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How to Remember Dreams

Three Methods:Before you Go to BedThe Morning AfterFor the Rest of the Day

Theories abound as to why we dream, how we dream, and what meaning we can assign to our dreams. Many people believe that dreams can provide insights into our lives and feelings, but the trouble is, they're notoriously difficult to remember. With conscious effort you can remember more of your dreams and recall them in greater detail.

Method 1
Before you Go to Bed

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    Plan to get a good night's sleep. Dreams occur when our bodies are in the sleeping stage known as REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. The body is at rest, but the mind is active with dreams. If you don't get enough sleep at night, or your sleep is interrupted a lot, you get less REM sleep, and fewer dreams. Try going to bed every night at the same time, and waking up at the same time every morning, to make sure you're getting the right kind of rest.
    • Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night to achieve the right amount of rest. People who sleep less than six hours have a hard time remembering dreams, because longer, more vivid dreams take place later in the sleeping cycle.
    • Create a restful sleeping environment. Eliminate noises and distractions that might be preventing you from falling into a deeper sleep. Wear earplugs if necessary, and make sure you have heavy curtains that block out light from outside.
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    Put a pad and pen or pencil within easy reach of your bed. It’s best if it just has plain paper with no designs or other distractions. Use this pad only for recording your dreams. Before you go to sleep, make sure it is open to the next page on which you can write so you don’t have to search for a blank page when you wake up.
    • Always put the pen in the same spot so that you don't have to search for that, either.
    • An alternative to writing your dreams is to keep a tape recorder near your bed or under your pillow so that you can verbally recount what happened in your dream.
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    Keep your alarm close to your bed. If you have to get out of bed to turn it off, you will be more likely to forget what you were dreaming about. Set your alarm to go off after you've gotten an adequate amount of sleep. Try not to use a radio alarm clock, since the ads and chatter on the morning show will be distracting.
    • If you can wake up without an alarm clock, you won’t have to worry about turning it off.
    • If possible, try using a gentler way of waking up. Ask someone to wake you gently and without talking to you, or hook up a timer to the lights in your room. Many people find that they are able to better recall dreams if they don’t use an alarm clock.
    • Place a post-it note on the alarm clock, with the words "What did you dream?" or similar in large letters, so that it's the first thing you see when you open your eyes (and turn the alarm clock off).

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    Don't eat, drink alcohol or take medication right before bed. The chemicals in these items can affect your brain's ability to remember dreams. Try not to ingest anything for at least a few hours before going to bed, so that nothing interferes with your memory or your sleep patterns.
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    Calm your mind and body before bedtime. Is your brain typically buzzing before bed? Having a lot of stressful thoughts in your head can make it harder to remember your dreams, which requires deep focus. Before you go to bed, let your mind relax and be free of heavy thoughts. Let it drift calmly into sleep.
    • Avoid taking your phone or laptop into bed with you. Emailing and checking texts right before bed doesn't give your mind the time it needs to clear.
    • Try meditating, or using the classic counting sheep technique, to free up your mind.
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    Make a conscious decision to remember your dreams. You’ve got a better chance of remembering your dreams if you really want to remember them. Assuming you do want to, tell yourself that you’re going to remember your dreams and conscientiously follow the steps to make your desire to remember your dreams come true. [1]
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    Think about a major problem or emotional concern or read right before you fall asleep. Think deeply about the situation without pressing for solutions or coming to conclusions. Just thinking about the problem opens the door, in a sense, to more vividly remembered dreams, and the dreams may even offer more insights regarding the problem at hand. [2]

Method 2
The Morning After

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    Concentrate on recalling your dream as soon as you wake up. Typically you can remember only the last dream you had before waking. Don’t move and don’t do anything. Stay in the same position as the one in which you awoke and try to remember as much about your dream as possible before you think about anything else. Think it through from start to finish.
    • While you're remembering, focus your gaze on the first object you see as you open your eyes. Look at the object; focus on it. That object will most often take the vague recollection of your dream to a place mark in memory where it is easier to recall details. A doorknob, a light bulb, or a nail in the wall, for example, will help you to settle into memories of what you had experienced while sleeping.

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    Record your dream in your dream journal. Jot down as much as possible about your dream, starting with a basic sketch that includes such things as the location of the dream, the basic plot, the characters, the overall emotion of the dream (i.e. were you scared or happy in the dream?), and any prominent images you can recall.
    • If you can remember any dialogue, you may want to write it down first, as words in dreams are easily forgotten. Record everything you can, even if you can only remember one image. As you get the basics down, more of the dream may come to you.
    • If you can’t remember anything about your dream, write down the first thing that comes into your mind upon waking. It may be related to the dream in some way, and it might trigger recollections. Also write down how you’re feeling when you wake up. The emotions you experience in a dream typically remain, at least for a brief period, when you awake, so if you wake up anxious or elated, ask yourself why.

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    Increase the number of dreams you can remember by waking up more often in the night. We have several REM cycles in the night, and they get longer and longer toward morning. If you only record the last dream you had before you get up in the morning, there are more dreams you might not be remembering. It’s always tempting to go right back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night, but take the opportunity to remember what you were dreaming before you do—in all likelihood you will not remember it in the morning.
    • Since you usually only remember the last dream you had, you can remember more dreams by waking up several times during the night. We go through a complete sleep cycle approximately every 90 minutes, so you may find it productive to set your alarm to wake you at some multiple of 90 minutes (such as 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours) after you expect to go to sleep. Dreams in the later half of the night are typically longer than those you dream soon after going to sleep, so you probably want to wait until at least the 4.5 hour mark to intentionally wake yourself.
    • This is only recommended for people who get adequate sleep and who can fall back asleep easily. Otherwise, skip this step.

Method 3
For the Rest of the Day

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    Keep a notepad or voice recorder with you throughout the day. Often something you see or hear later in the day will trigger a memory of a dream from the night before. Note these recollections without delay, and think about them to see if you can remember how they fit into the rest of the dream. It also helps to continually think about your dreams throughout the day.
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    Go back to your bed and lie down. Sometimes the memory can be jogged when you assume the same physical position you had while dreaming. Try to put your head in the same place on the pillow, arrange your body the same way, and close your eyes. If the dream comes into your head, think it through before getting up to write it down.
    • It might help to open your eyes and look at the object you first saw when you woke up.
    • Try creating the same atmosphere in the room - close the curtains, turn off the lights, and eliminate noise.
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    Practice again the next night. Remembering your dreams takes effort and practice. The more you become conscious of your dreams, the more likely you are to remember them. Get into the habit of committing to remembering your dreams and night and writing them down first thing when you wake up. The process will become easier over time.
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    Notice patterns. Eventually you'll figure out what factors help you remember your dreams. Try to notice patterns pertaining to the time you go to bed and wake up in the morning, the temperature of the room, what you ate for dinner. Do any of these variables seem to influence your ability to remember your dreams?


  • Record exactly what happened without necessarily trying to make sense of it yourself, either. For example, if your dream starts inside a house and you then find yourself in a forest, avoid the temptation to assume you walked out of the house. Dreams that are foreign to everyday experience could be lost by trying to apply waking logic to the events.
  • When recording dreams, remember that the recording is personal. Don't write it to make sense for others because you may find yourself altering things to make it easier for outsiders to understand. Always write what you believe to be true, not what would make sense.
  • If you have the same dream the next day, or next week, jot that down also. A dream that repeats itself is a dream upon which we should all concentrate. It might have a special meaning.
  • If you have already dreamed a dream and want to remember it, don't worry. When you're dreaming, you are in an entirely different set of mind. Try lucid dreaming. When you are in this set of mind and you are lucid dreaming, sometimes you have the ability to recall your past dreams! Think of it like if you had a part of your brain that stores dreams that you have, and you can only access it by dreaming.
  • Some songs actually make the dream stick in your head for a little while longer. Try listening to some music before you hit the hay, and see what happens!
  • When recording the dream, it may be easier to remember if you write (or speak) it in present tense (i.e. "I am going to" instead of "I went to").
  • As an alternative, you can also use a small flashlight solely for recording dreams at night. Cover the lens with three layers of masking tape so you can still easily see your journal at night, but it's not so bright that it makes you want to close your eyes.
  • Better yet, don't use any light at all, as it can make it harder to remember your dreams. Just have your pen and paper where you can reach them easily, and you won't even have to open your eyes (be careful not to fall back asleep though). With practice you'll get better at writing without seeing the paper.
  • If you are someone who talks in your sleep you can film yourself using a video camera or your cell phone. Or, you can just use your tape recorder. Play it after writing down what you remember. This may trigger memories of dreams you had and cannot remember when you first awake.
  • After you've remembered most of your dream, try to put it into the right order. This will help, because it's easier to memorize things if you know what happened first, and always write that down first.
  • Take a vitamin B6 pill before bed. It will make your dreams more vivid.
  • If you have a computer or mobile device nearby, try logging onto a dream publishing website that you can use to log your dreams and keep a record of them.
  • If you like that dream very, very much, then keep a dream journal and write down all your dreams.
  • If you somewhat remember a dream that you don't like and you have it over and over again, you might want to see a therapist or a mentalist.
  • Certain foods such as almonds and cherries help make dreams more vivid. The more vivid your dreams are the more likely your recall will be. [3]


  • If you have trouble sleeping or difficulty getting enough sleep, don’t try to record dreams in the middle of the night. Just go back to sleep.
  • Be careful about interpreting dreams. The interpretation of dreams is not science, so don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t place too much importance on a dream. For example, a dream about death does not mean that someone will die, or that something bad will happen.
  • Do not try to remember a frightening dream, because it might frighten you for a long period of time.

Things You'll Need

  • Something to record data
  • Something to wake you up (preferably gently)
  • A voice recorder (optional)

Sources and Citations

  1. Dreams and Nightmares: The Origin and Meaning of Dreams, By Ernest Hartmann, p142, ISBN 0738203599
  2. Dreams and Nightmares: The Origin and Meaning of Dreams, By Ernest Hartmann, p142, ISBN 0738203599
  3. Food For Vivid Dreams

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