Do you remember what you dreamt of last night? No? That’s fine, neither do I. In fact, most people don’t remember their dreams at all. Being able to remember your dreams will take a little willpower and determination, but it’s completely possible. Here’s how to remember your dreams, whether it was a cryptic message or a calming walk on the beach.
The Science Behind Dreams
Before we get into remembering dreams, it’s important to know when they happen during sleep.
There are two kinds of sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). Sleep cycles occur in 90-minute intervals, and starts with NREM. During this phase of sleep, your body is relaxed but not in a deep sleep. After going through the three stages of NREM sleep, your body enters REM which is where all the dreaming happens.
The rapid eye movements associated with REM sleep are actually believed to be the visual element of dreams, as you look around in your sleep your eyes could still be moving around in real life. During brain studies conducted with REM sleep, the brain is so active it’s almost as if the person is completely awake.
How to Remember Your Dreams
Now that the basics of sleep cycles have been covered here’s how to actually remember your dreams.
1. Tell Yourself You Will Remember Your Dreams
Before falling asleep, tell yourself outloud, “I am going to remember my dreams.” Even if you don’t end up remember dreams from that night, continue this mantra to train your brain and remind yourself of what you want to accomplish.
The few moments before falling asleep sort of determine what your brain will focus on the for the night. If you were stressing about work, it’ll make it harder to sleep and you might even have dreams (nightmares?) about these work problems you’re having trouble with. By telling yourself you’ll remember your dreams, hopefully your brain will get the message and work harder on recalling that dream when you wake up.
2. Drink a Few Glasses of Water Before Bed
This one comes from the New York Times as a recommendation from Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He suggests drinking three glasses of water before bed, so it forces you to wake up to use the bathroom during the night.
Waking up during the night is often accompanied by dream recall, which I’ll cover more thoroughly in step six.
For this step, it’s important you’re drinking water and not anything else. Alcohol and caffeine suppress REM sleep, and should be avoided within three hours of going to bed.
3. Keep Your Eyes Closed When You Wake Up
Another recommendation from Stickgold: don’t open your eyes when you wake up. Don’t change positions, or wake up and tell your partner about the crazy dream you just had. Instead, keep them closed and replay the dream in your head to soak up all the details.
As you lie in bed, you might be able to recall even more detail than you initially remembered. Once you feel like you have a solid grasp on the dream you were having, it’s time to document it.
4. Keep a Dream Journal
After recalling all the details of your dream, immediately write down everything you can remember without getting out of bed. You could do this in the morning after your alarm goes off, or in the middle of the night when you wake up from a dream.
Keep your alarm within arm’s reach, so you don’t have to physically get out of bed to turn it off. As I mentioned above in step three, it’s best to stay still and keep your eyes closed to remember as many dream details as possible. If writing is too difficult, turn on your phone’s audio recorder and talk about what you remember.
If you aren’t able to remember any dreams right when you wake up, that’s fine — you might not have even had any dreams! Just tell yourself you’ll remember the dreams next time you have them.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Remember the 90-minute sleep cycles? If you’re sleeping less than six hours, you might not be reaching the levels of deep REM sleep needed to have vivid dreams you’re able to remember when waking up. A good night’s sleep goes hand in hand with being able to remember your dreams, or even having dreams in the first place.
This sleep stages chart highlights when REM sleep happens, and the majority of it is after the six-hour mark. Plus, after the four-hour mark, you stay in the REM cycle instead of re-entering the NREM cycle first.
Do everything you can to ensure a good night’s sleep, whether it’s falling asleep faster, avoiding artificial light before bed or investing in a comfortable mattress. A restful sleep of at least six hours is necessary to have memorable dreams.
6. Wake Yourself Up After REM Cycles
This one is a pretty advanced tactic — it involves setting a series of alarms that will wake you up after each REM sleep cycle, which is when your dreams are the most vivid.
You typically only remember the dream you had right before waking up, so if you keep sleeping through the night without waking up after each dream, you’ll probably never remember them. You’ll set your alarm at 90-minute intervals, starting after you’ve been asleep for four and a half hours. So, set an alarm for six hours, seven and a half hours and nine hours after you planned to fall asleep. I mentioned this sleep cycle chart above, but it’s also helpful with this step to plan out your alarms and see the stages of sleep you enter at certain points of the night.
7. Add B6 Vitamins to Your Diet
A recent study conducted in Australia showed a significant increase in participant’s abilities to recall dreams after taking B6 vitamins for five days. This vitamin naturally occurs in a few foods, such as fruits, legumes, milk, cheese and red meat. You could increase your intake of those foods (as long as it’s not right before bed!), or try taking a B6 vitamin supplement.
Even if you aren’t able to remember any dreams at first, keep telling yourself you will and writing down anything you are able to remember, whether it’s a specific symbol or even just an emotion.