How To Remember Dreams

There are many reasons why would one want to remember own dreams – from mere curiosity to getting in contact with own subconsciousness. Whatever the reason is, basic technique is the same. It takes a bit of discipline, patience, common sense and some knowledge about the dreams. A pen and a notebook as well. 

The way our brains work while we are dreaming is significantly different from the way they work while we are awake. After waking there is a period we’re going from one state to the other. Trick is to stay in that in-between zone as long as needed so we can still access the dream but also write it down.

What do you need to remember dreams

a dream – Obviously, you need something to remember. If you sleep you have dreams. Maybe you think you don’t dream at all but they are there, it’s just you are not remembering them. With a bit of work, that can be changed. Have in mind that a good, healthy sleep is easier to work with.

a notebook – Also called the dream diary. It is dedicated for your dreams and your dreams only. This is not a place to write or draw anything else. Be sure to start each dream on a new clean page. You don’t want your eyes to jump on previous dream. Good idea is to have a bookmark left there before going to sleep. Keep dates but write them after you wrote the whole dream. Also, you’d probably want a notebook with firm covers. They are much more convenient to write in bed.

a pencil – Something that writes easily, doesn’t spill ink around and write in different positions. Not all pens are suitable for writing in bed. Keep both the notebook and pen close to bed, so you can get them “with half of your brain” and with your eyes still closed, right after waking up.

time after waking – Dreams are written first thing after waking, while you’re not fully awake. No going to toilet, no even getting up. Not a single thought that is not connected to dream that is still floating around! (This sounds tough, but it really isn’t once you get some practice.) Just get the pen and start writing. Don’t worry, this is much easier then it sounds.

Sure, waking natural is the best way, but if you have an alarm to wake you up, you’d have to set it up some ten of 15 minutes earlier. Don’t stop the alarm, press snooze so you’re safe not to think about time or falling back to sleep as you do your morning ritual.


photo by V. Vasquez

privacy – Both your act of writing and the contents of the dream diary are for your eyes only, forever and ever! I cannot stress this enough. If you feel like sharing your dreams with your friends, significant others or the whole world that is in the mood to read your dream blog, that’s fine, but never ever allow anybody to get it directly from the notebook. That is a place where you, and your subconscious, should be free to write whatever happened in dreams without any fears of judgment, exposing and over-intimacy.

Maybe you think you would share anything and everything with somebody, but maybe your unconsciousness doesn’t agree on that. In that case, unconsciousness will just stop cooperating.

Beside that, writing a dream is a technique of communicating with yourself. Things that you can explain to yourself in one word could take whole paragraphs to anybody else. You don’t have time to write paragraphs. And you shouldn’t think how to formulate things for anybody else. Once you’ve done writing for yourself in the notebook, you can easily copy that text (rewrite and edit it as wanted and needed) for the rest of the world.

patience – As any other skill, remembering dreams takes a bit of time to develop. Just be persistent and patient. If you remember just an instant of the dream, write it down. If you don’t remember anything, take your time and let your mind roam freely in the state of half awakeness. Don’t force yourself, just be there. Be there for your dreams and they will start coming. Soon enough, you’ll have trouble how to write it all down. Even the hard-core “non-dreamers” take less than two weeks to start remembering.

How to write dreams

Most important: don’t force anything! Relax. Let the things flow inside your head, leave yourself and your thoughts aside to just write things down as they go. This is kind of passive writing. Trick is to keep your mind as close to inactive (inactive is completely wrong word here, but hopefully will give you a picture), sleeping state as possible. This is a skill that’s easy to achieve. Maybe you’ll have a bit of trouble in the beginning but just relax and in a week you’ll know it’s a fairly easy thing to do. Dreams are very fragile stuff. Once your brain gets in the active, daily mode you’ve broke them.

Write as the dream unwinds in your memory. Don’t think about handwriting or how the page looks. This is not a place to be tidy and well organized. If you really want to have it all pretty, take some time during the day to put the edited stuff in the other (I repeat: other!) notebook or to type it in the computer file. Right now you’re taking notes. It doesn’t need to be understandable or readable for anybody except you. If you can decypher what’s written, then it’s good. Don’t waste your time and relaxed concentration trying to explain too much or to be formal. You are writing for yourself.

Chances are that, with a bit of practice, you’ll have hard time to write as fast as the dream comes back to you. Use abbreviations.

Dreams rarely unwind in a linear way. You’ll see how your mind jumps from one scene to the other, then rewinds back to the details of the first scene or reveals the scene between those two. That’s because you first recall those moments of the dream that have a strong impact. As you write them, details will pop-up showing less engaging or stuff that your mind is censoring from you. Depending on what you do with your dreams, these can be even more interesting. As dreams reveal in such unlinear way, you’ll probably find useful to leave empty spaces between the scenes so you can jump back when needed. Or you’ll do numbering and arrows to connect dispersed pieces of text. Whatever you do, don’t think about “the best way” to organize. Do whatever is convenient at the moment and carry on. What works best for you will develop as you get more practice.

Accept it as it is. Don’t think about the meaning of the dream or if it makes any sense. Dreams don’t make much sense in the terms of awaken mind. Each to it’s own. Let the mind think about the meanings later in the day (if at all). Right now you’re still on the border of the dreamland so behave according to that.

We all dream weird things. We all dream things that we’d rather not dream or that we at least wouldn’t confess. Well, don’t confess them then. Whether it’s a sex, death, emotions you’re not comfortable with or whatever, just write it down. And while writing them is not the moment to judge. That’s why privacy of your notebook is sacred. Dreams tend to turn things upside down. Dreams speak language that is not the daylight language and many things get different shape.

Also, there are many reasons something can appear in your dream. Some things come out from our desires, some from our fears or daily stress. Some are leftovers from the previous day.

If the strong association from daylife comes up, or meaning of  a specific detail comes to you, open a bracket and note it. Same goes for previous day’s leftovers. Don’t think about these, but if they come up spontaneously note it.

Thinking about the meaning of a dream is a big no-no in the dreamland. Yeah, I already said that, but it’s worth repeating. Once you start thinking about those things you activate the rational part of the brain and tear the dream back to oblivion. You have probably turned on the judgment of your dreams too. Leave that for later if at all.

Research dreams. Read books. I mean good books about dreams, not symbol dictionaries that are piles of crap in 95% of the cases. More you know about dreams easier it will be to remember them and easier it will be to deal with their content. C. G. Jung should be a good start. Have in mind that there is a difference between common theory and you, so turn on critical thinking while reading.

Don’t stop on the pleasurable scenes. Write them down and go on. Sure you’ll be tempted to stop on a specific spot and get a bit more of whatever was the sweet dream while you’re still in soft and warm bed. Go over it and write the rest of the dream. After a while, you’ll be able to recall the scene later in the day if you want it. Just don’t become a dream junkie that spends a large part of daytime rerunning own dreams.

This should be enough to give you a good start. If you have questions, concerns and stories to share please do in the comments, I’ll be more than happy to hear from you.

Happy dreaming!

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  • Great post. I love this topic. I've always been good at remembering dreams, and yet, when I take time to write them down immediately, I always find out something I would have missed otherwise. I often draw an image or diagram of some part of the dream, where remembering what i saw feels just as important (or more important) than what happened.
    I agree that it is good to write quickly, without self-editing. I find a lot of clues as to what/why I had that dream by looking later at the specific word I use to describe something. For example, did I write down that a room was "empty," "lonely," "barren," or "hidden"? The word might lead me to understand something about what the meaning of that room was.

  • Drawing images and diagrams are good thing if you can do them. Probably because they are not rational as words are. Same goes to subtle differences in words we use, most of them actually have meaning only to the person that writes. 

    That gray area where rational and subconscious meet is so worth exploring. Not only that one learns about how mind works but also gets priceless knowledge of own self. 

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