Almost everyone can understand the frustration of enjoying a dream, and yet being unable to remember the details after waking up. As some of the most entertaining parts of our imagination, they are also notoriously forgettable.
Believe it not, most dreams are forgotten nearly instantly.
“We don’t encode dreams into memory the same way we do real experiences. There are fewer sensory details and contextual clues,” she explained to Prevention. “We also have less time to transfer those memories of dreams into long-term memory, usually [with] just a few seconds or less, since that’s usually how long we’re awake in between REM and other sleep stages.”
Most of our dreams occur during the early morning, when we are in peak REM sleep, a type of sleep characterized by random rapid movement of the eyes. In fact, at least 80% of our dreams take place during REM, said Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School and researcher at nearby Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. During REM sleep, our brain doesn’t process long-term memories in the same way it does when it’s alert and awake.
Our sleep quality plays a major role in our ability to dream.
“Alcohol, drugs and sleep deprivation may lead to worse sleep quality in general and may also lead to nightmares,” says Wu. “Wildly inconsistent sleep-wake timing can also throw off REM and disrupt dreams.”
Usually a nightmare can be remembered more easily, as the body is often jolted awake. When you suddenly wake up, your brain spends a few minutes thinking about the dream before you’re able to go back to sleep, thus further cementing the memory into your brain.
On the other hand, remembering enjoyable dreams often proves to be a much more difficult. Unless it’s a recurring dream, there are a key things to do in order to remember the hazy details.
Here are a few tips Robbins recommends to help to try to remember as many details about your dreams as possible.
Keep a steady sleep schedule
Because the majority of our dreams occur during REM periods, it’s best to try keep to a steady schedule that allows you to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
“The more time you spend sleeping each night, the more likely you are to get the ideal amount of REM, as this stage predominates in the latter half of the night,” Robbins said.
Moreover, try to wake up at a consistent time each day in order to avoid disrupting your body’s natural REM cycle and increasing your likelihood of vivid, intense dreams.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Before bed, it’s best to avoid any type of alcohol or substances that could alter your brain activity. Especially since alcohol and drugs have been linked to poor sleep quality and insomnia, these substances can greatly decrease your ability to dream. Instead, opt for melatonin or other natural sleep aids!
Take your time in the morning
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Shut off your alarm clock? Reach for your phone? Jump out of bed to brew a cup of coffee? Instead of immediately rushing into your day, try taking a moment or two to reflect on what you were just dreaming about. Avoid turning to any electronic devices that could be distracting!
Write it all down
If you’re really serious about your dreams, try keeping a pen and paper by your bedside. When you wake up, try to take a moment to write down as much as you can remember about your dreams.
“It doesn’t have to be a detailed description,” Wu added. “The point is to get in the habit of spending a few seconds remembering a fresh dream so you will more automatically do so in the future.”
Talk about it
If you share a bed with someone, sleep experts suggest talking with your partner about your dreams. Doing so is a good way to keep your brain actively remembering the dream you had the night before, or the morning of.