Remembering Dreams: Why Some Do, But Others Don’t

I think my last article may have expressed it best – I’m obsessed with dreams. I love interpreting them, finding the hidden meanings, deciphering messages from my higher self, and sometimes even messages from family members who have passed. Very rarely, do I wake up and not have 1-3 dreams to recall, separate, and decipher.

Growing up, my friends and family had been the same. One of my aunts had a dream journal she kept, my nana gifted me a Dreamer’s Dictionary when I was young – essentially, I’ve always thought it to be normal that people always dream and remember most of their dreams. But of course, this isn’t the case. It wasn’t until college when my roommate casually mentioned she doesn’t dream – well she does, but she doesn’t remember them – ever. I remember being in shock and thinking, “What a boring night’s sleep you must have!”

It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized she wasn’t an anomaly.

Yesterday, I took a quick poll of our Instagram followers to see how many people remember their dreams – this was in an effort to send them to our post, and in the comments ask us what their dreams could mean. I had assumed most people would of course remember their dreams!

But nope.

Most of our followers don’t remember their dreams each night!

. . .

This sent me into a frenzy. I thought my college roommate was on the rare spectrum in terms of dream recollection, but it turns out I’m a bit more on the weird side of things. So how does this work? What sets “high recallers” like me, apart from the “low recallers” like my college roommate?

Factors that can play into dream recall:

  1. Amount of REM sleep

Mental Floss says, “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.”

2. Personality traits

Various studies show that people who are more psychologically-minded and prone to daydreaming, creative thinking, and introspection tend to more frequently remember their dreams compared to those people who are more practical and focused on what is outside themselves.

. . .

3. Brain activity

A study in 2014, demonstrated that high recallers and low recallers ultimately use their brain differently when in a resting state. More specifically, high recallers have increased activity in their TPJ and mPFC which could be shifting their attention towards external stimuli and promote intrasleep wakefulness. Making high recallers more apt to encode their dreams in memory.

  • What the heck is TPJ?
    • TPJ stands for temporoparietal junction, and it’s a brain region that is important for numerous aspects of social cognition; such as perspective taking, language, motor control, mental imagery, episodic memory retrieval, and attention orientation.
  • And mPFC?!?
    • mPFC stands for medial prefrontal cortex and it’s up in the air what exactly (exclusively) it does, but it is typically active during tasks of cognitive empathy and perspective-taking. Some additional functions of the mPFC include mediating decision making, it’s selectively involved in the retrieval of remote long-term memory, mind representations, evaluations, supports memory and consolidation on time-scales ranging from seconds to days.

. . .

4. Response to external stimuli

Since high recallers have increased activity in TPJ and mPFC, this leads to them waking up a bit more frequently throughout the night compared to low recallers. It’s perfectly normal to wakeup throughout the night and quickly fall back asleep, but low recallers typically only wake up 15 minutes total throughout the night, whereas high recallers will have anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour of waking up and falling back asleep periodically.

Waking up throughout the night is typically as a response to external stimuli, such as a neighbor bumping your shared wall, a car horn blaring, or maybe even softer noises like the wind or snowfall. High recallers are more apt to respond to these noises throughout the night (knowingly or not) and when woken up mid-dream, the brain is able to better commit that dream to long-term memory in that moment.

In an interview with Mental Floss, Dr. Deirdre Leigh Barrett, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Committee of Sleep, says there could even be an evolutionary explanation for essentially being a light sleeper: “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.”

. . .

Dreams are fragile things that are born in your short term memory, the people who more frequently remember dreams are able to commit them to long-term memory simply because they want to.

Dreams are fragile, but the science behind all of it is even more fragile. Sure, brain imaging shows the different parts of the brain that are more active for some and less active for others, but if personality traits can play such a common (and large) role in remembering dreams… maybe if you set the intention before you sleep, that you wish to remember a dream… perhaps a dream will be remembered the next day. Ultimately, becoming more introspective and asking yourself, “Why don’t I remember my dreams?” could turn you into a high recaller 😉

. . .

Sources: Mental Floss, NCBI, Live Science, Healthline, Science Direct

How To Dissect A Dream

I had this absolutely terrifying dream the other night. Okay, since it was scary I guess that classifies it as a nightmare.

In the nightmare, I’m out with a friend and we’re having so much fun dancing the night away. When suddenly, she somehow gets hurt and we have to find her help. Next thing you know, there is some kind of shooter that shows up to this location, and bullets are flying everywhere. Someone pulls my friend from me and assures me they will find her help and I should gtfo asap, but before I can respond, this rando is running away with my friend. I’m petrified and attempt to take off after them, when I notice one of the gunmen pausing from his shooting escapade and taking some moments to look around – as if he’s looking for something specific. I quickly dash between some vehicles to hide (this location was a large indoor/outdoor open space with parking lot right there) and then the paused gunman ends up running just past me unleashing a spray of bullets in his path. I was certain I would get shot, but somehow I didn’t. After waiting a few moments, determining it was safe, I then take off on this journey to find my friend.

By the end of my dream, I had potentially found her? But the folks taking care of her wouldn’t let me in and were super rude (from what I remember) and then I woke up. With no resolution. I was pissed, confused, worried, and still terrified, to be honest. I hadn’t had a dream that intense in a while.

What could the dream mean? It had to mean something of significance. So, I begin breaking the dream up by asking myself the following questions:

1. Was I reading/watching anything just before going to sleep that echoed any part of the dream?

What you consume really does have effect on your psyche. I had finished reading an intense book that day, but nothing quite that level of intense. So I quickly ruled out literature as playing a part in my dream, and as for TV – I had been watching the BBC four-part rendition of Jane Austen’s Emma, so I knew that certainly had no play in my dream!

I also tried to remember if I ate anything weird before falling asleep, I had a friend growing up where whenever she ate a pop-tart before going to sleep, it almost locked in that she would have some weird dreams to chat about the next day. But I hadn’t eaten anything a couple of hours prior to sleeping, so I ruled out consumption of food as being a key player in this dream.

2. Who was in the dream?

With this dream, even though “my friend” was there – I never saw her face, it was always swirled, blurred, or distorted. And same goes for all of the other characters of the dream. Which means, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a specific person/people in my life. I don’t need to psychoanalyze any relationships with people.

3. What was the most prominent feature of the dream?

The shooting – there were bullets flying everywhere, just being sprayed. I’ve only had one active shooter nightmare in my entire life, and I had been directly shot in the back during that one… but in this dream, I was somehow not hit with any of the flying bullets.

So now I need to look into the symbolism of shooting in dreams, if there is any.

I came across the Dream Bible’s shooting possible meanings, I won’t list them all, but the most relevant to my dream were: “To dream of seeing a shooting may reflect awareness of something in your life being cancelled, stopped, or purposely failed. A fight or conflict of interests in waking life. Feeling that people or life are working against you in some way. Feeling intentionally antagonized, attacked, or embarrassed. Feeling shocked by a sudden loss or setback. To dream of being shot at, but missed symbolizes people or situations that are attempting to control your decisions.

To further break this down, the prominent object in the dream was a gun, which according to a must-have dream interpretation book, “I Had The Strangest Dream…: The Dreamer’s Dictionary for the 21st Century” by Kelly Sullivan Walden, a gun in a dream symbolizes, “a desire for power over life and death, and that you are desperate about asserting boundaries to get what you need or want.

4. What were the most prominent feelings I experienced in my dream?

I was clearly terrified of being attacked, but I also felt territorial over my friend (I thought it was protective at first, but it was actually more territorial that I had felt), and I felt anxious.

5. Is there any correlation between those feelings/people from the dream into my waking life?

Right after I laid out my feelings, it clicked – just before bed that night I had an intense moment of fear. It was this past Sunday, we had an early morning call scheduled for work the next morning, and just as I was setting my alarm before bed, I instantly became worried that I needed to physically be in the office for the call, that we weren’t working from home and were expected to commute into the office. This was a totally bizarre anxiety flare up, I rationalized that if I were meant to go to the office, that it wouldn’t be a question and I would know for a fact… but either way, I went to bed anxious that I was meant to go in the next day, and terrified of being attacked for not being in the office for that early meeting.

Ultimately, the dream was a reflection of my just-before-bed work anxieties, Sunday Scaries literally trying to terrify me into a restless night’s sleep.

. . .

So, I solved the dream, right? It ended up being waking life anxieties that trickled into my dreams, I can disregard all of that abstract “gun and shooting” dream symbolism, right? Not necessarily, dreams aren’t math equations that are to be solved with only one answer. Dreams can have multiple meanings, it was by asking myself all of those questions above, that I was able to interpret my dream fully. I identified what triggered the dream, but I’m also able to pull from it additional info, or hidden messages if you will – such as “there are people or situations attempting to control my decisions” so I’m going to keep an eye out for those instances and stick to my *guns* and create boundaries in order to maintain my path and end goals.

While some people could say, “Oh, dreams are just dreams! Don’t look too much into it.” I don’t really buy that. A person on average has 4-6 dreams per night, most of the time waking up to remember none of them. So the ones you do remember? Ask yourself – why do you remember that one? It must have some significance.

I do believe that sometimes a butterfly is just a butterfly, but if you have some type of pull to that butterfly and suddenly it lands on your shoulder… that means something. That butterfly is just a pretty thing to me, but to you… that’s the message, or sign, that you’ve been waiting for. Listen to it, listen to the butterfly, and don’t let that message go unread.

. . .

I’m Scared of My Body

I’m scared of my body

I’m scared of the storm

of pops and cracks that come with nearly every step

but I have come to learn there is power in fear

. . .

I feel the power and fear of taking ownership

which looked like

ignoring the side-eye from a man who stood next to me as we shared a mirror and I

shaved my face.

. . .

I seized the power

of viewing my body as

less of a burden

when I choose to feel its heart in other places

beating besides my chest

like on a February night when I held his hand

and we ran down the street collapsing in laughter

like the kind I was trying to

hold in when he snapped my bra in the school hallway many years earlier.

. . .

I’m scared of my body

I’m scared of the storm

There is fear in the power of the silent aftermath of the tide’s rising

and the tide bringing in my own personal truth

the truth being limitations of what my body can do

putting the tight lid from a jar

on dreams of a delivered truth

I didn’t know I had.

Back and forth beats goes the beat of the heart that is everywhere but in my chest

my eyes soaking in words from a tiny screen

I feel safety in clothing myself in the simple promise that

it is okay to work through whatever it is I need to work through

and I’m wanting nothing more than to touch him

but now there’s a collective fear of losing trust in our bodies to a mysterious presence, and so much of this trust is missing from me,

from you,

from your neighbor down the street

now there is just fear of not knowing

how much our bodies can withstand.

. . .

I’m scared of my body

I’m scared of the storm

there is power in fear

and I fear I am

falling in love

with the notion of acceptance

and gratitude for the fact

it is mine, and I can give it away if I so choose,

It is mine and I think I love it.

It can do this and that and this and that, and it can hold so much.

It’s been wrought with grief

from losing that boy

who became a man who struggled with devastating disease but sometimes still remains alive in my mind’s eye in a snapshot

of a boy

who once giggled as he snapped my bra in the hallway when we were fifteen,

It’s held me down and kept me in the ground as I-

read the words of another man and think to myself,

“How could I possibly be more infatuated with him

or infuriated I can’t feel his touch,

the only thing my bones know for sure

is of his importance.

. . .

I’m scared of my body

I’m scared of the storm

There is little fear in protection

Like when my body said I’m sorry I may hurt you from time to time,

but I’m here.

With roots and dainty fingers whose ring size is just ULTRA tiny

I’m here for you to breathe every morning in the still promise of breathing and understanding you’re still here.

you’re still here you can walk-

Good god, do you have the ability to speak!

Watch what you say about me and my abilities.

I’m here to hold you-

I’m here to house you after every twister.

Talkin’ to You, Talkin’ to Me

I’m a sucker for cliches that can blanket statement a situation. I find that cliches have the same function as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, except a bit more practical. For instance, something’s happened and you don’t know what to say, just give a sympathetic shrug and throw in, “All that glitters isn’t gold,” “What goes around, comes around,” or “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” But while I dig a good cliche, I also fully acknowledge that some are trash.

Like hold the phone, sticks and stones… I’m sorry, what?

If you ever think about saying “Sticks and stones…” to someone, of any age, just stop. Don’t even think of finishing the sentence. All this stupid sentence does is dismiss the feelings of the person you’re speaking to. I’ll say it right now, words hurt, and they can hurt bad.

Imagine you’re in a situation getting bullied, maybe it’s about something like the size of your nose or ears, your skin color, or maybe even the clothes on your back. Imagine getting bullied relentlessly by shit kids, imagine experiencing this, and the only thing you’re told on how to deal is either, “Oh, they’re just mean because they have a crush on you!” or the god awful cliche mentioned above about stupid sticks and stones.

It’s just wrong, it’s so wrong. Words have power, we should stop gaslighting people into believing otherwise. I wish I was taught at a younger age to call people out when they said hurtful things instead of being taught to just ignore them. Can you imagine what kind of place the world could be if we started calling out the haters earlier on in life?

Oof, gives me chills just thinking about a society that beholds fruitful communication.

Everyone and their brother has said this, but I’ll say it again – communication is so important. It’s vital to understand that when someone tells you that something you said hurt them, don’t fight them on this, just don’t. You cannot control the feelings and emotions of others. All you can do is accept their feelings at face value and try to earnestly understand where they’re coming from.

I’m over this whole, “They’re just words, we were only kidding!” thing, it’s not cute. Dismissing the feelings of others, essentially calling their emotions invalid… it’s not a good look.

When someone confides in you, opens up and tells you that your words hurt… embrace that dialogue. Ask them what exactly was said that hurt, and if after finding out you still don’t understand why it hurt them – be honest and ask them how you can do better. This is good communication, and trust me I get it, deep communication is hard and a lot of people suck at it – myself included!! But when you have the conversation and acknowledge the feelings of others as valid, you’re on a higher path, a higher frequency, of basic human decency.

It can be so groundbreaking once you fully acknowledge that words hold power, they can hurt, and you’re not being too sensitive. In fact, stop putting the word “too” in front of “sensitive”, your feelings are not too much, nor are they too little – they just simply are. What can also be groundbreaking is to not only accept the negative and toxic power of word, but to simultaneously embrace the positive uplifting power it has too. It’s clear that other people’s words can hurt you and that their love and compliments can lift you… but what about your own words? Do you realize that how you talk to yourself also has a great impact your mental health?

In a book I’m currently reading*, the author writes on self-talk and the importance of acknowledging your “inner-child.” This term, inner-child, is rooted deep into psychology and associated with a person’s potential, creativity, and expression – all of which are aspects influenced from their childhood. It’s also the idea that the child version of yourself lives on in your psyche and still has influence over your day to day life within your emotions and where you find your common comforts.

That above passage from the book really hit home, it had me thinking not only how I would talk to my younger self, but in a more tangible sense I thought, “Would I say the things I tell myself to my kid sister?” and before I could even complete that thought, I already knew the answer. The way I talk to myself sometimes can be so intense and so hurtful, not only would I never talk to my little sister that way… I wouldn’t even talk to burnt popcorn that way.

Food for thought: If we wouldn’t talk to others a certain way, why in the world should we talk to ourselves in such a manner?

Just like we need to wear a mask, just like we need to vote… we need to be kind to ourselves. There is only one person we are with at all hours of the day and night, there is only one person we can’t escape from, there is only one person we can’t ever shut out… and that’s ourselves.

So guys, this is a friendly reminder to treat yourself with the love and respect you deserve, it’s your birthright.

*SOURCE: The Witch’s Book of Self-Care: Magical Ways to Pamper, Soothe, and Care for Your Body and Spirit by Arin Murphy-Hiscock

How to Heal a Broken Millennial Heart

My fiancé left me a week before our wedding day. On a Saturday night last fall, with no apparent reason after nearly 8 years together. (Not to mention a house with a mortgage, two pets and a few thousand dollars in wedding expenses.) I was told, “I need space,” and he left. It’s safe to say my life felt like it was in complete shambles, decimated in the course of three words. Never did I think I’d find myself at a Starbucks at 5 am on a Sunday sending out cancellation emails and texts. Personally, I was wrecked; but professionally, I was in the midst of the busiest and most important weeks of my life.

This is what I learned on this wild healing journey.

  • You can’t heal where you were hurt. I didn’t feel comfortable in my house anymore, it just reminded me of the years of memories and time spent there. I went on my honeymoon to Paris with my mom (begrudgingly); thankfully she was able to get off work at last minute to come with me to the City of Lights or Love or for me – the City of What Could Have Been. The trip itself was fairly miserable, with many days spent lying in my hotel bed or walking endlessly through the city so I could try to feign sleep. However the physical distance allowed me to detach. (Note: This is a phrase that I would tattoo on my forehead just because of how perfectly true it is).
  • Support may come in surprising ways. I’m a fairly private person naturally, so when my private life was catapulted into everyone’s eyes, I was mortified. I would go to work and be met with sad, wondering eyes which only made it that much harder. Not to mention the endless embarrassment. Some people in my life, who had once been just on the periphery came forward to help support me; including a long-extinguished old flame, a casual coworker and even someone I’d known for only two weeks. These people without reason or explanation, stepped up and took care of me at my worst.
  • Sometimes there’s no real reason and that’s okay. As a long-time sufferer of high-functioning anxiety and depression, it’s hard for me to accept something that is gray. I need to have a black and white world. Right and wrong; good and bad; yes and no. Not ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I can’t explain it’. But sometimes, things are truly murky. Sometimes, there’s no good answer or reason. It was a tough pill to swallow. But every day I had to remind myself of what was true; actions.
  • Take your time. There is no perfect path to healing, or a one-size fits all plan. I tend to keep myself occupied when I’m anxious – but that prolongs the healing because you’re not actually confronting what happened. Sometimes you need to feel it – even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time in a safe environment. I spent a whole day of my honeymoon, cooped up in our hotel room, watching shitty French murder documentaries and purging myself of everything I’d been avoiding. I made myself confront what happened in its entirety, piece by piece before neatly letting it go. My one-time old flame was the one who really brought me to my senses. He told me, “he doesn’t care right now. I know it hurts, but you need to hear that.” Which was 100% true. As much as it hurt, I was wasting a perfectly nice vacation and being sad about someone who clearly did not care in that same moment. That mindset really helped me to take that first step.
  • Get it out of your system. Holding on to something from the past that is beyond your control is just draining. There will be no good ending. Having spent a solid two years in therapy during college, I consider myself to be fairly familiar with coping mechanisms. I chose to write a letter (technically an email while wine drunk in the bathtub, but hey, it still counts). I wrote to physically manifest my thoughts and feelings into something that could be set free, therefore releasing its toxic hold on me. I wrote to let go of all of the questions, thoughts and feelings that I’d been drowning in. The local radio show I listen to in the Midwest set a standard – “for however many years you’ve been together, take one day to mourn.” By that logic, I had 8 days to mourn. It was closer to 15 but giving yourself a deadline can help. I was determined to not spend an ounce more energy or time on this.
  • Only talk when you’re ready. After such a public catastrophe, everyone is bound to have questions. Even those with the best intentions will still want to ask questions that will feel like nails being driven into your always shattering heart. It took me months to fully open up to friends and family about what happened. On the other hand, you may have to ask close friends and families to stop mentioning it – stop treating you differently. It drove me nuts when people would look at me with sadness or remorse or embarrassment – no matter how well intended it was. I wasn’t some broken puppy in a cast or a bird with a broken wing so don’t treat me as such.
  • Healing isn’t linear. You will have good days and bad days. Maybe even good weeks with a few bad days sprinkled in. You will have nights of crying so hard, you’re sure the walls are about to cave in. But there will be joy. Remember that just because there’s a few slips on the journey, doesn’t mean you’re done moving forward.
  • Get out of bed. Physically. Metaphorically. While yes, those blankets and pillows may feel like your only comfort right now, but you’re not helping yourself by staying there. It may be painful and annoying, but you must get up and move a little. Don’t get me wrong, you need time to feel and process (see previous point) but know that there is a point where enough is enough. Even if it’s just to get a drink of water, get out of bed. I continued going to work (albeit at a heavily modified schedule) just to not be in my house. Was it easy? No. Was it comfortable? No. Did I want to accost every person who looked at me with sadness? Absolutely. But it helped give me space and to see that everything is still moving.
  • Heartbreak is temporary. While in the moment and for weeks or even months and years later, it hurts; little by little it will fade. You will rebuild – yourself, your life and your heart. You will become a stronger version of yourself. During this journey you will learn endlessly about yourself, your expectations and those around you. It may not ever be the same as before, but you’ll be better for it.

While everyone will surely have their own experiences, these were the few ways that I was able to move through my situation a little easier. Rely on those close to you and reach out when you’re feeling down; you are not a burden.

The Forest

She trekked, well more like stumbled, through the forest. Huffing and puffing, throwing muffled curses under each labored breath, as she aggressively swatted the deadly branches out of her warpath. She wondered if she’d ever make it to the other side, to the clearing.

Oh, the clearing.

The clearing held so much hope and promise – greener grass, a bluer lagoon, and neighbors with adequate amounts of sugar to share. To get to the clearing was to get to comfort. Once she made it through the woods, and into the shining clearing, things should be better.

They had to be better.

Lost in her thoughts, she missed a step. Her pointed boot caught under a fallen branch, one she had absentmindedly thrown in her own path, no doubt, and flat on her back she lay – staring up at the sun between the treetops. Other than letting out an exasperated breath, she remained completely still; absorbed in the view above her.

How beautiful.

It’s as if the leaves and branches themselves were sparkling images in a kaleidoscope. The more she focused on the dazzling leaves blowing in the breeze, the less anger towards the world around her she began to feel. She closed her eyes, took a long, deep breath, and embraced her pause. As she reopened her eyes, she slowly stood back up and gently began brushing the dirt from her body.

Time to get to the clearing…

She trekked, well more like floated, through the forest. A soft smile resting upon her face as she moved onward, softly wading through the lush tree branches, taking care none scratched her along the way. She wondered if this feeling of peace would be magnified once she made it to the clearing; more importantly, would this feeling be long lasting? Her moments of peace and happiness were often fleeting; her only lasting feeling was that of an insatiable hunger.

That feeling of an insatiable hunger for more…

Whatever she had, wherever she was, whoever she was with… it was never enough. It was never where she wanted to be, it was never right. Hence, the current journey to the clearing. She had read enough about the place to know this would be it; the place to fill the void in her heart, soul, and stomach. It would satiate her, hopefully even more than that.

She just had to get there first.