“I’m sick of following my dreams,” said comedian Mitch Hedberg, “I’m just gonna ask where they’re going, and hook up with them later."
Sage advice. However, the average person hardly remembers them! 95-99% of what we dream is lost upon waking, suggesting, from an evolutionary standpoint, that they're not that important to our daily survival.
And yet, untold numbers of inventors, scientists, alchemists, engineers, artists, writers, your semi-psychic aunt, perhaps even you, could attest struggling with some issue of central importance in their life, only to have the solution revealed in a dream.
Surely, there must be something to paying our dreams more attention. In this article, I'll focus on a scientifically proven practice to improve dream recall: the dream diary.
A dream diary can take many forms: pen and notebook by the bedside, a hand-held voice recorder under the pillow, or even an app on your phone crafted specifically for dream journaling. Choose whatever works best for you to get started. If you have a particularly hard time recalling your dreams, you may want to prime the brain-pump a bit by starting to record the earliest ones you can remember.
Ask yourself: what’s the first dream I remember having? Do I have any recurring dreams? What were they about, what can I remember seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking? Who or what did I meet there and where? Were any of the people, places, or things in the dream things I remember from waking life? All of these questions are good practice for future dream recording.
Once you begin recording your latest late-night mind movies, you’ll want to make sure that you record your dreams as soon as you possibly can after waking. If you wake in the middle of the night, try to jot something down. When writing, go into as much detail as you can about what you remember (no matter how mundane or seemingly insignificant the detail), but keep it to the content of the dream for the initial entry. Falling asleep with your dream journal beside you and the intention set to remember your dreams can actually help you to do so!
Because recording such things in our drowsiest waking moments can lead to issues of clarity, most people find it helps to transcribe their drunkenly scrawled pen scratches or recorded voice later in the day, when more fully awake. During this time, you can add other key details such as the hours you slept, how well you slept, and where you slept while you were dreaming. These can lend important context to the dream itself, especially looking back.
Lastly, many people find it helps them to consolidate each dream in their own memory, and to refer back to them, if they give each dream a title. Think of each dream as a little poem or short story penned by your own psyche.
Dreams in Review
That being said, after reading one dream you’ve recorded, it might appear as total nonsense! Why should I even bother if they’re all gonna be like this?
Carl Jung, early psychoanalyst and major proponent of the significance of dreams wrote: “we are not dealing with isolated dreams; they form a coherent series in the course of which the meaning gradually unfolds more or less of its own accord.” (The Portable Jung, p. 328) In short: a dream diary is a work in progress. It’s not the single dream that really helps us to learn about ourselves, but one dream in the context of many dreams.
To that end, once you’ve got a good week, a month, or even a year’s worth of entries—revisit them! Take notes on what themes you see repeating. Who keeps popping in to chase me with a meat grinder? Why do I always seem to be skydiving naked over Niagara Falls? So on.
This practice is not going to make you slimmer. It won’t make you more popular. It’s not going to help you do your taxes, nor boost your credit score. However, there are some real benefits to taking up this uniquely personal pastime.
1. It makes you more creative.
Real talk: a scientific research study in Columbia actually proved that the practice of keeping a dream journal actually made their research participants more creative, compared with control groups. The metric they used is called the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Mainly this is a test where subjects are given a figure or a shape and told to use it to draw and create. Measuring the sheer amount of stuff subjects added as well as analyzing qualitative factors (such as: “emotional expressiveness, presence of narrative to the imagery, humor, richness of imagery, and presence of fantasy” -Sierra-Siegert, et al.), they found significant increases.
This makes sense: those qualitative factors are literally what dreams are made of. Siegert and his colleagues supposed that the reason for this increase is due to a thinning of the line between dreaming and waking states. Because dream journaling increases recall of memories from dreaming life, they begin to influence, color, and enrich our waking consciousness!
If you’re struggling with a creative block, dream journaling may be your best tool to unleashing the creative kraken.
2. Gain personal insight.
Dream diaries are largely a personal venture. They are for and by the dreamers themselves. A dream diary can provide you with a deeper connection to what is really going on inside of you, beneath the clang, boom, steam of waking life and its practical mundanity.
Given a review of a month of your own dreams, you might finally figure out why you have nightmares about the clown that jumped out of your 10th birthday cake and made you wet your pants. Part of problem solving is recognizing the problem for what it is, and dreams are a unique insight into that. You may say to yourself in waking life: “Y’know what? Clowns are freaky and weird—it’s totally legitimate to wet your pants at 10 years old when one jumps out of your birthday cake. Let it go.” No more clown nightmares.
Well, almost none. Damn Pennywise.
3. Further scientific research.
Weird as it sounds, there are a few dozen dream researchers out there that would potentially derive a metric ton of sleepsand’s worth of value from your personal, life-long dream journal. Even researchers who are still earning their technicolor dream lab coats. Even ones years from now who haven’t even dreamed of getting their technicolor dream lab coats!
Much like donating your body to science, this can be a tricky venture. Make sure before handing over a deeply personal and potentially embarrassing chronicle of your Chris Hemsworth wet dreams to Dr. Sandman, ensure that the institution or individual you are considering submitting your journal to has walked you through your rights as a contributor to research. There is a code of ethics and often an institutional review board that requires the researcher to do so, so don’t be shy. Discuss with them, agree to release or allow what you release to be used in such a manner with which you are 100% comfortable.
And, if there are some really steamy Thor-inspired dreams you just don’t ever want anyone to read—edit them out before you go offering your diary to science. Your dreams, your rules.
4. Share them anonymously with strangers!
On the flip side: the Dream Journal Ultimate app (which you can employ in your arsenal of dream recording paraphernalia) actually has a feature that allows you to post your dream anonymously to a public “Dream Wall.” Lord knows your closest friends and relatives don’t have much time to spend discussing that one dream where you’re a lizard and they’re flies. Share it with the world!
And, not only can you contribute, but you can gobble up all the steamiest, weirdest, scariest, or most fantastic imaginings from the psyches of millions of dream-intrigued strangers! All of a sudden you and your lizard dreams don’t feel so strange and alone.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream,” not, “I had a dream.” Dreams are meaningful, inasmuch as we make them meaningful. Part of that is latching on to the best elements of your dreams, the parts that you can make real, and then doing so! There is power in what lies beneath the conscious surface: better worlds, cooler inventions, more insane Snooze articles!
Okay, maybe that last one’s just me, but you get my point.
And while you’re scrawling your latest midnight unicorn flight first thing in the morning, make yourself some extra time by cutting down on minutes spent bed-making! You know it, you dream of it, now manifest it: a complete set of snap-on linens from Primary Goods. Aren’t you glad you didn’t hit snooze on this week’s edition of Snooze?
Dream on, Snoozers.
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“Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy.” The Portable Jung, by C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell, Viking Press, 1975, p. 328.
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Tiffany, Kaitlyn. “I Hate Self-Improvement but I Love My Dream Journal App.” The Verge, The Verge, 2 Oct. 2016, www.theverge.com/2016/10/2/13113102/dream-journal-ultimate-app-self-improvement.
“What Happens When You Sleep?” Sleep Foundation, The National Sleep Foundation, 22 Dec. 2009, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-happens-when-you-sleep.