Tips On How To Remember Your Dreams In The Morning

Have you ever awoken with fragments of a vivid dream flashing at the edges of your consciousness, almost in reach, but the dream dissolves before you can understand or describe it? You're not alone. Only one in 10 Americans reported always recalling their dreams, according to a CBS poll.

Dreams have captivated humanity for centuries, yet beyond the surrealism of the scenarios that play out during sleep, recalling these nocturnal narratives allows us to tap into a wellspring of creativity and problem-solving.

Experts are not all on the same page as to why we dream, but scientific research has shed light on the pivotal role that quality sleep plays in maintaining optimal brain health and how dreaming may be an essential aspect of sleep. For example, during sleep, our brains undergo vital functions such as emotional processing and the consolidation of memories, in which dreaming may play a role. Dreaming appears to also contribute to a night of quality sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.

Raphael Vallat, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, tells WHYY that dreams support memory recall and provide us the opportunity to process and filter these memories to select the most relevant ones. Though Vallet explains that dreams can still be impactful even if we don't recall them upon awakening, if you still want to remember your dreams to get a glimpse of the enigmatic realm of your subconscious, there are things you can do to help recall your dreams more frequently.

Stick to a bedtime routine

Creating a routine around sleep that aligns with your chronotype can help support dream recall.

Your circadian rhythm is your internal biological clock, and your chronotype is your unique variation in the timing of your activities, such as when you are more naturally inclined to sleep and wake up. Chronotypes are typically broken up into three types: morning type, evening type, and intermediate type. Morning chronotypes are the early birds who function best physically and mentally early in the day and who go to bed early. Evening chronotypes are the opposite, and intermediates fall in between with no preference for morning or evening, per National Library of Medicine.

Knowing your chronotype is helpful when setting yourself up for success in remembering your dreams the next morning because it will be easier for you to fall asleep and have a restful night if you align with your sleeping pattern, according to Psychology Today. Additionally, don't set an alarm in the morning, as waking up according to your natural patterns may also help with dream recall, whereas external stimuli (i.e., an alarm) could be disruptive. 

Additionally, the experts at BetterUp advise that you remain in bed upon awakening rather than immediately getting out of bed. Also, get into the habit of trying to remember as many details about your dream as possible, such as colors, sounds, and emotions, as soon as you wake up. Repeating these behaviors can potentially help make remembering your dreams and their details easier.

Maintain a dream journal

Humans have been recording and interpreting their dreams for thousands of years. For instance, the Ancient Greeks, Babylonians, and Hebrews documented their dreams, which they believed were direct communications from divine sources, per Penn Museum.

Today, people continue this documenting practice by keeping a dream journal, which not only helps you record the scenes of each night's dreams but may also help you notice patterns throughout your dreams over time. Identifying how you felt during the dream can also provide insights. Experts at Masterclass explain that a dream journal is your unique record of the fragments of your dreams. Bad dreams can help unlock creativity and notice patterns as much as good dreams, so get those recollections into your journal as well.

When keeping a dream journal, make sure whatever way you choose to record your dreams is easily accessible so you can jot down your recollections before the logic of the dream begins to slip away. So keep a writing instrument and notebook by your bedside. Writing the dream in the present tense — as if it is happening in real-time — will help you remember details and recall the action in the dream with greater clarity. Be mindful of the emotions you experienced in the dream and jot those down along with plot points, too. Also, identify what thrilled or terrified you and why. If writing is too cumbersome, keep an audio recorder nearby and dictate your recollections instead.

Avoid unnecessary medications before bedtime

Taking certain medications may impact your sleep cycle and sleep quality, potentially prompting nightmares. Experts at GoodRx Health explain that medications such as antidepressants and beta blockers — drugs that help to reduce blood pressure — can alter certain chemicals in the brain, leading to disturbed dreaming. 

While antidepressants (e.g., Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Cymbalta) are designed to lift your mood, they can potentially upset your sleep cycle by suppressing your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase — the deep part of the sleep cycle when your eyes move about rapidly — making you more vulnerable to experiencing nightmares. If you are on an antidepressant and experience nightmares, talk to your doctor about the possibility of adding an antidepressant called Trazadone, which may improve sleep quality, or switch to another antidepressant entirely.

Additionally, a report published in Frontiers in Neurology states that antidepressants as well as sedative psychotropic drugs to improve sleep may reduce dream recall frequency in the majority of people. Drugs that reduce awakenings throughout the night consequently lower your ability to recall your dreams because awakening during the night is how your brain encodes dreams into long-term memory, a phenomenon known as the "arousal-retrieval model."

Taking melatonin, a hormone that is essential for your sleep-wake cycle, may help mitigate issues caused by beta blockers. However, before making changes to any of your medications or adding supplements to either reduce nightmares or improve your dream recall frequency, talk to your doctor about the safest approach for your situation, per GoodRx Health.

This vitamin may help with dream recall

Some research suggests that taking vitamin B6 may help support dream recall. Vitamin B6 is naturally occurring in various animal and plant foods, such as tuna, salmon, poultry, whole grain cereals, dark leafy greens, bananas, and oranges. You can also consume vitamin B6 as a supplement. Experts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health further explain that Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble molecule and essential for keeping your immune system and brain healthy. There is also some evidence that vitamin B6 may be linked to lowering the risk of cancer.

Though we only need to ingest roughly 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily to avoid deficiency, some studies link increased doses of vitamin B6 with better dream recall. In one Australian study including 100 people, participants who took vitamin B6 over five days compared to participants who took a placebo reported a higher incidence of recalling the content of their dreams and that their dreams felt more real. Participants who had reported poor dream recall prior to the study and then took vitamin B6 acknowledged that their dream recall improved at the end of the study to the extent that they could even remember fragments of their dreams later the same day.

Though the study provided interesting results that suggest vitamin B6 may be a useful tool to help us make dreaming more effective and productive, the researchers acknowledged that more investigation is needed.

Reduce the impact of environmental factors

In addition to providing a better night's sleep, designing your sleeping space so you can help yourself get into a restful state before bed is pivotal for improving your ability to recall your dreams.

Not only does your environment play a role in your falling asleep, but it can also factor into whether or not you remain asleep (and therefore dream). The experts at Sleep Advisor say to make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. You want to shoot for all three characteristics to create the ideal sleep environment. For one, a darker room may help you produce more melatonin. Your brain's pineal gland is primarily responsible for producing melatonin, and your brain releases higher melatonin levels in response to darkness and reduces production during daylight hours. To help support a darkened environment, you can wear a sleep mask or install blackout curtains.

Additionally, keep the temperature of your room between 60 and 67 degrees via natural air and a fan or an air conditioner. Also, consider investing in a cooling mattress. Ear plugs can help block out noise, per Sleep Advisor.

You can also add environmental cues, such as surrounding yourself with a calming lavender room mist and playing soothing rainfall or ocean wave sounds, that will not only help you fall and remain asleep but could also improve dream recall, per Amerisleep.

Address sleep disorders

If you can't recall your dreams, a sleep disorder could be the culprit. Though research is ongoing, some studies suggest that, for instance, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a breathing-related disorder characterized by brief episodes when the airway is obstructed during sleep, may decrease dream recall.

According to an article in Frontiers that reviewed several studies focusing on individuals with OSA and dream recall frequency, some research revealed that individuals with OSA experienced an improvement in dream recall following treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine helps improve sleep quality by keeping airways open. One study involving 38 patients with OSA who underwent CPAP therapy revealed an increase in dream recall and alterations in dream content. However, the number of studies on the impact of OSA and OSA interventions on dream recall is small, and some of the results conflict. Even so, the studies suggest there may be a link between OSA and OSA interventions, dream recall, and dream content for some people, per Frontiers.

The reason OSA may impact someone's ability to recall dreams is that sleep apnea makes it difficult for people to experience REM sleep. The REM stage of the sleep cycle begins roughly 90 minutes after you fall asleep, when most of your dreaming occurs. Experts at Sleep Cycle Center suggest people with OSA try a CPAP machine, change their sleeping position, avoid certain medications at night, or consider a simple oral appliance to help keep their airway open during sleep.

Avoid alcohol before bedtime

Experts across the spectrum strongly advise avoiding alcohol before going to bed, as there is much evidence linking alcohol consumption to disruption of your sleep cycle.

Despite the fact that alcohol suppresses your nervous system and induces a sense of sleepiness, studies suggest that drinking alcohol as bedtime approaches could cause insomnia, especially for people who have alcohol use disorders (via Sleep Foundation). Alcohol consumption can also worsen sleep apnea symptoms. For instance, results of a 2018 study revealed that one daily serving of alcohol for women and two servings for men lowers sleep quality by nearly 10%. Moderate consumption exacerbates sleep issues by 24%.

Specifically, drinking alcohol before bedtime can prevent you from falling into a deep sleep, consequently leading to fitful sleep patterns and less dreaming. Neurologist and sleep expert Dr. Jessica Vensel Rundo tells Cleveland Clinic that drinking alcohol at night also prevents you from getting the vital REM sleep you need due to the alcohol in your system keeping you in lighter stages of sleep, causing you to awaken easily and more frequently, especially in the second half of the night. Additionally, alcohol can lead to a greater risk of sleepwalking and other disruptive sleep disorders. Extensive use of alcohol can also disrupt your melatonin levels and throw off your internal clock.

However, experts acknowledge that consuming alcohol in moderation is unlikely to be dangerous and that how alcohol impacts sleep ultimately depends on the individual, per Sleep Foundation.

Stop consuming caffeine earlier in the day

If you drink caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, you likely won't remember your dreams because chances are you won't be sleeping. You may also want to reconsider that mid-afternoon latte, says Dr. Rashad Ramkissoon, a primary-care physician at Houston Methodist. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors located in your brain; adenosine is a molecule that plays a vital role in regulating your sleep/wake cycle. Adenosine levels in your brain fluctuate, building throughout the day and then leading to the process of making you sleepy at night, except when caffeine blocks the receptors. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the "half-life" of caffeine (the time it takes for half of the caffeine you've consumed to still be present in your system) falls between four and six hours. So even drinking a caffeinated beverage in the afternoon can put you at greater risk of being overly alert when you're trying to wind down.

Though caffeine tolerance depends on the individual, the general recommendation is for people who work a 9-to-5 schedule to cease consuming caffeinated products by 3 p.m., per Houston Methodist.

Considering that caffeine impacts people differently, one option to help take out the guesswork about when to cease consumption is using the RISE app. The marketing team claims the app can provide an estimated cutoff time designed specifically for your circadian rhythm and melatonin window, the period when your melatonin production is highest and when you're best primed to fall asleep. 

Eat certain foods and exercise more

Not only will healthier foods and more physical activity lead to better quality sleep, which leads to better dreams and potentially easier recall, but adhering to a healthier lifestyle will also support your general well-being.

This likely comes as no surprise, but by exercising more, you're more likely to fall asleep faster. Additionally, for those interested in better dream recall to help get your creative juices flowing during the day, experts at Psychology Today explain that cardio exercise, a good night's rest, and vivid dreams all fit together. Aerobic activity puts you in a relaxed state to fall asleep more easily, leading to better sleep and more dreaming during the REM sleep period. Your dreams may also tend to be clearer and more vibrant. Moreover, the benefits of improved REM sleep have other health implications. For instance, poor sleep quality, including a disrupted REM cycle, is associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders. So the steps you take to improve your sleep quality to better recall your dreams can help support your overall brain health.

Additionally, though your body produces melatonin, consuming foods containing melatonin can set you up for better sleep and greater dream recall frequency. Healthline reports that some foods containing melatonin include eggs, fish, meat, nuts, mushrooms, cherries, and certain cereals and seeds. Though melatonin supplements may help improve dream recall, they may cause scarier dreams for some, so check with your doctor before taking melatonin supplements to determine if they are right for you.

Embrace meditation

Going to bed with the intention of remembering your dreams may help support dream recall when you wake up. One way to set an intention is through meditation.

Meditation is a mental exercise incorporating various ancient practices and techniques dating back thousands of years that provide peace, calm, and balance. Though meditation has been around for some time, the science community has only recently begun studying the value of meditation and how it may help decrease anxiety symptoms and depression, improve cognitive abilities, concentration, and problem-solving, and help people manage emotional problems by increasing the connections of neurons in the brain, according to experts at Cleveland Clinic.

To help improve your dream recall using meditation, Chopra advises setting aside time just before bed for a short meditation, concluding with a strong intention to recall your dreams for a particular purpose. For instance, perhaps you desire guidance for an issue you're dealing with or seek answers related to healing. Once you set your intention from a place of restful awareness, release it. Do not think about your intention, cling to it, or become attached to an outcome.

One common type of meditation you can try is mindfulness meditation, which involves staying aware of the present moment and focusing on your breath and body sensations without judgment. Yoga nidra, also known as "yogic sleep," is a type of instructor-guided meditation that can also be extremely effective for prompting sleep through visualizations, per Aura Health.

Cultivate lucid dreaming

Lucid dreaming occurs when you are aware you are dreaming during your dream, as if you've woken up. Medical News Today reports that some people who have lucid dreams report more easily recalling their dreams on a consistent basis. Lucid dreaming typically occurs during the REM phase of sleep and can be a thrilling experience because the dreamer often has a measure of influence over the dream's story, per Forbes Health.

Various techniques may increase the frequency of lucid dreaming. One approach is called mnemonic induction of lucid dreams (MILD). Per Healthline, practicing the MILD method involves setting an intention to take a specific action later, a behavior known as prospective memory. In this instance, you would set an intention to have a lucid dream. Begin by recalling a recent dream, then recognizing something unusual that occurred, such as an ability to fly. This irregular occurrence is also known as a "dreamsign." Next, think about going back to that dream and remind yourself that flying can only happen as you dream. In your mind, say, "The next time I dream, I want to remember that I am dreaming." If you can manage to practice MILD while dreaming, you may find the dream stays even fresher in your mind.

Lucid dreaming may have some therapeutic effects, such as reducing nightmares and anxiety. But before you try techniques to induce lucid dreaming, consider talking to a healthcare specialist first. Potential negative aspects, such as sleep problems and depression, may also result from these techniques.