I don’t remember my dreams

Contents

Why Some People Always Remember Their Dreams and Others Forget

Intro

Since I became conscious of what dreaming was at the age of 3 or 4, I’ve been able to remember my dreams every day, almost without exception. While some dreams fade after a day or so, I can recall many of them months or years after.

I assumed everyone could as well until my senior year of high school, when we did a dream unit in psychology class. The teacher asked us to raise our hand if we could recall our dreams every morning when we woke up. In a class of over 20 students, I was one of only two people to raise their hand. I was shocked.

Up until then, I’d gone my whole life thinking everyone else remembered their dreams too. Turns out, that’s not the case for most people.

This made me begin to question, why was I able to remember my dreams while others couldn’t? Was this a good or bad thing? Did it mean I wasn’t sleeping well? These questions about dreaming remained years later, when I was well into my 20s. So I finally decided to investigate.

Why we dream

Let’s start with why and when dreaming occurs. Dreaming tends to take place during REM sleep, which can occur multiple times a night. This sleep stage is characterized by rapid eye movement (what REM stands for), increased bodily movement, and faster breathing.

Mike Kisch, co-founder and CEO of Beddr, a sleep tech start-up, tells Healthline that dreaming tends to occur during this time because our brain wave activity becomes more akin to that of when we’re awake. This stage usually begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and can last for up to an hour toward the end of sleep.

“Whether they remember or not, all people do dream in their sleep. It is an essential function for the human brain, and also present in most species,” Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, tells Healthline. So if everyone dreams, why don’t we all remember them?

That answer can vary depending on which theory of why humans dream you decide to follow, because there’s quite a few. Dream research is a wide and complex field, and dreaming can be hard to study in a laboratory. This is partly because the brain activity can’t tell us about the content of dreams, and you have to rely on subjective accounts from people.

Remembering dreams

“While some may suggest that dreams are a window to the subconscious, other theories posit that dreams are a nonsense result of the activity that takes place while we sleep and restore our brains,” Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Healthline. “And, if our need to dream is any indication of the brain participating in a restorative process, our inability to remember our dreams may simply be due to the sorting of essential and nonessential information during sleep.”

Basically, this theory suggests that dreams occur when our brain is processing information, eliminating the unnecessary stuff and moving important short-term memories into our long-term memory. So people who recall dreams may have a difference in their ability to memorize things in general.

Beyond that, a person’s brain may actually block out a dream so we don’t remember it the following day. “The dream activity can be so real and intense that our brains actually hide, or mask away the dream, so get lost between our waking experience, and our dream lives. Thus it is normal to forget dreams, most of the time.” Dimitriu says.

Ever had one of those dreams that are so realistic you aren’t sure if the events really happened? It’s really unsettling and strange, right? So in this case, our brain may help us forget so that we’re better able to tell the difference between our dream world and the real world.

On the flip side, brain activity can also allow someone to more easily remember their dream. “There’s a region in your brain called the temporoparietal junction, which processes information and emotions. This region can also put you in a state of intra-sleep wakefulness, which, in turn, allows your brain to encode and remember dreams better,” Julie Lambert, certified sleep expert, explains.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and reported by International Business Times suggested that those people who reported high dream recall had more activity in the temporoparietal junction than those who didn’t recall their dreams often.

Why some people remember and others forget

Lambert tells Healthline that if someone consistently doesn’t get enough sleep, the amount of REM sleep they experience will drop, making it harder for them to remember their dreams the following day.

Even personality traits can be an indicator of whether someone will be able to remember their dreams.

Lambert continues: “Researchers also looked at the most common personality traits that are presented in people who can recall their dreams. Overall, such people are prone to daydreaming, creative thinking, and introspection. At the same time, those who are more practical and focused on what is outside themselves tend to have difficulty remembering their dreams.”

This may mean that some people are naturally more likely to recall their dreams than others, despite their quality of sleep.

Other factors, like stress or experiencing a trauma, can also cause people to have vivid dreams or nightmares that they’re more likely to recall the next day. For example, a person who’s coping with grief after losing a loved one may dream about the death in elaborate detail. Remembering the dream the next day may affect mood and cause even more stress or anxiety.

As a writer who’s constantly daydreaming and focused on introspection, this doesn’t surprise me. In fact, as I’ve grown, the way I view my dreams, itself, has evolved. For most of my childhood, I would watch myself in third person, almost like a movie. Then, one day, I started experiencing the dreams through my own eyes, and it never reverted.

Sometimes my dreams will build on each other, even expanding on a previous event’s dream in a current one. This could be a sign of my brain continuing its storytelling in my sleep.

Does dreaming affect sleep quality?

While I was worried about my dreaming being a sign that I’m not sleeping well, it turns out dreaming itself doesn’t affect sleep quality. Though being able to remember dreams can sometimes be a sign of something else, such as a health condition or medication.

“While there may be some biological differences that result in some remembering dreams more than others, there are also some medical causes that should be considered. Alarm clocks, and irregular sleep schedules can result in abrupt waking during dream or REM sleep, and thus result in recall of dreams. Sleep apnea, alcohol, or anything that disturbs sleep can also cause dream recall,” Dimitriu says.

So the more you’re waking up throughout the night, the easier it may be to remember your dreams, at least in the short term. “In most cases, this happens because there’s something alerting that nudges us awake during dreaming, and in turn the dream content is recalled,” Dimitriu says.

What about those dreams that are so intense or disturbing that they literally wake you out of your sleep? You may find yourself in a sweaty panic, your heart racing, and sitting up in bed totally confused about what just happened. Dimitriu explains that having dreams or nightmares that regularly wake you up isn’t always normal and may be a sign that you need to speak to a doctor.

People who have post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) may have vivid nightmares that involve flashbacks or replays of the trauma, either directly or symbolically, according to the Sleep Foundation. These can affect sleep quality and mood the next day.

Also, excessive fatigue during the daytime may be a sign of sleep issues that require a person to seek help. If at any point your dreams, or remembering your dreams, is causing you stress or anxiety, you should consider speaking with a doctor.

While researchers still aren’t sure what exactly causes dreaming, it’s a relief to know that remembering your dreams is a common, healthy thing. It doesn’t mean you aren’t sleeping well, and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re crazy or “not normal.”

Though I do feel more tired at times when waking up from a detailed dream, remembering them keeps things interesting — not to mention, it gives me some great story ideas. Aside from the time I dreamed about snakes for an entire week. That’s a tradeoff I’ll take.

Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion and food.

People who tend to remember their dreams also respond more strongly than others to hearing their name when they’re awake, new research suggests.

Everyone dreams during sleep, but not everyone recalls the mental escapade the next day, and scientists aren’t sure why some people remember more than others.

To find out, researchers used electroencephalography to record the electrical activity in the brains of 36 people while the participants listened to background tunes, and occasionally heard their own first name. The brain measurements were taken during wakefulness and sleep. Half of the participants were called high recallers, because they reported remembering their dreams almost every day, whereas the other half, low recallers, said they only remembered their dreams once or twice a month.

When asleep, both groups showed similar changes in brain activity in response to hearing their names, which were played quietly enough not to wake them.

However, when awake, high recallers showed a more sustained decrease in a brain wave called the alpha wave when they heard their names, compared with the low recallers.

“It was quite surprising to see a difference between the groups during wakefulness,” said study researcher Perrine Ruby, neuroscientist at Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France.

The difference could reflect variations in the brains of high and low recallers that could have a role in how they dream, too, Ruby said.

Who remembers their dreams

A well-established theory suggests that a decrease in the alpha wave is a sign that brain regions are being inhibited from responding to outside stimuli. Studies show that when people hear a sudden sound or open their eyes, and more brain regions become active, the alpha wave is reduced.

In the study, as predicted, both groups showed a decrease in the alpha wave when they heard their names while awake. But high recallers showed a more prolonged decrease, which may be a sign their brains became more widely activated when they heard their names.

In other words, high recallers may engage more brain regions when processing sounds while awake, compared with low recallers, the researchers said. While people are asleep, the alpha wave behaves in the opposite way —it increases when a sudden sound is heard. Scientists aren’t certain why this happens, but one idea is that it protects the brain from being interrupted by sounds during sleep, Ruby said.

Indeed, the study participants showed an increase in the alpha wave in response to sounds during sleep, and there was no difference between the groups.

One possibility to explain the lack of difference, the researchers said, could be that perhaps high recallers had a larger increase in alpha waves, but it was so high that they woke up.

Time spent awake, during the night

The researchers saw that high recallers awoke more frequently during the night. They were awake, on average, for 30 minutes during the night, whereas low recallers were awake for 14 minutes. However, Ruby said “both figures are in the normal range, it’s not that there’s something wrong with either group.”

Altogether, the results suggest the brain of high recallers may be more reactive to stimuli such as sounds, which could make them wake up more easily. It is more likely a person would remember their dreams if they are awakened immediately after one, Ruby said.

However, waking up at night can account for only a part of the differences people show in remembering dreams. “There’s still much more to understand,” she said.

The study is published online today (Aug. 13) in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Why You Remember — or Forget — Your Dreams

Anxiety, Medication, and Personality May All Affect Dreams and Dream Recall

Remembering your dreams doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how restful your sleep is, Dr. Harris says. Instead, recalling those dreams is a lot more likely to depend on a number of factors, from your current level of stress to the medication you’re taking.

The following can influence whether or not you remember your dreams:

  • Anxiety Levels Before Bed People are more likely to remember their dreams when they’re anxious or depressed, Harris says, perhaps because they also tend to wake up more when they’re worried, and do so in the middle of various dreams.
  • Medication or Health Problems Certain medicines, including some drugs that treat depression, can suppress dream sleep, says Dr. Subramanian. Similarly, sleep apnea (a condition characterized by short pauses in breath many times while you sleep) can also minimize the time you spend dreaming.
  • Gender and Personality Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that adolescent girls were more likely than their male counterparts to remember their dreams. This study also found a link between creativity and dream recall: Participants with stronger dream recall were more likely to identify themselves as creative compared with those less likely to recall their dreams.

Can You Get Better at Remembering Your Dreams?

If you wish you could remember more from the night before, you’re not entirely out of luck. You can improve your dream awareness, says Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. “The most important thing is giving dreams time and attention.”

The best time to try to recall your dreams is in the first 90 seconds after you wake up, before the memory goes away. Loewenberg recommends trying to keep your body in the exact same position that you were in when you woke up, as this will help boost your dream memory.

After two minutes spent replaying and piecing together the thoughts, feelings, and images from your recent sleep, write them down right away. “If you don’t write your dreams down or tell your partner, they’ll likely be gone after breakfast,” says Loewenberg.

Rereading words on a notebook page, however, stands a chance to trigger a memory of the dream later on. Start keeping a notebook and pen on the nightstand. Not only is it a conscious reminder to focus on recalling your dreams, but it also helps you get into the habit of journaling each morning — a practice that is better than even recounting to another person, according to a review published in May 2016 in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Loewenberg also says that nutrition may play a role in dream recall — specifically the amount of vitamin B6 you get. A randomized, prospective study published in April 2018 in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills that included 100 participants found that individuals who took a vitamin B6 supplement before bed were more likely to remember their dreams compared with individuals who did not take the supplement. It’s worth noting, however, that the lack of corroborating evidence makes this research still preliminary — and those in the study who supplemented with B6 before bed reported worse sleep quality and felt more tired upon waking up.

You can incorporate more B6 into your diet naturally by cooking and eating meals that feature foods like poultry, fish, milk, bananas, and spinach. And pay attention to dosage if you’re getting B6 via supplements. The safe daily upper limit for adults is 100 milligrams a day. An overdose could cause nerve damage or neurological problems, including loss of control over your limb movement and balance issues. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any supplements.

Snoozing for 10 more minutes in the morning may also contribute to lucid dreams. Though the connection isn’t perfectly clear, a small study in published in December 2015 in the journal Dreaming found a link between pressing the snooze button for another few minutes of sleep and remembering dreams vividly. It may well be that the brief wake-up allows the brain to be conscious enough to register and remember dreams in a final REM cycle.

Still, be somewhat wary of hitting that snooze button if you want to stick to a healthy sleep schedule. Sleep medicine experts don’t recommend doing it because the sleep you get during those last few minutes of sleep is more likely to be lighter, less restorative sleep. Plus waking at the same time each day helps keep your body on a consistent sleep schedule, making it easier overall to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.

RELATED: How Sleep Problems Affect Thinking and Memory

With additional reporting by Kathleen Corlett.

Ask SleepBetter: Why Am I Dreaming More?

Have you wondered about something related to sleep, but just can’t find the answer? Lots of people do, and that’s why we created Ask SleepBetter. You can ask your own question on the SleepBetter Facebook Page, or by using our Ask SleepBetter contact form. We will try to answer as many questions as possible, but we are not able to answer queries about physical or medicinal issues. Those should be addressed face-to-face with a physician.

Today’s question is about an increase in dreams:

“I almost never used to dream. Especially when I was a truck driver. I slept in my truck 4 to 5 times a week then. Now I can’t stop dreaming ( don’t drive anymore. Would an increase in stress cause it?”
-Wesley (via Facebook)

Despite all of the headway in understanding of sleep, dreams are one thing that is still largely a mystery. One thing we can tell you, however, is that aside from those with certain traumatic brain injuries, all people dream every night.

During the night, you cycle through multiple non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM cycles, with dreams coming at the end of each cycle. The dreams you remember are usually ones where you wake during or right after the dream. Individuals who don’t think they dream are usually heavy sleepers or people who simply don’t remember their dreams.

In your case, your issue is most likely caused by exactly what you think — stress. Other issues that can cause more vivid dreams are sleep deprivation, use of alcohol or illicit drugs and certain medications. Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can also increase the number of dreams recalled, because the disorder causes micro-awakenings throughout the night.

Our recommendation to you is to discuss your dream recall with your doctor, to rule out the possibility of a sleep disorder. Once that’s been ruled out, check your sleep environment. You mentioned that it used to be common for you to sleep in your truck. That’s certainly not an idea environment. Is your bed at home comfortable? Is your sleeping area quiet, cool and dark? Is your current sleep schedule regular?

Also, be sure to avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco a few hours before bedtime, as they can disrupt your sleep patterns. Sleep aids, including those sold over the counter, should also be avoided.

Causes of vivid dreams

Share on PinterestThere are a number of factors that make vivid dreams more likely.

A person may have vivid dreams for any number of reasons, depending on individual situations.

People often find that thoughts from the day invade their dreams. They usually experience the most vivid dreams during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which we cover in more detail below.

Causes of vivid dreams include:

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation can lead to more intense dreaming.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption can suppress REM sleep. When a person stops drinking, it can lead to unusually vivid and intense dreams.

Substance use

Using certain substances — such as marijuana, cocaine, and ketamine — can contribute to vivid or unpleasant dreams.

People who are recovering from addiction may find that they have vivid dreams about using the drug they are recovering from.

This is relatively common. Experts think that these dreams are part of the impact that drug addiction has on the brain.

Drug side effects

All medicines have potential side effects. For some people, these side effects can include bad or vivid dreams.

Examples of medications that may contribute to vivid dreams or nightmares include:

  • antidepressants, including tricyclic monoamine oxidase inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • centrally acting antihypertensives, such as beta-blockers, rauwolfia alkaloids, and alpha agonists
  • medications for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, including levodopa (Larodopa) and selegiline (Eldepryl)

All drugs will have potential side effects listed on the packaging.

Stress

Stress and traumatic events can lead to vivid dreams. Researchers believe that this is due to the role that dreaming plays in memory and processing emotions.

People who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to have bad vivid dreams than people who do not.

Pregnancy

Vivid dreams and nightmares are common during pregnancy. Sometimes, the stress of preparing for delivery and parenting can contribute to this. Fluctuations in hormones can also play a role.

Ill mental health

People with depression can have vivid dreams. Themes such as poor self-image often feature. These dreams can sometimes lead to panic attacks.

People with schizophrenia or a dissociative disorder may have intense dreams during a relapse.

It is also possible for people with anxiety to experience more vivid dreams. These may feature situations of high anxiety or panic, such as running late or general embarrassment.

Narcolepsy

People with narcolepsy often say that they have vivid dreams that can be bizarre or disturbing.

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that blurs the line between sleep and wakefulness. People with the condition feel very sleepy and fatigued during the day.

Symptoms include sleep attacks, wherein a person falls asleep and experiences a sudden loss of muscle control (cataplexy) during the day.

When someone has narcolepsy, they fall into REM sleep shortly after falling asleep. This can cause them to have vivid dreams even during a brief nap.

People with narcolepsy may also experience lucid dreaming. In lucid dreaming, a person is aware that they are dreaming, and they may also be able to control the experience.

By Rowan Hooper

Dreams are so strange and carry so much significance to us that we often feel the need to tell people about them, sometimes at tedious length. But if you understand what goes on inside the brain as dreams take their course, things start to make a lot more sense – and should make for more interesting dinner conversation than unburdening yourself about your mind’s nocturnal adventures. Your friends will thank you for it. Dreams are much more important than you might think – and we seem to be having less of them. We explore this troubling issue in depth here, but for now, let’s address some common questions about the night-time hallucinations we call dreams.

1. Why are dreams so weird

There’s a good reason why dreams are so skittish and peculiar. Memories of life events – so-called episodic memories – are stored in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, and in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep signals coming out of the hippocampus are shut off. That means we can’t access specific memories of things that happened in the past while we dream.

Read more: Why dreaming is vital: Unlocking the power of REM sleep

But we can still access general memories about people and places, which form the backbone of our dreams. At the same time, activity in brain regions involved in emotional processes are cranked up, forming an overly emotional narrative that stitches these memories together. Bear with me while I use one of my recent dreams as an example. I dreamed that a flood had surrounded the house I grew up in; I needed to try and fly out of the window to escape but I’d forgotten how to fly. The overwhelming feeling was emotion – fear and anxiety about the rising water levels and my inability to fly.

Another part of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which controls our powers of both logical reasoning and decision making, is also shut down. I don’t stop to question why the flood water is rising so fast, nor why I’m back in my childhood home, nor even why flying to safety is an option.

This difference in brain activity compared to when we are awake helps explain why we feel like we have such scant control over our dreams – we are observers, along for the ride – and why when weird things happen we don’t raise an eyebrow until we wake up. In my dreams of water I often end up breathing underwater, as if it were completely natural.

2. Do we only dream in REM sleep?

The study of dreams – which for centuries was more of an exercise in imaginative explanation than anything approaching science – started properly in 1953, when Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman at the University of Chicago hooked volunteers up to EEGs and woke them up during different sleep stages. They discovered REM sleep and its association with dreaming.

Recent experiments have shown that we dream throughout our sleep, and not just in REM sleep, but we forget most of them. Dreams that occur in deep sleep tend to be unemotional, non-vivid, concerned with simple things, and hard to remember. In short, they are boring. REM sleep is where the classic dreams occur, those with bizarre juxtapositions, physically impossible feats, disturbing, moving and puzzling experiences. If we cut short REM sleep, we lose these experiences.

Incidentally, many people have wondered if in REM sleep our eyes are moving to “look” at dream images. Some evidence suggests that this is indeed the case.

3. Why are dreams hard to remember?

Some people insist that they never dream, but they are wrong. We know this from experiments which involve waking people up at different stages during the night. Everybody dreams but we don’t all remember them. This could be down to brain activity – those of us who tend to remember dreams have greater activity while asleep and awake in two parts of the brain involved in promoting images and storing memories than people who don’t remember their dreams.

Read more: 5 ways to boost your dreams and improve your health

It also has to do with how you sleep. During REM sleep we struggle to form new memories, says Robert Stickgold, at the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. If we wake up during or just after a dream, however, we are able to grasp hold of the it before it slips away – in other words, we can encode it into longer-term storage. So if you wake during the night you’ll probably remember snatches of dreams you were having. On the other hand, if you wake with an alarm clock and cut short your REM sleep (see “Why dreaming is vital: Unlocking the power of REM sleep”), you are unlikely to keep hold of that memory. Even if you were mid-dream rather than in a deep, dream-free slumber, that sudden switch of focus from being asleep and dreaming to awake and turning off the alarm interferes with the process of remembering.

4. What are dreams for?

There are many ideas. One is that dreams may have an evolutionary function, to test us in scenarios that are important to our survival. This might explain why people often report being chased or attacked in their dreams. Alternatively, they may act to soothe the harsh impact of emotional trauma. On the other hand, many people have attested to the power of dreams for spurring creative thought, like Paul McCartney dreaming the melody to Yesterday (on waking, he improvised lyrics so as not to forget the tune), and Dmitri Mendeleev dreaming up the structure of the periodic table of elements. There is experimental support for the idea, with studies showing that people score better on tests of creativity after naps consisting of REM sleep.

5. Do my dreams mean anything?

Sigmund Freud famously asserted that “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind”. He thought the unconscious was concerned with “deviant” thoughts, and that dreams were primarily a means of wish fulfillment. But even though these ideas are now out of favour within science, some interpretation of dreams is possible. What you dream about and the emotional tone of the dream probably reflects what your brain considers important. Research shows that if you play Tetris all day long, your brain will decide that Tetris is what you need to dream about. If you are anxious about something, your brain may well give you a dream with anxiety as the dominant emotion. A huge amount of research logging waking experiences and dream content suggests that your experiences in the day can be mapped to the content of your dream – but a lot, perhaps a majority, of apparently unrelated flotsam also creeps into dreams.

Attempting to analyse and interpret your dreams could be therapeutic or insightful, says Mark Blagrove, of Swansea University, UK, but he cautions that some might say that such insight might be no more than you’d get from considering one’s horoscope or daydreams. Experiments would be needed to test whether dreams in particular convey important personal information. And even then it doesn’t mean dreams are designed to convey that information. If evolution has given us dreams as messages about ourselves, it could have done a better job at making them easier to remember.

6. Do men and women dream differently?

Some analyses of dream content suggest that women dream equally about men and women, while men are more likely to dream about other men. Michael Schredl, of the Central Institute of Mental Health, in Mannheim, Germany, has documented dream reports showing that men often dream about fighting other men, while women will dream more often of friendly interactions with people. A couple of years ago, Christina Wong and colleagues at the University of Ottawa, Canada, wrote a computer program to try to differentiate between the dreams of men and women. The program was able to correctly predict the gender of the dreamer about 75 per cent of the time. It seems there are gender differences in dreaming – but for now it’s too soon to say why.

More on these topics:

  • brains
  • dreams
  • sleep

5 Reasons Why You’re Having Weird Dreams

You’re well past the point in your life where you’re scared of monsters in the closet or under your bed. So why are you still plagued by freaky nightmares—or just plain bizarre dreams?

It’s true that nightmares and disturbing dreams prove most common in young kids. But they plague plenty of grown-ups, too: Up to 29% of us report having nightmares once a week, according to findings in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Experts know that dreams happen during REM sleep, the period of sleep when your brain is highly active. But they still can’t say for sure why we dream. Or just as important, what influences whether our dreams are chill and happy (riding a unicorn on the beach—woohoo!) or strange and scary (running from a vicious unicorn with fangs—What?!?).

But when it comes to the content of those unpleasant dreams, there are plenty of theories. Here’s a look at five surprising factors that might play a role.

1. You ate a huge, spicy meal for dinner.

Certain foods can impact how easily (or not) you drift off to dreamland. But foods that cause a fitful night’s sleep don’t just leave you tossing and turning. They might make for a crazy night of dreams, too.

Anecdotally, plenty of people report having weirdly vivid dreams after dining on something spicy or heavy. Some experts suspect that this could be because fiery foods raise your body temperature, which can cause you to have worse sleep. If you’re slightly more conscious, you might be more likely to remember your dreams more clearly, Stanford University sleep expert Emmanuel Mignot told the Wall Street Journal.

Anytime your food inhibits deep sleep, such as large meat-heavy meals, you may be more likely to remember your zany dreams.

Other experts chalk the effect up to meal size. The more you eat, the harder your body has to work to digest all of that food—a process that can make it harder to achieve restful sleep, University of Chicago psychiatrist Lisa Medalie told NBC News.

2. You’re taking sleep supplements.

Popping a melatonin supplement might help you fall asleep more easily. But it can also cause you to have super vivid dreams or nightmares.

In fact, one small study, published in Sleep and Hypnosis, found that college students (especially women) who took 6 mg melatonin before bed were more likely to rate their dreams as bizarre compared to those who took a placebo pill.

Experts aren’t entirely sure why, but it could be that melatonin leads to more intense REM cycles, which could kick your dreams into high gear.

3. You’re going off your meds.

Specifically, antidepressants. If you and your doctor decide that you should stop taking them, lower your dose, or switch to another prescription, there’s a good chance that your dreams will be affected. Especially if you nix the medications quickly instead of slowly tapering off.

This tends to happen because antidepressants work by altering levels of neurotransmitters—or chemical messengers—in your brain. Stopping meds can affect how those neurotransmitters behave, which can result in strange or disturbing dreams, say Harvard Health experts.

Fortunately, the weirdness should stop once your body adjusts.

4. You binged on Netflix before bed.

In addition to blue-light disruption, the imagery from watching TV can influence your sleeping experience.

Sure, catching up on your favorite shows might seem like a great way to unwind before turning in. But once you fall asleep (which might take a while, thanks to the blue light emitted by your laptop or tablet), your dreams could be pretty strange.

Studies on children find that watching media before bed significantly ups the risk of nightmares. Some experts say that could be because little kids have trouble telling the difference between what’s real and what’s fake, so the stuff on TV is more likely to scare them.

But adults might not be immune to what they see on the screen at night, either. In a British survey of 2,000 adults, over 60% reported being more likely to have bad dreams after watching a scary or gruesome show.

5. You’re super stressed out.

There’s no shortage of research documenting the nightmare-inducing effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, and some findings estimate that 90% of people suffering from PTSD report having disturbing dreams.

But even higher than normal levels of everyday stress might be enough to trigger nightmares in some people. Generally, research shows that anxiety and mood problems are linked to higher rates of nightmares.

In these cases, taking steps to better manage your stress might be all that you need to keep nightmares at bay. But if you’re dealing with chronic nightmares, or your nightmares are impacting your ability to get a restful night’s sleep, talk with your doctor.

Dreams Aren’t the Only Sleep-Disturbing Culprit

As we covered above, plenty of factors can contribute to weird and uncomfortable dreams, ranging from stress to diet.

However, there are even more things to consider when trying to get a better, deeper 8-hours of sleep each night.

Most things you’ve probably heard of, such as limiting the amount of blue light before bedtime to avoiding spicy foods and sugary or caffeinated drinks.

However, the quality of your mattress matters as well. It isn’t as common knowledge, but the best mattress for you could depend on your sleep style. For example, the best mattress for side sleepers tends to be a softer bed, as the extra cushion helps contour to side sleep’s hips and shoulders.

About the author

Geoff McKinnen is a freelance writer focusing mainly on the healthcare industry and has written articles on everything from foods to help you lose weight to the connection between Alzheimer’s and sleep. Geoff’s passionate about helping readers improve their well-being to lead happier lives. Outside of work, Geoff enjoys cycling and hiking and believes that by leading a healthy lifestyle, he can help others do the same.

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Why can most people remember a color, but only a few can remember pitch? —David Hardie, Perth, Australia

Robert O. Duncan, a behavioral scientist at York College, the City University of New York, responds: ALTHOUGH MOST of us believe we are better at identifying colors than sounds, our ability to identify the exact frequency of light associated with a color is actually no better than our ability to name a pitch. Our perception of visible light depends on context. You might go shop-ping for house paints, for example, and be shocked to find that the particular shade of white you selected in the store makes your kitchen look pink! You may have chosen the wrong shade of white because the ambient light in the store differs from that of your home. If we could accurately identify colors, we would never make such mistakes. People may think they are more adept at identifying colors, however, because they tend to associate hues with specific objects, which do not change. For instance, we will generally perceive an apple to be red because the light reflecting off its surface remains fairly constant from moment to moment. In contrast, in hearing we identify objects, people and speech by the changes in frequency. For example, we can understand a sentence whether it is spoken by a girl with a high voice or a man with a low voice because the relative changes in frequency that occur as the girl and man recite the same words are about the same. In fact, speech and other sounds in the environment are always changing, which is likely why we have evolved to recognize changes in frequencies rather than any single pitch. Although few people develop perfect pitch—the ability to precisely name the frequency of a sound—we have a remarkable ability to discriminate among different sounds. We can distinguish house cats from tigers, bicycles from motorcycles, and basketballs from Ping-Pong balls. We use the melodic properties of speech to discriminate a person’s gender, identity and mood. We have an expansive musical memory that enables us to recall tens of thousands of melodies with ease. And with a modest degree of training, most musicians can develop relative pitch, the ability to identify an unknown tone in relation to a known tone.

Why do memories of vivid dreams disappear soon after waking up?
—Gil Greengross, via e-mail

Ernest Hartmann, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, explains:

WE FORGET almost all dreams soon after waking up. Our forgetfulness is generally attributed to neurochemical conditions in the brain that occur during REM sleep, a phase of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements and dreaming. But that may not be the whole story.

Perhaps the most compelling explanation is the absence of the hormone norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex, a brain region that plays a key role in memory, thought, language and consciousness. A study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Psychiatry supports the theory that the presence of norepinephrine enhances memory in humans, although its role in learning and recall remains controversial.

A lack of norepinephrine, however, does not completely explain why we forget dreams so easily. Recent research suggests that dreaming lies on a continuum with other forms of mental functioning, which are all characterized by activity in the cerebral cortex. On the one side of this continuum is concentrated, focused thought; dreaming and mind wandering lie on the other, with some overlap among the types. The dreaming/reverie end involves some of the most creative and “far out” material. This type of less consciously directed thinking, however, is not easy to remember. Can you recall where your mind wandered while you were brushing your teeth this morning?

In general, we are very good at forgetting nonessentials. In fact, many of our thoughts, not just those we have while dreaming, are lost. We tend to recall only things that we think about often or that have emotional significance—a problem, a date, a meeting. Mulling over important thoughts activates our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a brain region that facilitates memory.

Although most dreams vanish, certain ones tend to remain. These dreams were so beautiful or bizarre, they captured our attention and increased activity in our DLPFC. Thus, the more impressive your dream or thought, the more likely you are to remember it.

6 Factors That Determine Whether or Not You Remember Your Dreams

Within the scientific community, dreams are still something of a mystery. Many experiments have been conducted and many theories have been put forth, but researchers still don’t fully understand why or how we dream. Further complicating matters is the fact that everyone dreams, but some people never remember their subconscious escapades.

However, improvements in brain imaging and recent physiological studies have brought us one step closer to answering the question of why some people remember their dreams more than others. There’s no simple, definitive explanation, “but there are a number of things that correlate,” Dr. Deirdre Leigh Barrett, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Committee of Sleep, tells Mental Floss. Barrett shared a few of the factors that can affect your dream recall.

1. SEX

Women, on average, recall more dreams than men. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but Barrett says it could be a biological or hormonal difference. Alternatively, women might be more cognizant of their dreams because they tend to be more interested in dreams in general. However, Barrett notes that differences between men and women in regard to dream recall are “modest” and that there are greater differences within each sex than between the sexes. In other words: There are plenty of women with low dream recall and plenty of men with high dream recall.

2. AGE

As we get older, it often gets harder to recall our dreams. Your ability to remember dreams improves in late childhood and adolescence, and tends to peak in your twenties, Barrett says. After that point, people often experience a gradual drop-off in dream recall. However, there are exceptions, and people sometimes experience the opposite.

3. PERSONALITY

Again, this is by no means a prescriptive rule, but there seems to be a correlation between certain personality traits and high dream recall. “More psychologically-minded people tend to have higher dream recall, and people who are more practical and externally focused tend to have lower recall,” Barrett says. In addition, better dream recall has a “mild correlation” with better recall while completing certain memory tasks during waking hours, according to Barrett.

4. AMOUNT OF SLEEP

The amount of sleep one gets on average is one of the most important factors related to dream recall. People dream every 90 minutes during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycle. However, those REM periods get longer throughout the night, meaning that you’re doing the most dreaming toward the morning—generally right before you wake up. If you only sleep four hours instead of eight, you’re only getting about 20 percent of your dream time. For this reason, some people report remembering more of their dreams on the weekend, when they have the chance to catch up on sleep.

5. BRAIN ACTIVITY

Thanks to brain imaging, scientists now have a better idea of which parts of the brain are associated with dreaming. A part of the brain that processes information and emotions is more active in people who remember their dreams more often, according to a 2014 study. This region toward the back of the brain, called the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), may help people pay more attention to external stimuli. In turn, this may promote something called instrasleep wakefulness.

“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,” Dr. Perrine Ruby told the International Business Times. “Indeed, the sleeping brain is not capable of memorizing new information; it needs to awaken to be able to do that.”

Higher activity in the TPJ and another region of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) might also “promote the mental imagery and/or memory encoding of dreams,” researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.

More recently, in 2017, researchers discovered that high dream recall is also linked to higher activity toward the front of the brain. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that deals with abstract thinking, so it makes sense that it has been linked to dream recall and lucid dreaming (being aware that one is dreaming), Barrett says.

6. RESPONSE TO EXTERNAL STIMULI

In a similar vein, people who remember their dreams more frequently also tend to exhibit more brain activity after hearing their name spoken aloud while they’re awake, according to a 2013 study. Upon hearing their names, a group of “high recallers,” who remember their dreams almost every night, experienced a greater decrease in a brain wave called the alpha wave than a group of “low recallers,” who remember their dreams once or twice a month. This decrease in alpha waves is likely preceded by an increase in brain activity upon hearing their names. Essentially, people with greater dream recall tend to experience activity in more regions of their brain in response to sounds. According to Barrett, there may be an evolutionary explanation for this.

“Evolution wants us to get restorative sleep but it also wanted us to wake up to danger and check it out and be able to go back to sleep quickly afterwards,” she says. Think of the all the dangers our prehistoric ancestors had to deal with, and it’s clear that this response is important for survival. In essence, high recallers are “probably just a little more aware and watching during their dream, and that helps make it a long-term memory.”

So what can you do to help you remember your dreams? It may sound simple, but before you go to bed, think to yourself, “I’m going to remember my dreams tonight.” The very act of thinking about dreaming can make a big difference.

“You could say that just reading this article is somewhat more likely to make you recall a dream tonight,” Barrett says. “People who are taking a class on dreams or reading a book on dreams—any short-term intervention of paying more attention to them—tends to create a short-term blip in dream recall.”

When you first wake up, don’t do anything except lie in bed and try to recall any dreams you had. If something comes back to you, write it down or use a voice recorder to crystallize your thoughts. Dreams are still in your short-term memory when you wake up, so they’re fragile and easy to forget.

If you don’t remember anything, Barrett says it’s still helpful to assess how you feel when you first awaken. Are you happy, sad, or anxious? “Sometimes if you just stay with whatever emotion or little bit of content you woke up with,” she says, “a dream will come rushing back.”

There are plenty of strange facts about dreams on the Internet, but while dreams are a natural part of sleeping, it’s surprising that many things about dreams and their purpose remain unknown. Are your dreams warning you of your future, or are they just the outcome of your daily routine?

Some dreams are so vivid and realistic they can sometimes leave you feeling that it may have really happened. In fact, during the Roman Era, dreams were submitted to the Roman Senate for analysis and dream interpretation; they were thought to be messages from the gods. Dream interpreters were even sent to accompany military leaders into battles and campaigns.

While science is making progress in discovering the mysteries behind dreams, a lot is still unknown. But what do we actually know about dreams? Here are some strange facts about dreams:

Not all dreams are in color

Psychological research found that people who watched monochrome television as kids often dream exclusively in black and white.

People who watched monochrome television as kids often dream exclusively in black and white. (Image: / CC0 1.0)

You forget 90 percent of your dreams

It’s understood that most people have anywhere between 4 and 6 dreams per night. However, you won’t always remember them. This is because there’s a time limit; within five minutes of waking, an average person’s dream is forgotten, and in 10 minutes, 90 percent of the dream is completely gone. However, if awakened from the REM (rapid eye movement sleep) stage, you are more likely to remember the dream.

Think you don’t dream — think again!

While many people claim they don’t dream at all, it’s not true. We all dream, well, that’s unless you suffer from an extreme psychological disorder. In fact, an average human being spends six whole years of his/her life dreaming.

Déjà vu (precognitive dreaming)

On rare occasions, you can have dreams in which you see what will happen in the future. Is it a mere coincidence, or have you tapped into some supernatural foresight? A survey found that between 18 and 38 percent of people have experienced at least one precognitive dream, and 70 percent have experienced déjà vu.

There are some cases where people have actually dreamed about things that have happened to them later. Some of the most famous premonition dreams include:

  • Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his assassination
  • Many of the victims of 9/11 had dreams warning them about the catastrophe
  • Mark Twain dreamed of his brother’s demise
  • 19 verified precognitive dreams about the Titanic catastrophe

Lucid dreaming

You can often manipulate and control your dreams at the beginning and the end, like a movie being shot in front of you, by focusing on the dream and not letting the mind completely awaken. However, there are people who can consciously observe and even control their dreams — it’s called lucid dreaming.

Using various techniques, these people have supposedly learned to assume control of their dreams and do amazing things like flying, passing through walls, and traveling to different dimensions.

There are people who can consciously observe and even control their dreams — it’s called lucid dreaming.
(Image: / CC0 1.0)

You only see faces that you already know

Your dreams feature many people; however, your mind is not inventing them, and while it may be difficult to prove scientifically, there have been studies showing that the areas of the brain most active during REM sleep are also responsible for facial recognition.

You will have seen hundreds of thousands of faces during your life, and it is thought that we are seeing these people in our dreams even though we may not know or even remember them.

You will have seen hundreds of thousands of faces during your life, and it is thought that you are seeing these people in your dreams. (Image: / CC0 1.0)

Blind people dream too

People who were not born blind see images in their dreams, but people who were born blind don’t see anything at all. However, their dreams are just as vivid, but instead of seeing images, their other senses — such as smell, sound, touch, etc. — are activated. In fact, a 2014 study found that blind people have more nightmares than non-blind people.

You cannot read or tell time in your dreams

If you are unsure if you’re dreaming, then try reading something. The vast majority of people are incapable of reading in their dreams. Oddly enough, it’s the same for clocks; lucid dreamers have reported that a clock will tell a different time; however, the hands on the clock won’t appear to be moving.

The vast majority of people are incapable of reading in their dreams. Oddly enough, it’s the same for clocks. (Image: / CC0 1.0)

Body paralysis

During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body is paralyzed by a mechanism in the brain preventing you from acting out your dreams. If this system doesn’t work properly, you may act out your dreams, especially if the dreams involve strong emotions. When it fails, we call it sleepwalking; this is where you act out complex actions while still sleeping. It can be potentially dangerous; here are a few extreme examples:

  • A woman having sex with strangers while sleepwalking
  • A man who drove 22 miles and killed his cousin while sleepwalking
  • A sleepwalker who walked out of the window from the third floor, and barely survived
  • A 55-year-old chef who cooks while sleeping
  • A male nurse who produces artworks while sleepwalking

Sleep paralysis

This also includes the body paralysis mechanism; however, this is when it all goes wrong. It is possible for this mechanism to be triggered before, during, or after normal sleep. This happens when you wake, yet you are unable to move.

Although this is not serious, as your muscles will eventually “wake” up, some sufferers describe a sense of an extremely evil presence in the room with them. Studies have shown that during an attack, sufferers show an overwhelming amygdala activity. The amygdala is responsible for the “fight or flight” instinct, and the emotions of fear, terror and anxiety.

Your mind is most active while dreaming

Even as your body is resting, your mind is more active than when you are awake. In fact, during dreams, your mind is learning, solving problems, and also filing, sorting, and making sense of all the information you absorbed in your waking hours.

It has been shown that having a good sleep, complete with dreams, directly after a period of learning something new, enhances memory and effectiveness.

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Why Do Some People Remember More of Their Dreams?

Seth J. Gillihan, PhDFollow Jul 10, 2017 · 2 min read

Some people seem to recall their dreams every night, while others rarely remember them at all. What accounts for these differences? A study by a group of French neuroscientists provides some clues.

The researchers compared two groups of participants — those who remembered their dreams often and those who rarely remembered any.

They used a brain imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET) to look at these participants’ brain activity while they were awake and during sleep.

In those who tended to remember their dreams, two brain areas were more active during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: the temporoparietal junction (where the temporal and parietal lobes meet) and the medial prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobes.

These findings were intriguing given that our most vivid and memorable dreams occur during REM. So what does it mean that there was greater activity in these areas?

The authors offered some possible interpretations:

  1. These brain differences reflect something about the nature of the dreams. In particular, they might show that people who generally remember their dreams have more exciting dreams.
  2. People who remember their dreams more often are more likely to wake up during the night. The processes that store memories are generally “turned off” during sleep. Waking up after a dream would allow the brain to encode it into memory.

These explanations aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. It could be that a person is more likely to wake up from a more interesting dream, which would make their dreams all the more likely to be recalled the next day.

These explanations are consistent with the fact that we’re more likely to remember REM dreams than those that happen during non-REM deep sleep.

While we usually think of dreams as happening only during REM sleep, in fact we can dream in any sleep stage. What distinguishes REM dreams is their tendency to be vivid, gripping, and bizarre.

Dreams during other sleep stages typically are more mundane (like dreaming you’re making coffee or checking your email). We’re more likely to remember REM dreams not only because they’re weird and exciting but also because we’re more likely to wake up briefly after a REM stage than after a stage of deep sleep.

So if you’re someone who wishes for more exciting or memorable dreams, consider the consolation prize: Perhaps you’re sleeping better.

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