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Six Techniques for Remembering Dreams

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Even though I remember a lot of my dreams, I tend to get hung up on the ones I don’t remember. I’ll sit up in my bed, trying my best to remember what I dreamt before it fades away. Sometimes I’m able to recall parts of the dream, but as much as I try, I just can’t remember all of it.


We dream about every hour and a half and the longest dreams last from thirty to forty-five minutes. One would think that so many dreams unfolding each time we sleep would leave a more lasting impression. So why don’t they? They can—if you’re willing to do a little work. If you want to tap into your subconscious and start recalling your dreams, these tips will help get you started.


1. Keep a Dream Journal
Writing our dreams down as soon as we wake is one of the best ways to remember them; it also helps us decipher them since we’re able to reference them at any time. Craig Hamilton-Parker suggests an experiment for remembering our dreams in his book, The Hidden Meaning of Dreams. Hamilton-Parker recommends investing in a long-lasting, hardcover blank book and resolving to enter at least one dream in it every night for an entire month. Once you’ve got your journal, he suggests drawing a line down the middle of the page; on the left side of the line, write your dream. On the right side, give your interpretation of it.


When writing down your dreams, don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or the sequence of events. Concentrate on getting it all on paper as fast as you can before it fades away.


When the month is up, look back through your dreams. You’ll be amazed at what you remembered and you’ll have a lot more insight into what’s influencing your dreams.


2. Give Your Dreams a Title
If you wake up and don’t have time to journal, create a title for your dream and write that down instead. You should title dreams in your dream journal anyway, but this can be an effective way of remembering aspects of your dream without journaling right away.


Use the title of your dream as often as you can throughout the day, whether you’re telling others about it or just trying to remember more details. When you have time to go back, expand on the title as much as you can. This could give you more clues into what you dreamed.


3. Use Pictures Instead of Words
If the idea of journaling all your dreams is intimidating, try drawing them. If you’re better at images than words, this might be the best technique for you. Buy a sketchbook and keep it by your bed with a pencil nearby. When you wake up, draw images you saw in your dreams. They don’t have to be masterpieces of art, just stick figures or colors you remember.


Once you get all the images down, go back and try to connect them to reconstruct your dream. If you have time later on, look up the images in a dream journal to see what they might mean.


4. Create a Map
Have you ever seen one of those mind maps with all the bubbles connected to one another and words inside each bubble? That’s what this technique is all about. If you dream about running down a windy canyon road, but the only thing you really remember is the canyon, write the word “canyon” in a bubble, then start branching off and drawing other bubbles off of that. One of the bubbles can have the word “road” and one “running.” The more you remember about each part of the dream, the more bubbles you can add. Once you get it all mapped out, you may be surprised at how much you actually remember. By zeroing in on key words and not worrying about the sequence or plot, you may be able to fill in the gaps of your fuzzy dream.


5. Wake Yourself Up
In 1955, Eugene Aserinsky and Nathan Kleitman published a paper about rapid eye movements, or the REM phase of sleep. They found that REM sleep takes up about 20 percent of our nightly sleep and that dreams in this phase of sleep are some of the easiest ones to remember.


Try waking yourself up at different times of the night to remember more dreams. Set an alarm for early in the morning and when it goes off, challenge yourself to remember what you were dreaming.


Or, drink a glass of water before you go to bed. When you wake up to use the bathroom, see if you remember what you were dreaming. Once you get a feel for what time is the best for dream catching, you can make it a regular thing.


6. Get Yourself in the Right Mind Set
Before going to bed, say aloud, “I will remember my dreams tonight.” When you wake up, lay still in bed for a couple of minutes, eyes closed, and try to remember. Once you start remembering, sit still a little longer and try to reach for more. To get yourself motivated to remember dreams, it may also be helpful to read a dream book before going to bed.


We all dream every night; we just don’t always remember them. If we make a conscious decision to remember our dreams and try a few new techniques, we’re bound to get a little closer to our own dream worlds.


Updated July 24, 2009

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