Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Because most of us live such fast paced lives, it is easy to neglect our dreams. For many people dreams are seen as nothing more than inconsequential bi-products of sleep and placed very low on the priority hierarchy. There is so much going on in our external worlds, demanding our attention, that in order to cope we tend to emphasize the rational, logical and pragmatic side of life. However, though dreams may appear strange and frivolous, they actually offer us essential insight into the deep unconscious side of ourselves — a side associated with mystery and brilliance, which is known to have a profound bearing on how we experience reality.
Those of us who pay attention to our dreams know that they can be a powerful source of personal realization, insight, wisdom, exploration and guidance. But in order to benefit from our dreams we need to remember them. Bringing dreams back to waking reality can sometimes feel like trying to scoop up water with our hand; the fleeting imagery swiftly slips away between the cracks. However, there are practical ways you can enhance your dream recall and begin to benefit from their guidance.
The Science of Dream Recall
There is a lot of range in terms of people’s ability to remember their dreams. Some people wake up every morning filled with scenes and feelings from their night’s adventures, while others recall nothing.
A team of scientists at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre decided to investigate why there is so much variation between levels of dream recall. The group, led by researcher Perrine Ruby, studied the brain activity of those with high levels of dream recall and compared them with those with low levels of dream recall in order to understand the differences between the two groups. The results of their study were published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. In the study the researchers found that the temporo-parietal junction, an area of the brain responsible for information-processing, is more active in high dream recallers.
In a previous study conducted by the same team, the researchers noted that people with high dream recall had twice as many periods of wakefulness during their sleep cycles than people with low levels of dream recall. They also noted that the brains of high recall dreamers were more reactive to external auditory stimulus, during both sleep and wakefulness, than their low dream recall counter-parts.
In this new study the researchers wanted to identify which particular areas of brain differentiate the two groups. Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) they monitored the brain activity of 41 volunteers during periods of both wakefulness and sleep. Whether awake or asleep, the 21 volunteers in the high recall group demonstrated stronger spontaneous brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and in the temporo-parietal junction, an area of the brain involved in attention orienting toward external stimuli.
“This may explain why high dream recallers are more reactive to environmental stimuli, awaken more during sleep, and thus better encode dreams in memory than low dream recallers. Indeed the sleeping brain is not capable of memorising new information; it needs to awaken to be able to do that,” stated Ruby.
The findings published in this study are supported by another study, conducted by South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms, which found that people with damage to those brain regions were unable to recall their dreams.
Because the process needed for dream recollection is only activated once the brain awakens, if we become conscious straight out of a dream, we are more likely to remember the content. The feelings behind the dream, as well as whether the content makes sense to our logical brain, have also been found to affect how much we remember. A related study found that confusing, illogical dreams were harder to recall than ones with powerful emotional content and coherent plot lines. The dreams we are most likely to recall are the intense ones that illicit high levels of brain activity and are therefore more likely to wake us up.
Another noteworthy fact related to dream recall is that people who regularly smoke marijuana often report low levels of dream recall. This phenomenon can be explained by the effect marijuana has on a person’s the sleep cycle. Regular use of marijuana reduces the brain’s ability to produce the stage of the sleep cycle known as rapid eye movement (REM). This is the state where the brain is most active and the highest level of dreaming occurs. Since restlessness and frequent awakening facilitate dream recall, it would appear that the deep levels of sleep promoted by marijuana smoking are responsible for diminished access to the dream world.
Tips for Enhancing Dream Recall
When we start recording our dreams in a journal, or sharing dream content regularly with others, our dream recall levels improve dramatically. The important thing is to remain consistent and to document as much as possible. Initially there might not be very much to report, but most people find that as long as they make the effort to regularly write down any scraps, even if it is just colours or feelings, dream recall will gradually improve. With time the content that is recalled will become richer, more detailed and more meaningful.
Another trick that can be helpful is to stay still upon awakening. Remaining in the position you awake in helps the brain to remain focused and hold on to the dream elements. So keep still and go over your dreams, try to recall as much as possible before stirring and reaching for your dream diary. If you can’t recall any dream imagery, allow your mind to wander freely. I am often amazed at how seemingly random thoughts can trigger full remembrance of a dream.
Remember to keep your journal next to the bed, and always make a point of checking it the night before. This serves two purposes. When we take a minute to focus on our goal to remember our dreams before falling asleep, this desire is communicated and reinforced at an unconscious level. As well, easy access to a journal upon awakening means fewer opportunities for distracting thoughts to displace dream content.
Another interesting strategy to improve dream recall that is being explored is vitamin supplementation. As part of his Ph.D project, psychology student Denholm Aspy, at the University of Adelaide in Australia is investigating whether vitamin B can enhance dreaming. “Early research suggests that taking vitamin B6 may be able to make dreams more vivid, colourful, emotional and bizarre, and other B vitamins may also help people to remember their dreams or have lucid dreams,” says Mr Aspy.
Finally an interesting aside found in this study, and many others, is that researchers noted that the frequency of dream recall is affected by participation in dream focused studies. Because the attention of participants is being drawn to dreams, dream recall is inadvertently enhanced. According to Schredl (2007), “Even the completion of a short dream questionnaire yielded a higher DRF (dream recall frequency) after four weeks.” This correlates with what many who take an interest in their dreams notice — the more attention we pay to the enchanting, evocative world of dreams, the more valuable content we are able recall.
“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.” – Carl Jung
About the author:
Christina Lavers is a writer, an artist, a creative enthusiast, and an inner world explorer. Born in Montreal Quebec, Canada, she now lives with her life partner and son in a rainforest pocket in the hills behind Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia. She spends her time playing, creating, growing and sharing.
Christina is devoted to assisting people to find and connect with their own creative magical current that flows deep within. She is now offering a comprehensive e-course designed to help people light up their world with passion and creativity. You can access Section One here for free!
Christina has also recently published her first full length book, a memoir about her wild awakening journey entitled Jump Into the Blue, and she is currently working on the next one.
“My journey has been about personal alchemy… exploring the mysteries of my soul and my environment, and learning to bring all aspects, the light and the dark, together with the transcending ingredient… love. The more I uncover and nurture the wounded aspects of my being, the more whole and grounded I feel and the more my outer world reflects the love, wonder and magic I have discovered inside”.
You can follow Christina’s work at:
Further reading from Christina Lavers:
- Dream On! Lucid Dreaming Improves Self Awareness and Metacognition
- Can Medical Marijuana Relieve Migraines?
- 10 Signs You’ve Bought Spin
- New Study Shows Regular Contact with Nature Reduces Crime, Increases Social Cohesion
- Research Shows Just 7 Minutes of Meditation Can Reduce Racial Prejudice
- Taking Care of Our Inner Tribes – Microflora, Awakening and You
- Groundbreaking Study Maps the Decline of Wild Bee Communities in the United States
- Taking Responsibility For Our Energy
- More Evidence That TV is Dumbing Us Down
- Synchrony and Exertion of Dancing Found to Encourage Social Bonding, Raise Pain Threshold
- Quitting Smoking? Try These Herbs, Tips and Incentives to Help You Succeed!
Top image: Dream Catcher by Fucute on DeviantArt
Center image: Don’t Trash Your Dreams by AquaSixio on DeviantArt