Hello there dreamers!
This is going to be a quick two-part post on dream recall for all of those people that have sent in question as of recent. Hopefully it’s going to cover all the common questions and misconceptions – so this is an all-in-one tutorial which I hope will resolve all of your queries.
This first part will look at dream recall and how I classify dreams. I’ve put together everything that has worked for me so far as well as tutorials use the methods for yourself. The second post will answer all the common questions I get through regarding things such as poor dream recall and the use of a dream journal. So apologies for the massive, ugly posts (around 2.7k words in all) but it should cover everything you need to know at this level.
Classifying dreams – What is a dream?
Classifying what dreams are is difficult mainly because nobody really knows what they are or why we have them. I’ll just discuss their classification based on my model which I use as a reference throughout my own tutorials.
Dreaming happens in something known as a ‘REM’ stage of sleep with the imagery formed from an accumulation of past experiences, emotions, memories and expectations. Throughout this the dreamer is unconscious (or unaware they are dreaming). The phenomenon known as ‘dreaming’ happens throughout these REM periods but seems to be split up into smaller episodes which I’ll go ahead and call ‘dreams’. Different dreams are separated by shifts in scenery and storylines, so it’s possible to remember a whole REM periods worth of individual dreams indentified separately by major changes in the dreamscape.
I’ve also categorized dreams into two separate groups for convenience.
FORMAL dreams are your typical dreams and appear in the first few REM periods most typically during the night. The dream imagery follows your own thought patterns and perceptions. These are usually complex and fleeting with flashes of emotion rather than any developed story line.
INFORMAL dreams happen (most usually) during the later stages of the night where your presence in the dream becomes greater. You appear more detached, with the dream appearing separate from your own senses like in waking life. Dreams have apparent storylines with more developed associations.
Classifying dreams is important as it helps to distinguish and understand what’s really going on. I place dreams into these two types to somehow describe the imagery taking place, which are the most prominent features of my dreams.
Having a dream journal
The best tool for dream recall is the famous dream-journal. What form this takes depends on you the dreamer but most commonly it’ll be a simple notebook for writing in each morning (though you could try a voice recorder or typing).
The aim of keeping a journal is to be able to remember, record and then flick back through the dreams you’ve had without having to rely on memory alone. Commonly this is done with the aim of finding your own personal ‘dream-signs’ which are common things you dream a lot about (seeing a dream sign in the future will then indicate that you are dreaming). It’s also a good method for improving dream recall. The conscious act of writing down the dreams you remember each morning encourages you to naturally remember even more dreams.
Most of all a dream journal is helpful as a way of keeping all the dreams you’ve had for future reference. You can learn a lot about yourself by reading back through past dreams and but also use them as a tool for recognizing and understanding dreams in general whether that’s for gaining awareness (lucidity) or simply for personal interest.
Preparing to dream – Setting up a healthy dream environment
Dream recall is something which is very much affected by our waking lives and because of this we have to put some effort into creating some ‘good habits’ for improving dream memory.
The first focus should always be on your sleep pattern. Ideally an adult should be getting around 8 hours of sleep a night and be continually going to bed and waking at the same approximate times. In reality this can be difficult so I’d recommend sticking to it for about 4-5 nights a week. To put it simply, this should get you sleeping more naturally and help your body into a cycle where it knows when it’s going to sleep and what time it’s going to wake. Not only this, but it should help in boosting your dream recall (as well as helping to get regular REM periods which, if you’re interested in Wake-Back-To-Beds, you can set an alarm to wake you up during REM dreaming periods so you can return to sleep and a lucid dream).
Dreaming happens at its best if you’re having a good night’s sleep so take some time to relax yourself before bed, don’t drink too much alcohol and invest in a good pillow. You want an environment in which you’re comfortable to maximise your chance of remembering dreams.
Intention setting – ‘Willing’ yourself to remember your dreams
As with many things in life (and dreaming especially) people achieve things if they put their mind to it. When asleep (and in a world where we lack conscious awareness) we have no real input on dream recall and so have to rely on the small amount of control we can exhibit on dreams in waking life.
This comes in the form of intention setting. Dreams are naturally built upon our own experiences, expectations and perceptions from waking life – So if you make dream recall something you think about, care about and want to do, then this will carry over into the dream (and you’ll thus remember your dreams). Commonly this is done within the few minutes before going to be each night, whereby you firmly set the idea that you want to remember your dreams with the hope that such a thought will become prominent during the night.
In general, intention setting is a very successful and simple method to use within lucid dreaming and well worth researching further.
General tips for remembering dreams
Other than the above there are three tricks which I commonly use to boost dream recall. There are of course many more tips out there that work for different people though I’ve tried to do put some together that are trusted favourites for beginners.
1) How you wake is quite important when looking at dream recall. Dreams are usually forgotten within the first few minutes of waking as our minds quickly come to life with thoughts of the day ahead. So, to boost how many dreams you remember upon waking remain still and try not to move too much. Think of all the dreams you can remember and visualize them, coming up with the way you will write them in your dream journal. If you can’t remember anything stay still anyway and think very hard on the types of things you usually dream about or whatever random thoughts float into your mind. Work off dreams you can remember and try and work backwards from there to recall more.
2) Keep an eye out for dream memories during the day. If you dream a lot about things from your waking life it could be possible that things in real life will stimulate a memory of a dream from the night before. Remember to record all of these dreams as well, even if it’s just a short sentence in your dream journal!
3) If you’re really struggling try waking yourself directly from a dream in a REM dreaming period. You can do this by setting your alarm an hour early or so – or even by regularly waking yourself during the night. A good trick is to listen to music when asleep as this will wake you more during your micro-awakenings (periods of semi-wakefulness after REM periods) meaning you’re more likely to remember your dreams!
What’s really important here is that you put some effort into remembering your dreams. It’s easy to give up quickly because dream recall works on a steep learning curve. To start off with it’s going to be a struggle, but more time you spend trying to remember your dreams the more dreams you’ll remember (and with better clarity).
So I think that covers the basics when looking at dream recall and tips for remembering dreams. Part two of this tutorial will look at some common questions, problems and solutions to dream recall which I hope should clear up any remaining issues!
[And if that wasn’t enough for you, you can see my older post on dream recall that I wrote about a year ago here (though it should contain similar sorts of information!]