How To Remember Your Dreams

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I use my dreams as my primary source of inner wisdom in my life. If I want insight into how I really feel about something, clues about areas for growth or guidance on how to proceed with any difficult life situation, I look to my dreams for answers. This is all well and good if you remember your dreams regularly, but many people complain of only being able to recall dreams occasionally, or not at all. Don’t fret. This is something you can get better at if you put a little bit of effort into it. I say this from personal experience.

In college, I took a class that changed my relationship to my dream life entirely. It was called Dream Journal Workshop. Only acting majors would get credit for a course like that, huh? But seriously, it turned out to be one of the most useful classes I took. I even went on to minor in psychology and do graduate work on the subject.

The format of Dream Journal Workshop was simple: for an entire semester, we had to write down our dreams every night, bring them into class and read them aloud. Then we would go around the room and classmates would re-dream your dream, meaning they would repeat it back as if it were their own dream, focusing on any parts that stood out to them. Then you would take notes on anything that occurred to you in the re-dreaming process.

At the beginning of the class, I would remember a few dream images or maybe a vague plot. By the end of the semester, I was writing up to ten pages of detailed dreams in my journal every night. I would remember full conversations, elaborate plots and the most minute details. It really was incredible. Sometimes I go back and read the journal and have such an accurate snapshot of what was important to me when I was 18.

You’re probably not planning to take a Dream Journal Workshop anytime soon. That’s fine. There are some easy things you can do to start getting more in touch with your dreams right away. Below, some tips that I personally use that really work.

1. Write a question down before you go to sleep. I had an acting teacher who taught me this one. I know, us creative types are kooky, but it works! While you’re getting ready for bed, think of something you want clarity or guidance about. Write it down on a piece of paper or journal and leave it by your bedside. If you remember a dream, write it down. If you don’t remember anything, you write your “waking dream”, which is anything out of the ordinary or dreamlike that happens during your day.

For example, the night before last I wrote a question down in my journal, but had no memory of a dream. Then yesterday afternoon, Linda Blair (the actress who played the possessed little girl in “The Exorcist”) was randomly in the bathroom of our office. I didn’t know it was her and we proceeded to have this bizarre conversation where she gave me career advice. She told me: “Any job you can wake up and be happy to go to is great job.” One of my co-workers was like, “Linda Blair just gave you career advice.” And I was like, “Holy shit! That was Linda Blair?” Point: My Linda Blair waking dream was the answer to my question. Now I just have to figure out how.

2. Keep a notebook and something to write with by your bed at all times. Just simply keeping a pen and paper by your bedside greatly increases your chances of being able to write down your dreams if you remember them. If you wake up in the middle of the night with one of those intense dreams, roll over and jot down a word or two that will trigger your memory in the morning when you can write it all down. The more you write them down, the more you will remember. I swear. one word can turn into ten pages a night!

3. Write anything you can remember down, even if it’s seemingly weird or insignificant. Maybe all you remember was dreaming about werewolf. Write it down anyway. It may make sense to you after days or weeks have passed. Or you may remember more later. Even if you don’t, it will help you strengthen your dream recall muscle.

4. Draw pictures if you can. Maybe you’re more of a visual person, or there was something in your dream that can’t be described with words. I once dreamed of this weird shaped box which was an urn which was a maze and it was easier just to draw a picture. It was a bad one, but it helped me remember.

5. Don’t get out of bed right away. When you wake up, close your eyes and see if you can remember anything at all from your dream. We all like to sleep in until the last possible second. Me included. But if you can set your alarm ten minutes earlier, you can give yourself some time to try to remember your dream. New research done at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan suggests that our recall of dreams is based on short-term memory. This means that the optimal time to remember your dreams is the moment after you wake up.

6. If you remember your dream during the day, write it down. Sometimes you don’t remember your dream in the morning. All you remembered was that it was about a werewolf. But on the subway on the way to work, a guy’s boots, or something totally random, will trigger the entire dream.The werewolf was trying to eat me and he was wearing brown boots just like that! At moments like this, I like to whip out the Notes app on my iPhone and jot down as much as I can.

7. Talk about your dreams with other people. Listening to another person’s dream is never quite as interesting as talking about your own, but the act of giving dreams credence in waking life is a powerful one. This was the secret to the success of the Dream Journal Workshop, I think: having a safe space to share your dreams where everyone agrees that dreams are important. Maybe you have a friend or family member who you can make your dream buddy.

I hope these work for you as well as they did for me. Please feel free to share in the comments if you have any other tips or tricks for remembering dreams.

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