How to Dream and Remember
In order to dream you must be sleeping, and most importantly able to fall asleep. The necessity of sleep means that you must be tired, but not exhausted as exhaustion will keep you longer in the restorative stage two and out of the vividness of REM. Choosing exactly the right amount of tiredness is sometimes difficult, but generally as soon as you feel sleepy you’re at a great point in your daily circadian rhythm to fall into a fitful sleep.
Before sleeping you want to be sure to prepare yourself properly to get through the night without waking up unnecessarily. In preparing yourself you want to ensure that you do not ingest any unnecessary stimulants like caffeine within about three hours of bedtime and that you are both properly hydrated and fed, so that neither of these conditions wakes you. Hydration can be a very difficult aspect of nighttime as you need to ensure that you have enough to drink, but also that you’re not going to be up in the night to use the facilities. It is usually recommended for healthy individuals to stop drinking at least an hour before sleeping as this should give the body enough time to work through a good portion of excess liquids. Of course the type of hydration is also extremely important. The first choice for drink should be fresh, clean water as this is the best hydrator, but mild juices or milk may also be substituted. Drinks such as tea, coffee, soda, soft drinks, alcohol and restorative drinks should be avoided altogether before you turn in for the night. Having taken care of thirst you need to also be sure that you’re not going to be awakened by hunger. For reasons not fully understood a small serving of nutritious cereal (no sugar, or low sugar) about an hour before sleeping seems to increase the body’s ability to remain in the REM sleep cycle. At best guess this additional REM sleep arises from the body being able to quickly use the ingested food as a ready energy source to fuel stage two restorative sleep and complete it quickly. So now you’ve taken care of your physical needs to sleep.
The next aspect of sleeping is where to sleep. The environment you choose to sleep in will directly influence your dreams as we already stated that outside stimuli may manifest into your dreams. As well any undue loud noises or movements can jostle you from your slumber and interrupt a perfectly good sleep cycle. Most people choose to sleep lying down in a comfortable position. The position you choose doesn’t greatly influence dreaming as long as it is comfortable and does not restrict breathing, etc. This is great news if you seem to only be able to fall asleep while laying on your stomach, or side. Regardless of what position you sleep in your head should not be overly elevated (unless you have some sleep condition that warrants it) which equates to not having more than one standard pillow to sleep on. If you sleep on your back, or side many studies suggest putting a pillow either between or under your knees that is the same thickness as the one elevating your head.
With your sleep position chosen you must look at lighting. Though complete darkness is often the preferred manner for sleeping some subdued lighting may also be used to create a different mood. Subdued lighting can often relax you more than complete blackness, which can lead to longer periods in vibrant dream states. A note of warning though that fluorescent tubes, or CFL bulbs are not the best for subdued lighting as their constant on-off cycle will disrupt your sleep pattern and can in fact cause you to feel more tired upon waking. Choose either incandescent, LED, or induction lighting for sleeping since their constant light should not disrupt or overly influence your dreams.
Now we move to the auditory and olfactory senses, which always seem to influence dreams and the sleep state. The olfactory sense actually creates the longest lasting memories of any of our five physical senses. Your sense of smell can dredge up extremely life-like memories that will greatly influence any dream that you have. For this reason a familiar smelling area is good as you won’t be overly taxed with memories of different smells. Even better is a scent free environment that reduces the chances of your dreams being overly influenced by an external stimulus evoking past memories directly into your dream state. And sounds are important when speaking of sleep as well. Nothing triggers the fight or flight evolutionary response better than an unexplained sound. While it isn’t usually possible to eliminate all noises from your sleep area choosing a hushed environment for sleep is always preferable.
You’ve now created an environment and situation that will allow you the most time in the all important REM state of sleep, but you also must think about what happens upon waking as we’ve already discussed that the memory of your dream will last only 20 minutes before being lost to you. It is necessary to allow upwards of 15 minutes in the morning, before actually rousing from your sleeping environment to simply ponder your dream in order to remember it. Since dreams often happen in real time and can be a half hour or more in length you don’t want to replay your dream, but instead you want to pick out the key aspects of what happened in your dream so that you remember them. Always think of answering questions like:
1. What is the location?
2. What is the mood of the dream?
3. Am I participating, or watching the dream?
4. Who is in the dream?
5. What jumps out at me as important in this dream?
Since there is a necessity to allow time for waking up in the morning in order to better remember your dreams going to sleep a half hour earlier at night can be advisable. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than usual and also set out a glass of water beside your sleep environment. When your alarm wakes you in the morning quickly reset it for a 15 minute interval (or even better would be to have an automatic sleep function that resets for a quarter hour) and take a drink of water before laying back down in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. It is at this point that you want to recollect as much of your dream, or dreams as you can before your alarm goes off again. Don’t worry if you’re in the middle of something when your alarm sounds again as you’ll be able to recollect more things faster as time goes on. Once your alarm sounds for the second time you should then take the next 15 minutes to write out everything that you recollected and found in answering your questions.
Writing down your dreams in a dream journal serves a few different purposes. Firstly if you do not have a good memory then you’re preserving the information while it is still fresh and the details are still new. This will allow you to revisit your dreams at any time in order to see how your dreams may relate to your waking life. Secondly you will be able to compare dreams that you may feel are reoccurring to see when they happen and what they may be telling you. And finally your dream journal makes interpretation of your dreams much more objective as you are dealing from vital importance that you’ve written down and not what may be altered by memory later on. Your dream journal may be just a piece of paper, a notebook, or even an ongoing file on your computer – as long as the media is consistent.
Practice makes perfect when dealing with getting the situation right for dreaming, so keep notes on what works and what doesn’t work for you. Also don’t be afraid to share your dreaming situation experiences with others as they can be an invaluable means of discovering something that you hadn’t thought of trying. Your dreams are your limit.