To Sleep, Perchance to Dream (and Remember)

By Gina Roberts-Grey

Science has yet to provide an explanation for why we dream. But new research has unlocked the difference between those who can recall vivid details of dreams vs. those who rarely remember what adventures went on in their head during sleep.

The Stuff Dreams are Made Of

Most dreams are the result of a well-orchestrated series of events happening in your brain that only occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM, several areas of your brain work together to create dreams; you can have more than one dream during each REM cycle. On average, people have three to five REM cycles a night depending on the number of hours they sleep.

But the new study conducted by French researchers found not all dreamers’ brains are the same.

The scientists looked at brain activity in areas of the brain to explain why some people have a higher rate of recall with dreams than other.

Using imaging, the researchers measured spontaneous brain activity people during wakefulness and sleep. “High dream recallers” recalled dreams 5.2 mornings per week on average, while “low dream recallers,” reported remembering just 2 dreams per month on average. While both awake and asleep, high dream recallers had stronger spontaneous activity in the areas of the brain involved in attention to external stimuli, the study noted.

The increased spontaneous activity is thought to be caused by high dream recallers’ brains being more reactive to auditory stimuli during sleep and wakefulness. This increased brain reactivity may promote brief awakenings during the night, which is thought to help store dreams in the memory.

“Indeed, the sleeping brain is not capable of memorizing new information; it needs to awaken to be able to do that,” said lead researcher Perrine Ruby, Inserm Research Fellow, in a release.

Don’t Let Your Dreams Fade Away

You can’t change how reactive your brain is to stimuli while you’re asleep. But no matter your biological ability to recall your dreams, a few tricks can increase the likelihood you’ll remember your sweet dreams.

Stay still. Feel like you had an awesome dream last night but you just can’t remember it? Lauri Loewenberg, author of, “Cracking The Dream Code,” said the absolute best way to remember your dreams is to stay still when you first wake up. “Don’t move around or hop right out of bed because the position you wake up in is the position you were dreaming in.” If you move around, your body will disconnect from the dream. So stay put!

Think. Loewenberg recommends giving yourself about two minutes to “think” about your dreams. If nothing comes, ask yourself, “Who was with me?” “Where was I?” “What was I just doing?” “How am I feeling?” and other such questions. These questions may trigger recollection of the dream you just had.

Jot it down. Keep a pen and pad of paper next to your bed to jot down notes about your dream. “On average, your ability to recall dreams starts to fade after you’ve been awake about 90 seconds unless you commit them to your memory. Writing them down, or talking about them with your parents over breakfast, helps stores them in your memory,” said Loewenberg.