Smiling woman waking up without alarm to remember dream

How To Remember Your Dreams

“To sleep, perchance to dream.” Or perchance not?

Although Hamlet was contemplating the “sleep” of death, sleep and its accompanying dream states remain a subject shrouded in mystery. Think you don’t dream? In fact, everyone does dream. Except, perhaps, those who are under the influence of legal or illegal drugs, or who have specific brain injuries. But not everyone recalls this enigmatic phenomenon, which is a nightly source of pleasure, anxiety, inspiration and self-understanding for those of us who do visit the dream world frequently.

What does it mean if you can’t remember your dreams?

Dreams can be a nightly source of inspiration and self-understanding.

You might not remember your dreams in vivid detail because you sleep soundly. One study found that people who have better dream memory awoke more than twice as often during the night as those with low dream recall, which suggests that the brains of people who recall fewer dreams may be less reactive to sound or other stimuli.

This conclusion was backed by another study comparing the awakenings of 17 men and women with a low frequency of dream recall with 19 participants with a high frequency. Those who frequently recalled their dreams woke more often and stayed awake longer than the group who had less-frequent dream recall.

In an interesting twist, these researchers were able to pin down these more frequent awakenings to stage 2 sleep, which is when there is no rapid eye movement (REM); dreaming has historically been linked to the REM stage. In fact, the high-recall and low-recall participants woke up during the REM stage or dreaming phase about the same number of times—leading the researchers to conclude that dream recall isn’t related to waking during the REM phase.


Is remembering dreams good or bad?

Dream recall can have psychological benefits.

On the one hand, if you don’t recall your dream experience, you’re likely sleeping deeply, and getting the full, restorative benefits of your shut-eye sessions. On the other hand, dream recall can have psychological benefits. Dream interpretation provides us with clues concerning the information that our brains process and areas of anxiety that we may need to work through. Dreams can also be a source of inspiration or provide answers to important questions.

In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table of elements, reported, “In a dream, I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.”

How to remember your dreams

woman writing in dream journal

Keeping a dream journal by your bedside is a good idea, since the memory of dreams is fleeting. Jot down what you can remember in your dream diary as soon as you wake up.

Other tips for better dream recall include forgoing an alarm in the morning to give yourself time to arrive at wakefulness naturally, and writing yourself a note before bed, reminding yourself to remember your dream content. Drinking lots of water before bedtime is another way to encourage waking at night after a REM sleep cycle.

You might also be able to get a boost to your dream recall abilities with the nutrient pyridoxine (vitamin B6). A randomized trial that tested the effects of consuming 240 milligrams pyridoxine hydrochloride before bed for five days found that the vitamin significantly increased the amount of dream content recalled by participants, without affecting other sleep-related variables. In contrast, taking the full B complex before sleep may be stimulating; take this energizing nutrient earlier than the day.

Another natural dream enhancer may be vitamin B12, which some researchers have linked to dreaming in more vivid colors.

Almost everyone dreams, and with practice, you should be able to enjoy the nighttime entertainment your brain plays out behind your closed eyes. Sweet dreams!

About the Author: Dayna Dye is a certified medical assistant and the author of thousands of articles published during the past two decades about health, nutrition, aging and longevity. She has been interviewed on radio and TV and in newsprint. She is currently a member of Life Extension's Education Department.