Ever wonder why it is so hard to remember dreams?
On occasion, one will come along that sticks with you for the rest of your life, but why is that? And on that note, what are dreams to begin with? Is a dream what Sigmund Freud once believed? That all dreams are our souls trying to make sense of the world around us? Or is a dream just a series of random stimulus that our unconscious tries to put together in a way that we will understand? I have a few theories. Read onward, fellow dreamer!
How Memory Works
Let us start with a lesson in memory. Memory occurs in three stages: the stimulus stage, the short term memory stage, and the long-term memory stage. The stimulus stage is where our five senses come into play. Ever dream about something you just saw on television before you fell asleep? That is because your mind is sucking in that external banter and trying to make sense of it. The stimulus stage then leads to the short-term memory stage, which is where the problem with dreams seems to begin. Ever study for a test, only to find that you can’t remember jack s**t? It is because you did not rehearse the information properly. Scientists believe that only if something is rehearsed in our minds 15-25 seconds before it is recorded in short-term memory, does the item pass into long-term memory.
In other words, the stimulus stage is something visual, auditory, olfactory…the short term stage is where an unlimited amount of space is available, like a very strong computer server, but it will erase everything if it is not coded properly…the long term stage is the computer’s backup system, which stores the information for as long as it is needed. If you don’t use it, you will lose it, and the computer will reset all information back to a transient state, where only basic instinct exists.
Why We Forget Dreams
So why do we forget dreams? Well, unless you wake up, make your morning coffee, and immediately start to recall and store the information found in the dream you just had, your short term memory will delete it. Again, unless you are able to correctly “install” and encode the information in short term memory, it will dissipate; the brain will see no purpose in keeping the information because, on some level, the mind is self-aware; it knows that if we do not think of something twice, three times, a fourth time, maybe even a tenth or eleventh time, then the information is useless and is not meant for long-term memory. So, if you do not immediately begin to think about your dream, it will gradually fade away until nothing of it exists.
How To Remember Dreams
How can this be corrected, you ask? Well, when you wake up, chances are if you had a dream you are aware of it. Dreams occur in REM (“rapid eye movement”) sleep, which is present up until the point where you wake up. If you want to remember your dream, then the first thing you should do when you wake up is to not reach for that cup of joe. Rather, you should take some time to recall. If you can’t remember anything, your REM sleep phase was too short, and you forgot the dream before you even woke up! If, however, REM sleep was present up until you woke up, your dream is available for you to recall, and the first thing you want to do when you wake up is to encode the information; rehearse it in your mind’s eye, and continue to think about it as your day progresses onward. The more you rehearse the dream in your mind, the higher the chance you will have for it to pass from short-term memory, and into long-term.
What Is A Dream?
Now, what is a dream? Sigmund Freud, after studying with a hypnotist in Venis, believed they were made up of subconscious stimuli that represented some kind of desire. Recall the “id” – our psychological desire for pleasure. Through what he called “dream recall,” a patient could understand what their id was telling them through the objects found in a given dream. A dream consisting of a lot of rigid, stick-like objects are sexual desires relative to the penis; a dream consisting of former friends means you might be missing them, or something about them that you want to have back. Though as you all know, I am not the biggest fan of Freudian psychology…
What happens if your dream does not contain stimuli, but rather is about a friend or family member’s death (as an example)? Does this mean they are going to die, or is it perhaps the mind’s way of telling you that you need to spend more time with them? If you dream of a lost friend, are you missing them or are you merely recalling them in a meaningless setting? There is no one way to tell. I have spoken with many Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Neuroscientists who all have the same general understanding of dreams: that no one answer is correct.
Perhaps it is our duty as human beings to try our best to remember every dream we have, and make sense of it come a later time in our existence…