Improving your dream recall is one of the first steps along the way to achieving regular lucid dreams. If you’re interested in lucid dreaming but happen to be one of those people who has problems even remembering dreams, you may benefit from applying proven dream recall techniques to your waking life.
With practice, I believe anyone can remember his or her dreams regularly and in detail. Human beings are wired to remember dreams to some degree, but like any learned skill, this is an ability that massively improves with practice and dedication. This brings us to dream recall technique #1: Intention.
You have to want to remember your dreams for it to happen. For people who have suffered from nightmares or other disconcerting phenomena like sleep paralysis, it can be hard to develop this intention. However, developing better dream recall is the first step towards controlling and becoming aware in your dreams, which is a proven method of stopping nightmares and creating more enjoyable dreams to explore. Whether it’s achieving lucid dreams, mastering angular geometry, or learning how to play the clarinet, you’re much more likely to work on developing a skill that you want to have than one you don’t care about. Setting an intention— perhaps by repeating a mantra like “I will remember my dreams tonight”— before you go to sleep will signal your subconscious that remembering dreams is important to you.
Similarly, focusing your attention on dream recall techniques by performing reality checks during the day and regularly contributing to a dream journal will also improve your ability to recall dreams. Any dream recall practice I’ve encountered stresses the importance of keeping a record of your dreams, either in a written journal or by reporting your dreams into a tape recorder. In cultures where dream work is an important element of spirituality, people regularly report their dreams from the night before to others, strengthening their ability to remember them regularly and in detail. It’s been said before that recalling dreams is like a muscle: the more you use this skill, the better developed it becomes.
Dream recall techniques have the most impact around the time you actually go to sleep and wake up. One method to prime your brain for dream recall is to reread or listen to the dreams in your journal once you’ve established it. By rereading the dream you had the previous night or farther back, you’ll familiarize yourself with some of your common dream themes and go to sleep with the idea of dreaming uppermost in your mind. Before you fall asleep, try asking rather than ordering yourself to remember your dreams. A simple request can work wonders for dream recall!
You can also ask yourself to wake up at a certain time, though you may want to set an alarm for 15 minutes after your intended wake up time just in case. This technique is designed to eventually help you wake up without using an alarm, which can impede dream recall. On nights when you can afford to sleep in the next day, you can try this proven technique of dream recall: drink a glass of water before going to bed so that you’ll have to get up after four or five hours of sleep in order to use the bathroom. With luck, you’ll also remember the dream you were having and write that down once you return to bed. Though simple, this dream recall technique is effective because it naturally interrupts your longest and most intense cycle of REM sleep.
When you first wake up, try not to move or open your eyes; if they’re open, shut them. Of course, some of us thrash around when we’re waking up: in this case, try and resume the position you were in when you first woke up, if you can remember it. This will help you recall those first crucial details of your dream. With luck, at this point a few aspects of your dream will start coming back to you. When you’ve gathered them up, get out your journal and start recording or writing them down.
The most important thing when recording a dream in a journal is to include every detail that comes to you, no matter how vague, nonsensical, or out of order it seems! You’ll be surprised how many details come back to you if you’re diligent about recording those first fragments. Especially for dream journal newbies, speaking into a recorder may be a helpful method of dream journaling: it’s often easier to report a dream orally than to write a bunch of details down right after waking up when you might not be very coherent.
Keeping a dream journal will also help you identify your dream signs: elements or themes that keep recurring in your unique dreams. These can be people, objects, settings, or even concepts and activities. Noting that “I run a lot in my dreams”, or “There’s often something red or blue in my dreams” are two examples of dream signs. Review your dreams to identify possible dream signs; these are a very important element to pay attention to if you want to remember your dreams and progress to lucid dreams. For one thing, by noting your dream signs while awake, you’ll eventually notice them while you’re dreaming, which can trigger lucidity. Furthermore, dream signs can come to the rescue if you’re having trouble remembering a dream at all. If you know you had a dream but can’t remember any of its content, one dream recall technique is to mentally go through your dream signs and ask yourself if any of them were in your dream. With luck, remembering the presence of a dream sign will trigger your memory of the larger dream.
Remembering dreams is a lifelong practice that requires time and dedication to improve. However, by employing the above dream recall techniques, I think you’ll find your recall rate quickly improves, and with it the richness and significance of your dreams!