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 😉

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

One Track Mind: Embrace Complexity

You know, I’m getting incredibly confused with the world lately. I’m confused how for every cause, there is someone with a counter cause. You know, the people who go, “Mask on?! What about SEX TRAFFICKING, huh?! DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT THAT?!” or “Black Lives Matter?! What about ALL LIVES MATTER, huh?! I MEAN, DO YOU EVEN CARE ABOUT THE STARVING CHILDREN IN AFRICA?!

It’s so crazy to me, like homeboy of course we care about all of these things… did you know you can care about multiple things all at the same time? And please, someone stop me here if I’m spoutin’ crazy… but I have more than one passion, I have more than one cause that matters to me… I am proudly a complex human over here.

For example: I think you should really wear a damn mask, you bet your ass Black Lives Matter, sex trafficking is undoubtedly something that needs more media attention, teachers that have in-person classes this fall should be titled as essential workers (hazard pay?!), and we really need to SMASH THE PATRIARCHY!

Oof, maybe got a tad excited at the end.

But do you see what I’m saying? It’s so incredibly ignorant to think that someone only has a one track mind and that they are only capable of caring about one thing at a time. Just because you see them blasting one cause on social media, or photos of them only doing the same two things all the time – a person’s social media is not the sum total of that person. It’s just what you’re currently seeing, it’s their “highlight reel” if you will.

I’ve personally been struggling a lot lately with how people see me, and I have this fear that I’m being pigeonholed into a set personality. Yes, I very much enjoy going out and can probably drink half you readers under the table, but I don’t go out for the soul purpose of getting trashed. I go out because I enjoy the atmosphere, the socializing, the people watching, the dancing, the music, to put it simply – the vibrant hum of nightlife makes me feel alive.

But you know what else makes me feel alive?

Getting so absorbed in a book I accidentally stay up until 5:00 am just to finish it, hot summer days spent in the middle of lake, the minute the plane wheels hit the ground of the tarmac and that reality hits of “I’m here.” I feel alive the first snow of every winter and the turn of the first leaves every fall. I feel alive every time I get to make ricolis with my Papa, and I feel alive that moment of every family gathering when I find my siblings’ hiding spots and we all evade the bulk of the fam and randos together. I feel alive when I’m in a monster vehicle, windows down, flying down backroads, music blaring. I feel alive every time I return to Manhattan.

I am more than what you see, I am more than what you think you know about me – and I always feel the same towards others. I always believe, and at times desperately hope, that they are more than what I see being posted online. People are complex, and it’s time everyone understands this.

“It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking that people are the sum total of what you see.”

Jonathan Tropper

Emily’s Roommate Guide

In all my 25 years of life, I’ve never had my own apartment (excluding my brief semester abroad, but let’s be real I was hardly in that little dorm.) I’ve always had one or multiple roommates; and there’s not one place I’ve lived where I don’t have a crazy story to share – both good crazy and bad crazy. Just to name a few, I’ve had roommates hide under the bed for days at a time, I’ve had roommates accuse the entire apartment of tackling their 5-gallon jar of pickles (gag), I’ve had roommates with no sense of pride in the space we both call home, and I’ve had roommates where we don’t even remotely speak the same language.

Each and every one of my living situations could not only have their own blog post, but I could write a whole series of books, accurately titled: “Emily’s Series of Unfortunate Roommates:The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

But this post isn’t a tell-all on past roommates – sorry to disappoint you, you gossip ready scoundrels. Instead, I’m roaming the higher ground here. I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned through these good and bad situations, and most importantly: questions you should ask yourself when in the market for roommate.

Blanket Question: What is important to you?

This may seem like an obvious question, but clearly not since at 25 – 7 years into the roommate game – I’ve only just learned how to properly answer this when on a roommate search. Let’s breakdown what could be important to you, you just don’t realize it yet:

  • Which spaces always have to be tidy or you’ll have an aneurysm?
    • Even if you think you’re pretty chill, not too much of a neat freak, I’m sure there’s actually one or two things that get under your skin. For me, I’ve realized I need the toilet to always be pearly white, uncluttered kitchen counters, and absolutely nothing permanently (or even semi-permanently) planted on the stove – excluding a kettle – I also cannot cope with dishes overflowing the sink for more than like 3-4 days. So if you get roped in with someone who ends up being more on the messy side, voice the spaces that matter most to you.
  • How do you feel about entertaining guests?
    • Granted, in Covid-Culture, this question is answered way differently now then it would be if all was right in the world – or for some of you, maybe not! Either way, it’s important to sort if you’re content with guests frequently coming and going, staying for short or long periods of time. Especially if you live in a major city, it’s common for friends and family to want to come visit often and for longer than just a weekend. So figure out how you feel about this, if you’re content with strangers coming and going – potentially running up utility bills during their stay 😉
  • Speaking of utility bills, how do you feel if it seems your roommate may be causing spikes in bills?
    • If I’m being honest, I never even realized that this was a thing until very recently. In my books, you’re in a contract with your roommates to go half on everything. If there’s a spike in the bill, it sucks but that’s just it – it sucks. Even if the other person may have caused it, you couldn’t possibly confirm that, so you have to buck up and pay your half and everyone aim together to be more conscientious for the next bill cycle. Trying to pin a spike in a bill on someone is a slippery slope, because what about the months you had several guests staying for a week or two at a time? Or how about there’s a month where you’re using the washer and dryer more? Do you see what I’m getting at? It opens a door that you probably don’t want to open. But either way… if this is your little psycho tick… sort it out now before trying to screw someone over. Have fun with that future conversation! Side note, if you don’t bring this up and try to con a roommate into paying more of a bill – shame on you.
  • Your sleep schedule?
    • Most of the time, you know if this is important to you – so voice it! Make it known that you’re a night owl, or make it known you go to bed at 8, grandma 😉

Blanket Question: What are you looking for in a roommate?

This is not just finding a cool person to live with, nor the same as simply finding a friend. While the above questions definitely facilitate sorting this question out, below is a breakdown of how to sort out the type of person you’re looking for:

  • Do you want someone with the same daily schedule as you?
    • Having the same schedule as someone is great, in theory. It opens doors to be able to hang out together after work and sleep schedules should be fairly similar. But also, it means they are always home the same time you are. For me, I’m not into that. I need alone time, I need the space to myself, and I hate fighting over the freaking bathroom. I’ve realized my ideal roommate’s schedule is someone who wakes up at the ass-crack of dawn and leaves the apartment before I wake up. Then I get to have a quiet morning to myself and get in the right head space for the day.
  • Are you looking to become best friends with your roommate?
    • This is fine! Moving to a new city and seeking to befriend whoever you live with is a smart way to get established and such an easy way to make friends. So think about what characteristics you like in a friend, but also think about how that translates into a roommate. Party people are fun, but do you want a party apartment? Bubbly, outgoing people are great, but are you someone who needs alone time to recharge? Just make sure you understand what you’re getting into!
  • What’s the ideal vibe?
    • It’s super important to me that my apartment is cozy, decorated, and smells heavenly with candles frequently lit. Maybe you’re wondering why this didn’t go in the first blanket question, but this is totally a personality thing. I’ve had roommates who just emit comfort from their very being and it translates into the apartment setup, I also have had roommates who see the apartment as just the place they sleep and aren’t into the whole decorating thing, or they have a minimalist vibe and aren’t into knickknacks and decorations. So while it’s important to understand your vibe, it’s equally important to sort out your roommates vibe – then you can create a conducive atmosphere that makes your space more than just an apartment, it makes it a home.

Blanket Statement: Know your boundaries.

If you understand what your boundaries are, what you are comfortable with and what you’re not, the roommate search will be more fruitful. If you’re not that clean, there’s no point in lying about it just to get the dream apartment with someone. If you need alone time, voice that and most people will respect it.

One thing I casually began doing to better understand what gets under my skin, is starting a “When People…” note on my iPhone. Whenever someone does something that rubs me the wrong way, even slightly, I write it down – just the action, not the person’s name, this isn’t a list of grudges! It has things like “When people interrupt others when they’re speaking,” which equates to the fact that basic manners are incredibly important to me, and another one is “When people flake on responsibilities,” and that one I don’t think I need to explain 😉

Creating a simple list of pet peeves is a great way to understand not only what you don’t like, but also what you do. Ultimately, it’s important to know yourself in order to know what you need from others so that you can flourish.

DISCLAIMER: While I hope this guide helps you, I think shit roommates are major character building experiences 😉

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PS: the featured photo is that of me and one of my best friends that’s survived many roommate horrors with me ❤

Nice vs. Good

In high school I was big on young adult novels about love and coming of age – some of my favorite authors being Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Jennifer Donnelly.

It was one of the novels by Deb Caletti, I don’t remember which novel as I was reading a book a day back then, where a character said something that still sticks with me to this day. It was something along the lines of “There’s a difference between being good and being nice, and what’s important to remember is that not all nice people are good people.

Even in high school, I understood that this line held depth and that I needed to remember this. And as the years go by, I recognize each and every day that just because someone is nice doesn’t mean they are good and have my best interest at heart, and just because someone is mean doesn’t mean they are bad and terrible.

It’s important to be able to see through to people’s true intentions in order to shield yourself from potential ruin.

If you think that sounds dramatic, then you haven’t met nice, bad people.

Or maybe you’re nice, bad people.

I make it a point to be friendly to everyone I meet and to show kindness, but in conjunction, I’m honest and will bluntly call situations as I see them. Generally speaking, I also prefer to surround myself with similar people. One of my close friends and I had a conversation where he exasperatedly told me, “Emily, I’m not mean or cruel, and it’s annoying when people see me that way.

Of course I know he isn’t mean or cruel, he just has a blunt way of dealing with people that I can appreciate and relate to.

I think it’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people who gas you up, sure, but also with people who will bring you down to earth – who will tell you when you’re wrong and not let you get away with shitty behavior.

When you surround yourself with people who only gas you up, all that’s happening is you are being lifted high onto a pedestal of sand that is a mix foundation of mock niceties and a fallacious sense of self-righteousness.

All it will take is one thunderstorm of a human to dissolve your pedestal of sand and leave you lying there helpless, clueless, and looking stupid.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at here, is that it’s important to understand that nice and good are not synonymous. Just because you held the door open for an old lady and then smiled kindly at the waiter who took your order – you aren’t guaranteed a sticker labeling you as good people.

Being good is standing up for what’s right, honoring agreements, not always searching for loopholes that screw people over but lift you up, and lastly not using anecdotes of the nice things you’ve done as justification as to why you’re a better person than Joe Shmoe.

Being good is more than a one off deed.

Another way to look at it, is nice people are always looking at situations as win/lose – good people are always looking to create a win/win situation. Even if the win/win entails conflict or uncomfortable conversations along the way, a good person will choose to face that in order for a mutually better outcome.

Good people tend to go that extra mile in a situation which nice people could interpret as “complicating things.”

Being nice is easy, being good is genuine.