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How to Remember Our Dreams | Is Dream Recall the Key to Your Subconscious?

Why do we dream? This age-old question has intrigued philosophers, scientists, and dreamers alike for centuries.

Our dreams serve as windows into our subconscious, reflecting our deepest thoughts and emotions and providing a pathway to self-discovery and healing.

Have you ever woken up with the frustrating feeling of not being able to remember your dream? You're not alone. While everyone dreams, not everyone remembers them. This discrepancy often leads to the misconception that some people don't dream at all.

Dreams predominantly occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, a state characterized by heightened brain activity and the production of vivid dreams.

Our dreams are shaped by a mix of emotional, psychological, and physiological processes. They often involve sorting through emotional experiences from our waking lives, helping us process and integrate these moments into our long-term memory. Through dreams, our brains dissect the emotional residue of our daily lives, repackaging these feelings into scenarios that can offer insight and sometimes, even solutions to problems.

So why don’t we remember our dreams?

Neuroscientist Perspective With a Focus on Memory Consolidation

Dr. Matthew Walker, a leading sleep researcher at UC Berkeley (2023 study published in Nature Neuroscience), proposes that forgetting dreams is a natural consequence of the memory consolidation process. During sleep, our brains are busy sifting through information from the day and transferring important memories to long-term storage. Dreams, often containing fragmented or emotional content, might be prioritized for deletion because they lack the factual significance of waking experiences. Additionally, the brain undergoes a shift in brainwave activity during REM sleep (when dreams occur) that makes it less conducive to forming lasting memories.

Psychoanalyst Perspective With a Focus on Repressed Emotions

Dr. Jung Shin, a prominent Jungian analyst (2022 book "The Power of Dreams in Psychotherapy"), believes forgetting dreams can be a defense mechanism. Dreams often surface unconscious emotions, anxieties, or desires that can be difficult to confront while awake. By forgetting dreams, we shield ourselves from potentially overwhelming feelings or disturbing truths about ourselves. However, through dream journaling and analysis, Jungians suggest we can access these forgotten dreams and use them for personal growth and emotional healing.

Cognitive Psychologist Perspective With a Focus on Attention and Salience

Dr. Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard (2022 study published in Science Advances), emphasizes the role of attention and salience in dream recall. Dreams that lack a strong emotional charge or connection to waking life events are more likely to be forgotten. He suggests techniques like setting an intention to remember your dreams before falling asleep or focusing on specific dream elements upon waking to enhance dream recall.

Techniques to Enhance Dream Recall

  1. Lucid dreaming expert Stephen Laberge emphasises the importance of focusing on dreams upon waking. Our dream fades quickly but if you try to focus on any memory, you have a much better chance of remembering it. This act of focusing strengthens the dream memory, making it more likely to transition from short-term to long-term storage.
  2. Don't rush out of bed! The moment you wake up, try to stay still with your eyes closed. This allows your brain to hold onto the dream fragments for a few extra seconds.
  3. Keep a dream journal by your bedside. Upon waking, jot down any dream fragments you can recall, no matter how insignificant they seem. Over time, this practice trains your brain to pay attention to dreams and improves your recall, the act of recording them not only preserves them for future reflection but also trains the brain to pay more attention to dreams. Over time, this practice can lead to significantly better recall and a richer, more detailed dream life.
  4. Tell someone about your dream. Tell someone about your dream. Sharing it out loud can help solidify the memory.

As you continue to practice these techniques, you'll be surprised at how much you start to recall and the patterns and thoughts you discover.

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