How to Improve Your Dream Recall or How to Remember Your Dreams

I got an e-mail recently from a woman who was “very, very frustrated” with a dream she had the night before. She said that she desperately wanted to remember the dream but could only remember a single fragment. Apparently she was new to the world of Dream Interpretation and Dream Analysis and had even (as I often suggest!) bought a Dream Journal!

Here’s what she had to say: I recently found your dream website and have been reading the articles. I think you’re right about dreams. We can learn alot about ourselves from what we dream. I have had 2 of my dreams analyzed by you and you were spot on each time. I bought a dream journal and started writing down my dreams. I do like you say and write them down as soon as I wake up. It’s a whole lot of fun!

However, last night I had a dream that I know was a very “busy” dream. I did a lot in it. But I can’t remember the dream. I am very, very frustrated because the dream didn’t stay with me. I’ve racked my brain trying to remember what happened but I can’t. I can only remember one thing: my family and I were in a city we once lived in in Indiana. What is someone supposed to do when their dream is lost like this? I usually remember all my dreams. Why is this one not coming to me? Thanks so much! – Carole

Below was my response: Carole, I feel your frustration! Even though I’m utterly fascinated with dreams (some might say obsessed), there are times when I can’t remember a dream either. You’re right – it’s very frustrating!

When you can’t remember a dream, below are a few tips that may help with the dream recall:

  1. First of all, try to determine your emotions in the dream. Were you excited, frantic, sad, frustrated, happy, or overwhelmed?  Did you feel in control or out of control?  Even if you can’t remember all of the details, if you can get in touch with the way the dream made you feel, you can still get a lot from the dream. This is where a Dream Journal comes in handy.  If you have a string of days when you have to write down emotions like “overwhelmed” or “out of control,” you’ll get a great dream analysis from the emotions alone.  Also, focusing on your emotions in the dream (and the emotions you felt when you first awoke from the dream) often helps you remember more about the dream.   When you determine one of the emotions, ask yourself, “Why did I feel that way?” or “Who or what caused me to feel like this?”
  2. Think of colors in the dream. Not only can a dream’s colors help with the dream analysis, picturing the colors you saw in the dream can help you remember more about the dream. For example, if you were to remember the colors blue and yellow, you could then ask yourself, “Where were these colors?” You may remember that blue was on a particular house and yellow was a dress your mom wore.  Usually, if you can remember where you saw the dream colors, you’ll remember more about the dream.
  3. Here’s a trick that helps a lot of people with their dream recall: Lie back down and assume the position! Lie comfortably in bed just as you would be while dreaming. If you normally use a fan when you sleep, turn it on. Free yourself of as many distractions as possible and simply lie there with your eyes closed, focusing on things you do remember from the dream. A word of warning, though: Don’t do this if you have cookies in the oven, someplace you have to be, or toddlers in the house. You just might drift off to sleep.

Finally, if you simply can’t remember anything else about the dream, write down what you do remember (even if it’s simply one word, like peaceful).  Then move on.  Tell yourself that if it were really, really important, you’d remember more of it.  Just take from it what you can and move forward.

A word about this particular dream (returning to Indiana with family) – dreams in which we “go back” can have several meanings.  For one, you could have been talking about old times recently – or you could have even seen a picture from this time. Many times that sets the stage for a dream to visit the past.

A second reason we dream about a past place is we miss something from the past.  The same can be true about an ex, an old house, a place we once lived, etc.  We may not have any love left for any of these things – but there may be one thing that we miss from that time.  Perhaps an ex gave great neck rubs or we had great neighbors in a house we once lived in…. Focus on what you DO remember and think about the emotions you have surrounding this person, place or thing.

A third reason we have dreams that wander into the past is a very common one: We’re warning ourselves of past mistakes or past pains. It’s our mind’s way of saying, “Watch out!”  A recent girl contacted me in the comments about dreams she was having about an ex. He had cheated on her and hurt her pretty badly.  She’d seen him recently and had a couple of dreams about him.  I believe her dreams about this heart-breaker were her brain’s way of saying, “Don’t you even think about going back there! This dude equals pain.”

If a dream about a place you once lived, there could have been pain or a personal mistake you made. Your dream could be trying to make peace with it once and for all.

Some would even say that the fact you can’t remember the dream indicates that you’ve done just that!

A Final Word About Dream Recall:

Remember what you can. Move on. If you keep a dream journal (which could simply mean writing them down in a notebook), write down what you do remember. If you can’t remember the dream, write down something like, “I can’t remember anything about this dream except….”  If you’re frustrated, write that down.  If you’re like, “Whatever, it’s not important,” write that down.  When you keep a Dream Journal, you often begin to see a pattern. Perhaps on certain nights (when you’re more tired than usual), you’re less likely to remember dreams. Maybe certain medications, like allergy medicine, cause your dream recall to be foggy. This is why it’s important to really go into detail in your dream journal – writing down what medicine you took before bedtime, etc. Many people even write down what they ate!

In the end realize that sometimes our brain realizes when there isn’t anything of real value in a dream and it just lets it go.

Sometimes that’s exactly what we have to do.

Tip for Remembering Your Dreams

Keeping a dream journal actually trains your brain to remember dreams better. When you get into the practice of writing things down into your dream journal, your brain will soon realize that this is an important part of your life. It’ll become much better at remembering details that may have otherwise gotten away from you and been lost forever.  Dream journals actually train your brain for better dream recall.