Dreams are still relatively mysterious, scientifically speaking. This will be reassuring to anyone who’s had a dream that is strange or unsettling or otherwise inexplicable. (Yes, we’ve all had weird dreams about exes. No, it isn’t a sign you’re destined to be together.) In turn, the answer to why some people remember their dreams easily and other people don’t isn’t as simple as “because some people’s Dream Selves have better memories.”
To be clear, everyone does dream. Even people who claim they never dream or haven’t dreamed in years exhibit dream-like brain activity while asleep, according to research. However, as one Discover blog points out, “Maybe they are just behaving as if they are dreaming, but without any conscious content.” Which begs the question, what constitutes a dream? Do you “see” and “hear” things in order for it to be called a dream? But that is a philosophical quandary for another blog.
So, if you’re someone who believes they don’t dream, perhaps you fall into the category of people who have a more difficult time recalling your dreams. (Don’t feel too bad: some research suggests we only remember 5 to 10% of our dreams.) However, how well you remember your dreams — or why you may not remember them at all — has to do with more than just your memory first thing in the morning.
It May Have To Do With How And When You Wake Up
“It’s really not about remembering,” Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. “It’s about waking at the right time.”
According to Stickgold, it’s easiest to remember your dream if you wake up during the end of a sleep cycle and do so “slowly and with little movement.” Most often, you awaken during the REM stage, the sleep cycle in which we dream. It makes sense: waking up calmly and slowly right after you have a dream may make it easier to remember said dream. Of course, alarm clocks, early rising pets, and outside stimuli don’t always make it easy to awake gently.
It May Have To Do With The Part Of Your Brains You Engage While Asleep And Awake
One small study in 2014 found participants who are better able to remember their dreams have “more activity in the temporo-parietal junction” while dreaming. This is the part of the brain involved with information processing. Researchers believe that more activity in this part of the brain may mean “dreams are better embedded into the sleeper’s memory.”
Another study from 2013 found that people who respond more to their name while awake tend to remember their dreams more easily. Researchers believed those who could readily recall their dreams may “engage more brain regions when processing sounds while awake.” Thus, their brain is more primed to process dream “sounds.”
Light Sleepers May Remember Dreams Easier
The 2014 brain study also found, per International Business Times, that “Low dream recallers are also far less reactive to auditory stimuli during sleep and wakefulness, suggesting time awake may facilitate the ability to remember dreams.”
This reaffirms a 2013 study published in Frontiers of Consciousness Research, which found that those who remember their dreams on a regular basis also wake up more frequently while sleeping than those who don’t remember their dreams.
Can You Make Yourself Remember Dreams Easier?
One study from 2018 found that a dose of vitamin B6 before bed may help with dream recall. According to researchers, “Anecdotal evidence indicates that supplementation with vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) before bed can enhance dream vividness and recall.” While further research needs to be done on the effects of B6 on our dreams, study authors state the supplement “did not affect the vividness, bizarreness or color of their dreams, and did not affect other aspects of their sleep patterns.”
Before you head to Whole Foods to pop some B6, keep in mind the aforementioned study was small (just 100 participants), short (recorded over five days), and self-reported. The ability to recall your dreams is also impacted by the intention to recall your dreams. In other words, if you want to know who or what graces the presence of Dream You, it may be as simple as making the decision to remember your dreams as you drift off to sleep.