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Dream Journal 101: Starting a Journal and Remembering Dreams

Andrea has been an online writer for 8+ years. She mostly writes about dating, couples, weddings, travel, interior design, and gardening.

A dream journal is where you write down your dreams from the previous night.

A dream journal is where you write down your dreams from the previous night.

Dream Journaling 101

Before you can interpret a dream, you’re going to have to remember it. In this article, I’m going to help you learn the basics of starting a dream journal and explain why it will be beneficial to you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your journal:

  • Dreams are still a territory in psychology that isn’t fully understood.
  • Dream interpretation has been around as long as humans have existed. Our oldest stories include people who have the discernment to read dreams. These tales are often used as plot devices.
  • Sometimes dreams have information that can help you in your waking life.
  • When we’re dealing with a tough problem, sometimes when we’re relaxed and sleeping our dreams can solve the issue for us.
  • Keeping track of your dreams is good for your memory. This can help you to preserve your memories into old age.
  • Writing down your dreams will make it easier to discuss them with a therapist, counselor, or another person you trust.

Select Your Journal

The first step to having a dream journal is to select a diary, notebook, or digital device where you can record dreams. Your journal should be a space that is only dedicated to your dreams. This isn’t a place where you write about your waking life, your biggest fears, checklists, reminders, or creative pieces.

You could start a dream journal on your computer if you feel more comfortable typing than writing things out by hand. You also could make video or audio recordings and store them somewhere.

If you feel more comfortable talking out your dreams than writing them down, that is okay. The nice part about recording dreams is you can go back and review.

Tips for beginning your journal:

  • Select a journal or space that seems appropriate for your dreams.
  • Don’t announce to others that you’re starting a dream journal. People are curious about these things, so you don’t want your journal falling into the wrong hands. You would be giving them the keys to your subconscious.
  • You don’t have to write in your dream journal daily. Write in your journal when you feel it is important to record something. There is no reason to feel guilty if you skip a day, week, month, or year.
  • If you are an artist, you may want to draw images from your dreams.
Scheduling time to write in your dream journal can be an act of self-care.

Scheduling time to write in your dream journal can be an act of self-care.

When to Write

In order to get a good handle on your dreams, you need to record them immediately after you wake up. As soon as you start to get into your day, the dream will decay or be forgotten.

It’s important to keep in mind that:

  • Dreams are freshest when you first wake up.
  • As you recall details, you may unlock longer sequences that you didn’t think about when you first woke up.
  • You need time to write out your dreams.

It’s a wise idea to keep the dream journal close to your bed. That way when you wake up the first thing you do is write. You may be surprised by how many adventures you went on during a single sleep session.

At first, when you start a dream journal you may only write down a couple of sentences or paragraphs. You may one day write pages upon pages of material. It can be easier to manage a dream journal on your days off or if you don’t have to work first thing in the morning.

It’s okay to start small when doing a dream journal. This is a skill to be learned and not one that’s generally promoted by society. No one is going to force you or require you to do this. You have to have your own self-initiative to do it.

We’re taught to get up at the crack of dawn and start a morning routine and rush into our waking lives. The problem with that is we completely forget the work of what we did at night. It’s best if you can wake up with enough time to process, write down, and record your dreams.

You also will need enough time to sleep to get into the REM cycle. REM stands for rapid eye movement. During REM sleep, your eyes move around wildly in different directions. You may want to add some eye drops to your eyes after you wake up to lubricate them — kind of like how you wake up thirsty.

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There are roughly 4 cycles to sleep. REM sleep occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. On average, you’ll go through about 3 to 5 REM cycles per night. Each episode gets longer and more detailed.

If you’re like me, you may wake up a few times before you’re fully ready to get up. You may get up to go to the bathroom and then go back to bed. You may fall right back asleep and start dreaming again. Each phase of sleep is important. It nourishes your body and mind.

REM sleep actually increases brain activity. It promotes learning and creates dreams.

Push Aside the Grammar Critic

When it comes to writing your dream journal, the goal is to capture the visuals, sounds, conversations, and adventures you experience. You want to write down things quickly, so don’t let grammar and spelling get in the way. You don’t have to write down things in clear sentences. Fragments are okay.

This journal is for you and not a publication, editor, or teacher. It’s perfectly fine if you make grammar mistakes.

  • Don’t worry about editing what you have to write. Just put the pen to paper until you run out of words. You’re not trying to have the best grammar in the world. You’re not trying to win a literature prize.
  • It’s okay if your dreams are repetitive. If you keep going through the same sequences, you can still write that down for yourself.
  • It’s also okay if you want to add things to your dream journal that may not have necessarily happened in order to connect your thoughts.

Sleep Hygiene

Keeping a dream or sleep journal might help you to notice patterns you’re experiencing that are preventing you from having a good night of sleep. You might detect triggers that keep you up all night. It’s important to have a good relationship with sleep as it is one of the keys to your health.

  • A full night of sleep promotes long dreams and good sleep hygiene practices.
  • If you’re having trouble remembering dreams it could mean that you’re not getting enough sleep.
  • Writing in a dream journal isn’t just for fun metaphysical practice — it’s actually a smart thing to do to promote good sleep hygiene.

Recurring Themes

When you start to write down your dreams, you will likely notice recurring patterns. Maybe you visit the same places, you talk to the same people, or you do the same things over and over again. I think it’s important to become aware of these things and consider why you might be focusing on them so much. You might recognize a nightmare you keep having, and perhaps during the day, you can come up with a strategy to end or reroute the bad dream.

These are some common themes in dreams:

  • Opening doors repetitively
  • Walking through mazes
  • Talking to dead relatives
  • Giving cups of water to thirsty people
  • Going to giant warehouses
  • Meeting up with your spouse/partner/crush
  • Searching relentlessly for items
  • Turning on lights
  • Losing your teeth
  • Taking or missing an exam in high school

Studying Dreams

You can interpret the symbols of your dreams for yourself. There are plenty of tools online that go into dream interpretation. Look around on Google and somebody has likely had a similar dream to yours, and they can share some insight into what it means. Dream interpretation is often for fun and entertainment. Not every dream you have is meant to be taken seriously.

Many of the dreams you have are about something you feel is unfulfilled and that you haven’t resolved yet. Maybe your waking mind can’t handle it. In dreams, we have the ability to do things we can’t in our waking life.

You don't have to write an impressive amount of prose when you start a dream journal. Just put one word down at a time.

You don't have to write an impressive amount of prose when you start a dream journal. Just put one word down at a time.

Lucid Dreaming

One of the first big steps to take if you want to learn how to lucid dream is dream journaling. It will take time, but if you write down your dreams and start to remember them better, it will become more noticeable to you that you’re dreaming. Once you realize you’re in a dream, you will begin to have the power to control it.

The problem with lucid dreaming is often when people realize they’re in a dream they wake up. It will take some practice to assert yourself in your dream without triggering yourself to wake.

When you’re not aware that you’re in a dream, the dream takes you on a journey, like watching a movie. When you’re aware, you can make choices about what you want to do in the dream. When you improve your ability to lucid dream, you can stay in your dream longer.

  • Sometimes you can’t control a dream no matter how much you want to control it. You’ll be frustrated that you’re aware of the dream but can’t manage it. You may eventually give up and submit to what the dream wants you to do.
  • It’s normal to go in and out of an understanding that you’re in a dream. The scenery and obstacles may change abruptly and you may fall for the dream’s tricks.
  • Sometimes lucid dreaming is scary. You may get frustrated when you can’t wake up and are trying to get out of something unpleasant. You may want to look up information on sleep paralysis, a topic I’m not covering in this article.
  • You gain mental strength as you age. What scared you when you were a child doesn’t scare you in the same way as an adult. You can outgrow nightmares.

Lucid dreaming, just like writing in a dream journal, takes practice. Usually, people don’t have a good handle on these things straight from the start.

Having a better grasp on your dreams can help you to do things you can’t in waking life: like having conversations with dead people, ex-partners, or animals. You could use your dream to walk through fire without getting hurt, levitate to get out of a party, or travel to distant planets.

Dreams can be turned into virtual reality video games. You could live in a cartoon. You can have the ability to speak different languages (likely an illusion), or you could compose some of the most beautiful music imaginable.

Dreams are a place where you don’t have to worry about being judged. You can be as creative as you want. You can be as boring as you want. You can do anything and see and feel the consequences of it. That’s pretty incredible.

Having Better Memory

Memory isn’t infallible. It can get lost. Aging and trauma can make it harder to access your memories. Recording your dreams can help you stretch this part of yourself. It will help you to not only remember what happens when you fall asleep but also your waking life.

When you record your dreams, you’ll have the ability to revisit them. When you read your dreams, try to visualize them again. Writing down your dreams in a journal is a way of videotaping them. It gives you the chance to hit the play button, hit rewind, or fast forward.

Here are some items from dreams that you should write down:

  • People that you can remember, especially those who have names.
  • Any bright colors or shapes that stand out.
  • Any significant events that took place.
  • Sounds and music.
  • Smells.
  • Animals.
  • Any lights that stood out. Did you turn off or on any lights?
  • Any words you used to help you get out of a dream.
  • Look for patterns and repetitive factors.

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence


Andrea Lawrence (author) from Chicago on February 26, 2021:

You definitely should! You might be surprised by your creativity and the therapeutic process of it all.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 26, 2021:

I've never kept a dream journal before, but I really should as I have loads of weird dreams lol.

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