Remembering dreams is the most basic foundation of lucid dreaming work. If you are able to remember your dreams, then you will eventually be able to become more and more conscious of them, and will ultimately be able to achieve full lucidity and control. It took me several months of practice just to get to a point where I was regularly remembering dreams. This step is essential, because if you can’t remember your dreams, you wouldn’t know if you had had a lucid dream or not. Furthermore, being able to remember your dreams will help you to become familiar with how your dream state works, which will in turn help you to understand when you are in a dream.
The first step to dream recall is getting plenty of sleep every night on a regular schedule. If you are able to do this, it will be easier to focus on your goal of remembering your dreams. Furthermore, REM periods get longer and more frequent as the night proceeds, so the more sleep you get, the longer your REM periods will become. It is generally accepted among sleep researchers that remembering dreams only really happens if the sleeper awakens during or just after the REM state. If they move on to other stages of sleep, dreams are generally not recalled.
The most valuable tool that I have ever found for working with remembering dreams is keeping a dream journal. Simply keep a notebook next to your bed, and every time you wake up during the night with any part of a dream in mind, no matter how tiny or insignificant it may seem, write it down. Be sure to record your dreams as soon as you wake up and remember them, as if you go back to sleep and wake up in the morning the dream may no longer be in your memory. Write down as many details as possible. I find that I am often very sure that I will remember dreams in the morning, but once I wake up, I have next to no recollection of them, so sooner is better when it comes to dream journaling.
Another simple and valuable tool for remembering dreams is to tell yourself as you fall asleep that you are going to remember all of your dreams fully upon awakening. Once I wake up, I always try to focus immediately upon what I had been dreaming about. Often, if I focus on small fragments or clues that I remember, I can work backwards, constructing more and more of the dream to write down.
I am fortunate enough to own a cat that likes to wake me up in the early morning, usually during periods of REM sleep, allowing me to more fully remember my dreams. If you are not so fortunate, and if you are a deep sleeper, you may want to try figuring out your poersonal dream cycle and then setting an alarm for times when you find that you are usually in REM sleep. REM periods occur at intervals of around 90 minutes, so for ideal states of remembering dreams, try setting an alarm to go off at 4.5, 6 or 7.5 hours after you go to sleep.
Remembering dreams can seem challenging at first, especially if you are someone who rarely remembers their dreams, but if you persist with dream journalling and affirmations, you will succeed with time. Once you are able to remember one or more dreams a night, you are ready to begin the process of working towards lucidity, which I have discussed in more detail elsewhere on the site. The most important thing in all of this, though, is to have fun, to be patient, and to always be confident that as long as you put the practice in, you will achieve the dream states that you are aiming for!