Note: This is an article that we wrote a while back for a website dedicated to personal evolution. We decided to shut down that website so we could focus our efforts here, creating modern fantasy fiction.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a great dream, only to wake up and quickly forget what you had just dreamt?
It can be annoying to forget what may have been an exciting adventure, sensual romance, or intriguing mystery. As a creative person, losing that other-worldly dream sequence can mean losing a source of priceless inspiration.
A few years ago, I began discovering techniques to better harvest the seeds that my dreams produced. I am sharing some of these techniques with you now. Hopefully my tips will help jump-start your own dream development.
Dream Tip 1: Appreciate your dreams
I consider my dreams to be whispers from my muse. I sometimes half-jokingly refer to my muse as The Great Squirrel—a fictional demigod of my imagination who chitters random nonsense while I sleep. Sometimes that random nonsense actually forms the basis of a fresh story—in fact, that’s often the case.
Whether you choose to personify your dreams or if you take a more practical approach, I believe those subconscious thoughts are to be treasured. These thoughts are reflections of whatever deeper theme we are fixated on. Knowing that, we can tap those thoughts for inspiration and problem solving.
Creative people in particular can benefit from remembering their dreams. Artists and writers, certainly, but also creators who build and those who have complicated problems to resolve, such as engineers or entrepreneurs.
Tapping into our subconscious minds means that our brains are working for us, even in “sleep mode.”
So, learn to appreciate your dreams and do not be dismissive of them as mere silliness.
Dream Tip 2: Make note of your dream immediately.
Keep a notepad and pen on your night stand. The moment you come out of a dream, you should make an effort to write down key elements of the dream onto that paper. Don’t wait to jot them down–if you awake even a little, pencil in an outline of the dream. If you trust that your dream may be remembered when you wake up fully, you’ll regret it when you inevitably forget.
Do not use your phone or computer for taking these notes. Looking at a bright electronic screen will wake you up and kill your chance of falling back to sleep. The goal here is to remember your dreams but you don’t want to eliminate sleep in the process.
I also experimented with using an audio recording device (a digital recorder) to verbally record my dream notes. This was faster than writing down notes in the dark but was not exactly appreciated by my sleeping wife!
Dream Tip 3: Keep a Dream Journal
When you’re awake for the day, that’s the time to fully transcribe your dreams from your notes. Using the brief (and messily-scrawled) dream notes to jog your memory, fill in the blanks in chronological order. Go into as much detail as possible.
I find that the best time to write in my Dream Journal is right after I wake up, while the dreams are still fresh. The longer I wait, the more likely important elements of the dream will be forgotten—regardless of how complete my notes are.
Dream Tip 4: Be prepared to sacrifice sleep quality
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news: unfortunately, shallow, interrupted sleep yields more dreams and better chances of remembering those dreams. Dream-filled sleep is not usually restful sleep.
I’ve found that some of my least restful nights result in some of my best dreams. It’s probably oxygen deprivation or just not spending much time in the deep sleep portion of the sleep cycle.
A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is repeated several times through the night. When you’re asleep, you go through cycles of sleep states: first light sleep, followed by deep sleep, then the juicy dream state—otherwise known as REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).
Being awakened during your REM sleep state is how a dream can be more easily remembered.
I’m not going to recommend methods of purposely waking yourself up during the REM sleep state but you might find that having children or pets can increase the chances that you’ll be awakened during the dream state of your sleep cycle.
No human can sacrifice sleep quality every night—not without eventually having a mental breakdown or legitimate health repercussions. So proceed with caution.
Hey, I never said these tips would be compatible with good physical health!
Dream Tip 5: Preserve your position
When you do happen to awake in the midst of your dream state, you may find that it helps to stay in the physical position you emerged from your dream in. If you were laying on your side when you were dreaming, stay in that position as you recall your dream.
This serves as a sort of muscle memory to aid in recalling the dream. I believe this may involve maintaining pressure points on your sinuses or other parts of your body—for example, the pressure of the pillow against your temples. If you relieve those pressure points, it becomes difficult to remember specific elements of the dream.
Dream Tip 6: Accept that not all dreams will be winners
While these techniques I am sharing may help you to remember your dreams, they won’t directly impact the quality of the dreams you have. If your dreams are confusing and incoherent, they probably will still be confusing—at least at first.
What I’ve found is that as I remember my dreams more completely, they start to make more sense. People who appear in my dreams serve as actors, playing characters. High school classmates who I haven’t consciously thought about for decades will suddenly appear in one of my dreams. I’ve come to learn that I am not dreaming about that person, but rather the personality or theme they represent.
I’m not going to get into dream interpretation here, but my point is that when you can remember your dreams more completely, they may start to become more coherent if you choose to spend some time digging into them.
And of course, sometimes a strange dream is simply just a strange dream!
Dream Tip 7: Embrace the Process
Like so much in life, persistence pays off. It took me many months to discover these techniques, and the process was riddled with ideas that were non-starters or just unhelpful.
Yet with consistent effort, I have found that my Dream Journal began filling up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that by journaling my dreams in detail, two surprising things happened.
First, many of my “bad dreams” which had been recurring and nagging me for years became infrequent and then in some cases disappeared completely. I don’t know if this happened because I worked through whatever subconscious issues were prompting those dreams to occur, or because I “dumped” the dreams onto the page and got them out of my head. In any case, I welcomed getting rid of some of those annoying filler dreams.
Second—and most pleasantly—I now can look back at my Dream Journal and see that there are some scenes which are part of a larger story arc. These are stories where I as the protagonist or as the observer of the story, persist from one dream to the next. The standalone dream sequences which individually lacked sense have begun to come together into sometimes richly-detailed, serialized stories.
Discovering certain patterns and themes in my Dream Journal has led me to add layers of detail or backstory into some of the stories I write. This in turn motivates me to spend more effort on cultivating those dreams.
Benefits and outcomes of remembering dreams
So why go through all this effort? Why would you want to expend precious sleep to jot down notes or take time out of the day to write down details of your dreams?
As a writer, I am never lacking for story ideas as a result of developing my dreams. I have a variety of genres and themes in the dreams I am now able to remember. This serves me in being able to take my stories in directions which I probably never would have thought of in my fully-awake state.
As an entrepreneur, I am constantly surprised at how often a solution to a marketing or management problem arrives in my dream state. Not all of the solutions are winners, but they often lead me down a rabbit hole that produces worthy outcomes.
I’ve talked to visual artists who tell me that their sculptures, sketches or paintings came to them from dreams they remembered. So, too, with engineers and analysts dealing with complex projects.
You’re already dreaming—why not take advantage of the firing of those synapses in your sleep state to enhance your creative life in new and surprising ways?
Good luck in your own personal harvesting of dreams! Please share your ideas and feedback by leaving a comment below.