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.

. . .

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

Honesty: Humility: Growth

This part of my story is pretty real and raw. This is the part I am not proud of. However, it’s important to share because even after I left John Doe, I struggled with self-identity, structure, discipline, and self control. I decided to make a few decisions that ultimately put myself in terrible predicaments and changed my life, but in some of the worst ways. I searched high and low for closure and answers, but all I found was temporary satisfaction, disappointment, and trouble.

There were weeks I spent several nights at bars, drinking heavily. I made many new friends and developed a social life I never had before. I was getting attention from people, but not all of it was positive. I decided to explore the dating scene and embark on a new adventure to “find myself”. Well I admit the alcohol abuse played a part in some, if not all, of my poor decision making. I found myself getting involved with a few people and making decisions I should not have done. I was naive and very trustworthy of people when I should not have been. They lied to me and I should have known better because I always have acted better in that sense; I have always preached to my friends about being safe and making good choices and not jumping into things without completely evaluating everything. I have always told them to think about the consequences before acting. I have failed to listen to my own advice. However, feelings and actions do not justify an individual hiding important information from a person.

I refer to these few months as me being crazy and doing things I never had the chance to do. So many people told me it was okay, and that this was normal. Now looking back, it wasn’t. Or if it was, I didn’t want my normal to be like that. I changed my behaviors and decided this way of life wasn’t for me; I stopped casually dating and became very selective. I have been left with physical scars now and life has been altered for me in ways I never thought would be. I never thought it’d be me. My advice here is never forget who you are. Try to stick to your morals and be very careful who you surround yourself with. Acknowledge that theses mistakes may be made and if they already have been, understand how you got there and try not to do it again despite the temporary satisfaction and attention.

One evening I was leaving a bar and I made one of the most terrible decisions ever, I chose to drive home. Well, that ended with me in jail for the night and with a criminal charge. I was beyond embarrassed. I did the very thing we all should never do – drunk driving. Thankfully, I was not in any accident or anything like that, but it still scared me and changed my life in many ways. I stopped drinking heavily and set limits. My advice here is clear, do not rely on substances of any kind to cope with heartbreak, depression, or grief. I know it’s harder than it sound, trust me, but this was one of the worst things I ever did and I have residual effects from it. Again, trust your friends, family, therapist to help you through hard times. Talk about your feelings.

Another topic to touch on is what I realized and came to accept and admit to. I looked back on my relationship and saw things I did that contributed to an issue, unknowingly. I realized I was going out to bars more, spending more money than I should have. I also acknowledge that listening to your partner is important and communication is key in working things out. In my recent article, I mentioned that I would ignore John Doe’s requests of being left alone when he was in a fit of rage, all because I thought that was the right way to handle it all. It wasn’t and it was wrong of me. However, being honest with yourself and others is a growing process too. I was also an enabler and turned a blind eye to a deeper issue at hand for years. Admit your faults. I will never deny what I did during and after my relationship because it was a stepping stone for me to find my peace and it allows transparency. Again, doing these things still do not give a free pass for anyone to be abusive. It is important to understand that.

I went down a path of destruction, and nothing I was doing was benefiting me. I was getting no answers. I had no closure. What was I even doing?

My decisions I made during and after my separation were wrong and foolish. I made choices and rolled the dice of life. I’m not perfect and I will admit this and the things I’ve done. I’ve used these experiences to help educate others who are struggling with coping from loss—that be of a loved one or maybe even a divorce, failing relationship, stress, etc. I was ashamed but again, it’s part of journey. It’s also to make people aware of how important it is to be honest with oneself and grow from these things. It’s a chapter in my life that has closed and left me with valuable lessons.

My advice here, is anyone trying to overcome such things like stress, divorce, separation, loss of a loved one, whatever it may be — should seek out help. This is something I never did until later. I could have avoided the trouble I got in after the separation if I just had better coping skills. My advice: keep communicating with people. I will say this time and time again, talk with your family and friends. Maybe seek out a therapist or counselor. Whatever you need to do to be safe and healthy while you heal from the wounds that life left you with.

What is just as important as healing, is being honest with yourself, learning from your mistakes, and taking back control of your life. We all have one chance at life, and we need to respect ourselves more. We are worthy of that.

If you or someone you know is being affected by abuse and needing support, call 1-800-799-7233, or if you are unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 1-866-9474.

You are not alone.