stimuli in the waking life.

         When we manage to carry the dream thoughts into the waking life and continue to dwell on them, those thoughts become clearer, more real, and remembered if we tuck them into memory.  The more we think about the dreams and tap into the dream memories, the more we solidify that dream memory in our mind.  It takes a conscious effort to isolate those memories and retain them for the long term.

        Writing the dream account can cinch the memory for us, but usually the timing is prohibitive for engaging in such a practice.  We usually are getting ready for the day, eating breakfast, or attending to family members.  There is often little or no time for dwelling on dreams.

         Sometimes prompting from others can help tremendously.  In a recent example I encountered, as I was going to bed one night, my wife, who had already been sleeping for some time, began sobbing in her sleep.  When I asked her if she was okay, I woke her up from a dream.   She told me the dream and why it had made her cry.  The next morning I asked her if she remembered crying in her sleep. She remembered and recalled the dream in detail.   Later that same day, after she came home from work, I asked again and she still remembered the details of the dream.

       For most of us, a dream awoken from in the middle of the night is forgotten the next morning.   However, if we were to get up from that dream and write it down, the memory would be more clear.  Likewise this would be true in the morning if we wake while dreaming.  If we have a dream journal or a note pad beside the bed or nearby, even if we write down a brief description and some key words, we are very apt to remember the dream, especially if we thoughtfully contemplate the dream for a time.

          Remembering a dream might be compared to memorizing a poem.  The first read through is the experience.  Most of us will forget the poem if we read it only once.  But as we study the poem, pick out key words that strike us, and continue to review the poem, we begin to commit it to memory.

           Such is dream memory.  To make the memory last after the initial experience, we must rehearse the dream in our mind and recite it until that dream is seared upon our memory.  Dreams are fleeting.  Work is required to hang on to them.

            Have you ever tried writing down dreams or keeping a dream journal?   Have you ever remembered a dream due to telling someone about it immediately upon awakening?    How good is your dream memory?

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  1. My dream memory is not that good unless there is a strong emotion involved in the dream. I used to write them down but not anymore. Some disappear before I'm awake enough to write anything. Only the most vivid stay.

  2. Seldom do I remember my dreams. I have awaken and tried to recall what the dream was about but to know avail. There have been times when upon waking I'll try to hold on to the fleeting visual of what was seen before it passes from memory; even then it is just the pieces; but as you mentioned,Arlee, If focused on and written down perhaps during the course of the day more of the memory can be recalled. I'll have to put that into practice and see if that works! Great article! I enjoyed it!

  3. I still have my dream journal from high school and I know I wrote about dreams in later journals. I went thru a period in 2004/05 where I remembered them in detail for hours afterwards and would transcribe them by typing them out. Some were 2 pages single spaced. I keep a pad in my nighttable but I never remember to write and they start to disappear as I get closer to fully waking up.

  4. I keep a notebook by the bedside and am on the alert to write down any dreams. I know if I write them down, I will remember them - and I think I likely enhance the dream somewhat in the memory. In other words, maybe I embellish in a way that allows it make sense. I like to consider dreams and try to listen to them so when I do embellish, I think it still is coming from my unconscious. It's as if I am living in the dream. I dont' really know what the dreams mean but sometimes I can put some ideas together. I suppose it doesn't matter. I am only trying to understand my life!
    I sometimes get painting subjects from dreams too - even if no one else gets what the painting is about, I will because it is based on a dream.

  5. If I have a vivid dream and I wake up, I talk out loud about it. Or I write about it. Either way, I can remember it.

  6. Al -- I can understand that. Most dreams are such a series of random events that they don't particularly stand out. It's like remembering daily life.

    Betty -- I think practice makes a world of different in dream memory as with anything else in life.

    JoJo -- I think the carefree lifestyle of high school days is more amenable to the leisure of writing down dreams. I also have dream journals from those periods. I have rarely since been able to record dreams in such magnificent detail as I did back then.

    Gracie -- I also will usually embellish the dream stories a bit to have them make more sense. Some dreams are so difficult to convey later that I think we need to turn them into a sort of a story form.

    Susan - Yes, just thinking about them for a moment and planning to return to them later usually doesn't work for dream memory. The dream must be established somehow and recounting the dream aloud or on paper is the most effective approach.



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The Dreamer