Write your dreams in the present tense, as if they are happening right now in front of your eyes. This will help to place your perspective in the moment of the dream, which in turn will make your dreams easier to recall in the first place. This will also help, when you come to visualise and mentally reproduce the experience of the dream accurately later on.
Add the date you had the dream and give your dream a title. As your dream recall improves and you’re able to write down at least a few lines about your dream, try giving the dream a title, this will help make it more memorable, and acts as a prompt for your mind to think about and summarise the dream. Adding a date and title also helps to make identifying recurring ideas in your dreams easier, letting you match up themes from your dreams with events in your waking life.
Don’t feel you have to be limited to using words. If you saw a symbol or logo, draw it out. The same goes if you remember the layout of a building you were in; if there is a memorable or unusual scene sketch out parts of it. Whatever comes to mind, record it in the most detailed, and useful way to you. Often a quick 30 second sketch can accurately record something which is very difficult to describe in words.
Find a place for your dream journal. The best spot is to leave it on your bedside table, open on the page ready for your next entry when you go to sleep. If you have to search through drawers, and then flick through to find the next blank page, whenever you wake up after a dream, you could easily find you forget some of the dream while doing this.
Capture as much sensory detail as possible. The more sensory detail you include in your dream descriptions, the more vivid the future dream content you recall will be. Include; textures, smells, colours, emotions, and sounds. This will help in becoming lucid too, since different sensory experiences are processed in different regions of the brain but are all integrated together in the cortex. Studies have shown the more active your brain’s cortex, which is also responsible for reflective conscious experience, the more likely it is you will pass that ‘consciousness’ threshold during REM sleep and become lucid.12
EEG scans comparing brain activity of lucid dreaming with waking and REM dreaming
Some questions and pointers to help guide you: Where is the dream located? What is in the scene or what is the landscape like? What is the ambience or mood of the dream? Who else is in the dream? How are you interacting with them? How does the dream make you feel? What is your mood when you first wake up from the dream? What actions are you performing? Are there any significant symbols or images?
Try recording your dreams as a mind-map. This is an alternative approach some people like to use, which works especially well when the dream seems to jump around rather than following a linear plot. A mind map is also useful if you find you don’t tend to remember your dreams in the same sequence as they happened. You can easily add more details in the right place, no matter what order they come to you.
Try recording your dreams as audio. Too tired to write? During the night you don’t have to choose to write your dreams down. If you prefer to record your dreams, you can use a recordable MP3 player, an app on your phone, or a dictaphone to capture the details. While this is a good way to make sure you don’t miss any details if you wake up during the night, it is still best to transfer these into a physical dream journal in the morning. This makes them easier to refer back to, and will help you when you come to identify dreamsigns.
Don’t ignore ‘boring’ dreams. If last night, you wrote down an amazing dream you had full of incredible sights, adventures and strong emotions, then the next day you wake up from a dream where you were just going through your morning routine, it can be tempting to ignore that dream. Try and avoid this temptation. It’s the act of consistency, of recording whatever you can recall each day that will help you develop the habit of naturally remembering more and more of your dream content. Also if you discover you are having this kind of dream often, you can use some of the events in it to become lucid. What better way to deal with a ‘boring’ dream, than turn it into one where you’re in control and anything can happen!
Use ‘sleep cycle’ alarms to record your dreams during the night. If you are writing up all of your dreams in the morning, you are more likely to find you only remember one or two dreams, from your most recent REM cycle. As you get more experienced at recalling your dreams, fragments will start to come from dreams even further back in the night. However these will often be hazier and harder to recall. You can improve your recall of these earlier dreams, by setting alarms during the night to wake you at the end of each sleep cycle. This lets you record the dreams from the previous cycle right away, and makes it much easier to recall four, five, or more dreams in a single night in good detail. There is an added bonus of this approach, you can reset your intention to remember your dreams or to have a lucid dream, after each cycle. The 2-3 minutes you spend writing up your dream won’t be enough to pull you into a fully awake state that makes it too difficult to get back to sleep, but will engage your conscious mind enough that you can renew your focus while drifting off back to sleep. .
What happens next? You’ve got a dream diary filled with dozens of entries and are starting to record multiple detailed dreams every night. Now it’s time to analyse your dream diary and discover the secrets of your dreams.
1. Hobson, A.J. (2009). REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of protoconsciousnessNature Reviews Neuroscience 10, 803-813.
2. Voss, U., Holzmann, R., Tuin, I., Hobson, J.A. (2009). Lucid dreaming: a state of consciousness with features of both waking and non-lucid dreaming. Sleep, Sep;32(9):1191-200.