Expert: Why we don’t remember our dreams (and how to get better at it)

John Hopton for – @Johnfinitum

Dreams offer fascinating insights into our psychological state, and can even leave us feeling as if we have learned something new about ourselves, as redOrbit’s recent discussions with University of Montreal expert Antonio Zadra demonstrated.

And yet, many of us cannot remember our dreams at all. Dr. Zadra concludes this three-part series by telling us why that is, and how we can try to remember them in future.

“Some people have a facility for remembering their dreams from when they are very young, but you can also view it as a skill,” Dr. Zadra explains. “Like other skills such as sports, playing the piano, public speaking – some people are naturally good at it and others need to work at it.”

“Modern life makes it harder for people to remember their dreams,” he continues. “Most of us wake up with an alarm each morning; an unnatural awakening. If you wake up when your brain decides it’s time to wake up rather than when an alarm wakes you, you usually wake up from REM sleep, which is most strongly-related to vivid dreaming.”

“If you wake up out of REM sleep, you are more likely to remember a salient dream than when you awaken from another stage of sleep.”

“Dreams are quite fragile experiences,” he adds, “so even when you wake up from a very vivid dream, the memory of it degrades quickly. By lunchtime most of the details are forgotten, and by the next day even parts of the core might be vague.”

How to remember dreams

Dr. Zadra says that: “The parts of the brain that encode short-term memories to long-term memory are deactivated during sleep, so it’s very hard for us to consolidate or to form long-term memories of dreams if you wake up with an alarm.”

“You make a motion with your arm, or with a smartphone you punch in the code, all of these activities, even moving, interfere with any recall you might have.”

He suggests that: “People find it easier to remember their dreams if they give themselves a chance to do so. Try lying back down in bed and see if anything comes back to you. Try changing position from your back to your side while you try to remember.”

“If something comes back to you, write it down. Most people who rarely remember their dreams can train themselves to have better dream recall. They should write it down or dictate it and maybe review the following night before they go to sleep. Everyone dreams multiple times every night, the issue for people is being able to remember them. But because they are pressed for time and because of how they awaken, they don’t always have a chance.”

He adds that: “Women tend to remember dreams more than men, but women are generally more interested in dreams so maybe have a greater motivation to remember them.”

If you are able to remember your dreams, you can find out what they mean here.


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