The Real Reason Not Everyone Can Remember Their Dreams

For some, keeping a dream journal can be a fun, exploratory activity that allows us to take a deep dive into our own human psyche. For others, it ends up being more of a frustrating activity rather than an enlightening one. When recalling dreams, some people can put pen to paper and transcribe every little detail, while others struggle to remember whether or not they even had a dream.

Over the years, several theories have emerged within the scientific community as to why we dream, many of which illustrate a clear mind-body connection. According to sleep medicine physician and pulmonologist Dr. Jennifer Butler, memory consolidation, trauma response, and threat simulation are just a few of the many plausible functions of dreaming (via Piedmont Healthcare). "We know we dream during our REM sleep cycles, which occur about every 90 minutes, but how much you dream can vary based on your age, medical conditions, medications, and how many hours of sleep you get per night," Butler explains.

Does this mean that quality of sleep can affect our ability to remember our dreams? And if so, are there types of dreams that we are more likely to recall than others?

Wakefulness and subject matter can affect dream recollection

As it turns out, those who wake up more frequently throughout the course of the night may be more likely to recall their dreams than those who snooze uninterrupted. A 2014 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology determined that participants who could more easily recall their dreams were more naturally attuned to external stimuli and, as a result, awakened during periods of sleep more frequently than those who rarely remembered their dreams. "This may explain why high dream recallers are more reactive to environmental stimuli, awaken more during sleep, and thus better encode dreams in memory than low dream recallers," Perrine Ruby, a researcher on the study, told Science Daily

Additionally, experts suggest that the context of our dreams may also influence whether or not we are able to remember them the next morning. "If you wake up during REM sleep, you may be more likely to remember your dream's content," Dr. Butler told Piedmont Healthcare. However, recalling our dreams may not be entirely out of our control. A 2018 study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills observed the effects of vitamin B6 on 100 participants, many of which had always struggled to remember their dreams. After taking the supplement nightly over the course of five days, participants reported notable improvement in dream recall, including further clarity and less fragmentation. One participant stated, "My dreams were more real, I couldn't wait to go to bed and dream!"