Karen Muller, Ph.D. | Licensed Clinical Psychologist

How to Remember Dreams

I am often asked how to remember dreams by people who have become interested in dreamwork, but rarely if ever remember their dreams. Paying attention to dreams and reading about dreams will often help you recall dreams all by themselves, but there are a number of steps you can take to further improve recall. Be aware that everyone dreams every night. If you sleep eight hours you have about five sleep cycles in which you dream, which is far more dream material than you could ever process. One or two dreams per week is about as much dream material as most people can process, so you only need to catch a tiny percentage of your dreams. Here’s how to catch more dreams:

  1. Place a pad of paper and pen next to your bed. Some people prefer to use a recording device, speaking into it instead of writing. If you have a partner, you can avoid disturbing them by going into another room if you awake in the middle of the night remembering a dream, or you can write using a book light or other small flashlight to avoid turning on the lights in the room. Using a small light also helps you get back to sleep, as does the use of a recording device which you can use without turning on any light.
  2. Remind yourself as you’re going to sleep that you will remember dreams.
  3. When you awaken, check for dreams right away. Record if you recall.
  4. If you have a tiny fragment or image and want to recall more of the dream, assume each of your usual sleeping positions for a few minutes. Dream memories seem to become associated with your physical position, and doing this may bring back more of the dream. This may also work if you don’t remember anything at first.
  5. Take whatever you get, even if it seems trivial or silly. This is very important. I had a subject in a dream research study I conducted who had never remembered a dream in her life. She was blocked in her work on her doctoral dissertation and wanted to incubate a dream to help move on with her work. (Incubation is a process of focusing on a problem before going to bed in order to dream about the problem and find insights and solutions.) When she woke up after doing her incubation focus exercise, she found an advertising jingle in her mind. The jingle was, “If you’re out of Bud, you’re out of beer.” The original jingle was, “If you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer” , so the distortion is the key to understanding the jingle as a dream. I asked her what “bud” meant to her. She had a brother named Bud, who had also done a Ph.D. dissertation. “It took him 10 years, and it almost killed him,” she said. This makes the jingle and her block clear. She is afraid that she will have the same experience her brother had. This was one of those insights which immediately produced an “aha” moment and made it possible for her to disentangle her experience from her brother’s.

Like my subject, you may need help to interpret your dream, whether it is a beer jingle or a more typical dream sequence. The “Unravel the Essence” page may help you.

dreamscape photo by garth hagerman
Karen H. Muller, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
4497 Brown Ridge Terrace, Suite #104
Medford OR 97504
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