Every night, our unconscious mind takes us on awesome adventures without ever leaving our bed. If you’ve ever wanted to learn what happens after you count those sheep, there are some easy tricks out there to aid with how to remember your dreams. (Please let it be the Colin Firth wet shirt scene tonight!) You might be surprised that there is a bit more to it than keeping a dream journal by your bed.
Why Mr. Sandman comes to town and does his dirty work is still hotly debated today. I always assumed that dreaming is a way to process events and stressors that we've experienced during the waking hours. Some oneirologists suggest that dreaming is a way for the brain to sort through all the day's information and decide what to make lasting memories of and what to disregard. Other theories posit that dreaming helps us experience our emotions more fully and make connections, and some think dreams serve no purpose at all! I for one believe that dreams can hold great significance. If I’m going to spend an entire one-third of my life asleep, I want to get some bang for my buck! Otherwise, why not just cut our time in bed down to a quick 15-minute disco-nap and spend the rest of the time drinking margaritas? By following these easy steps you too can build your dream recall and have your very own Alice in Wonderland experience:
Get Plenty Of Sleep
This may seem relatively self-explanatory, but it's a crucial step in remembering dreams. Twenty-five percent of the time we are asleep, we are in the REM state. And during the REM cycle your body basically takes the key out of the ignition. Our muscles turn off, we become completely relaxed, but most notably, during this state our brain is active and our dreams are the most abundant and well-remembered. (Sadly, the "REM state" does not include spooning Michael Stipe while listening to Losing My Religion.) The cycle lasts about an hour, and only happens after about six hours of sleep. If you only sleep six hours you are depriving yourself of the extra-long dream cycle, which could be chock full of fun stuff. Depriving yourself of restful dream-filled sleep is like choosing to work on the bonus day of your long weekend. So break out that eye-mask and get to bed early!
Create A Restful Environment Conducive To Sleep
There are a lot of factors that affect our quality of sleep. Having a quick nightcap, taking pills before bed — even a late meal can affect our slumber and ability to recall dreams. The goal is to free yourself of worry and stress. Do whatever it takes to calm your mind so that you can peacefully drift to sleep. Recalling dreams takes focus, and you don't need troubling thoughts distracting you. Make sure you silence the phone for the night and flip off the TV. Instead, try some more classic methods of winding down like meditation, counting sheep, a little white noise machine — your choice!
Make The Decision To Remember Your Dreams
You know how sometimes you wake up right before the alarm goes off? Your brain knows you have to be up for work by 7 a.m., because you pledged to do so, and your brain subconsciously followed that order. Dream recall can be aided by a similar thought process. We are a lot more likely to do something if we make a commitment to doing it. So, before you drift off for the night, remind yourself that you wish to awaken totally from your dreams and remember them. You can even tell yourself that you want to have interesting, fun dreams. Who knows? Maybe your mind will oblige!
Set An Alarm To Wake You
Keep an alarm close at hand. You don't want to have to get out of bed to turn it off and forget all about those precious dreams that you just spent hours forming. Use a gentle setting that won't distract you from remembering what you just dreamt. Talk shows and music with lyrics can interrupt your thoughts and distract you from the task at hand. Be ready to record your dreams as soon as you wake, you can even leave a note for yourself saying something like, "What did you dream?" This is especially helpful if you're a coffee addict like me, and the first thing your mind jumps to is craving that cup of joe!
Another strategy to increase the amount of dreams you recall is to set an alarm to go off frequently in the morning hours, journal each time you wake, then fall asleep, and repeat. Since we typically only remember the last thing we dreamt about, this is a handy trick for squeezing out more information and details. REM cycles typically happen in 90-minute intervals so you can set the alarm to go off after four, six, and seven hours of sleep.
Journal Or Record As Soon As You Wake Up
When you wake, don't move from bed, and use whatever your choice of recording device is to detail what you remember of your dreams. You can write in a dream journal, or speak into a voice recorder on your phone. Start with the basics: plot, location, and prominent characters, and symbols. Try to recall the emotions you were experiencing during the dream, these tend to stick around for a little while after we wake, so if you're feeling happy, anxious, or angry it's most likely related to what you just dreamt. Any dialogue you recall is important to jot down quickly because words and phrases are typically the first to be forgotten. And if somehow you can't remember anything, try writing down any first thoughts or images that drift into your mind. These might just be related to what you experienced in your dream and will jog your memory!
The more familiar you become with the process, the easier it will get. After several nights of journaling, you will be more conscious of your dreams and their intrinsic patterns. You will also learn what factors, whether they be environmental or psychological, will help you more completely remember your dream. Dipping your toe into lucid dreaming could be around the corner, because you will be more likely to realize when you are dreaming, and then the real fun begins!
Now, please excuse me while I catch a few Zs. I'm ready to see my dream husband!