Why Some People Always Remember Their Dreams and Others Forget (2023)

Why Some People Always Remember Their Dreams and Others Forget (1)Share on Pinterest

Since I became conscious of what dreaming was at the age of 3 or 4, I’ve been able to remember my dreams every day, almost without exception. While some dreams fade after a day or so, I can recall many of them months or years after.

I assumed everyone could as well until my senior year of high school, when we did a dream unit in psychology class. The teacher asked us to raise our hand if we could recall our dreams every morning when we woke up. In a class of over 20 students, I was one of only two people to raise their hand. I was shocked.

Up until then, I’d gone my whole life thinking everyone else remembered their dreams too. Turns out, that’s not the case for most people.

This made me begin to question, why was I able to remember my dreams while others couldn’t? Was this a good or bad thing? Did it mean I wasn’t sleeping well? These questions about dreaming remained years later, when I was well into my 20s. So I finally decided to investigate.

Let’s start with why and when dreaming occurs. Dreaming tends to take place during REM sleep, which can occur multiple times a night. This sleep stage is characterized by rapid eye movement (what REM stands for), increased bodily movement, and faster breathing.

Mike Kisch, co-founder and CEO of Beddr, a sleep tech start-up, tells Healthline that dreaming tends to occur during this time because our brain wave activity becomes more akin to that of when we’re awake. This stage usually begins about 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and can last for up to an hour toward the end of sleep.

“Whether they remember or not, all people do dream in their sleep. It is an essential function for the human brain, and also present in most species,” Dr. Alex Dimitriu, double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, tells Healthline. So if everyone dreams, why don’t we all remember them?

That answer can vary depending on which theory of why humans dream you decide to follow, because there’s quite a few. Dream research is a wide and complex field, and dreaming can be hard to study in a laboratory. This is partly because the brain activity can’t tell us about the content of dreams, and you have to rely on subjective accounts from people.

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Remembering dreams

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“While some may suggest that dreams are a window to the subconscious, other theories posit that dreams are a nonsense result of the activity that takes place while we sleep and restore our brains,” Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Healthline. “And, if our need to dream is any indication of the brain participating in a restorative process, our inability to remember our dreams may simply be due to the sorting of essential and nonessential information during sleep.”

Basically, this theory suggests that dreams occur when our brain is processing information, eliminating the unnecessary stuff and moving important short-term memories into our long-term memory. So people who recall dreams may have a difference in their ability to memorize things in general.

Beyond that, a person’s brain may actually block out a dream so we don’t remember it the following day. “The dream activity can be so real and intense that our brains actually hide, or mask away the dream, so [it doesn’t] get lost between our waking experience, and our dream lives. Thus it is normal to forget dreams, most of the time.” Dimitriu says.

Ever had one of those dreams that are so realistic you aren’t sure if the events really happened? It’s really unsettling and strange, right? So in this case, our brain may help us forget so that we’re better able to tell the difference between our dream world and the real world.

On the flip side, brain activity can also allow someone to more easily remember their dream. “There’s a region in your brain called the temporoparietal junction, which processes information and emotions. This region can also put you in a state of intra-sleep wakefulness, which, in turn, allows your brain to encode and remember dreams better,” Julie Lambert, certified sleep expert, explains.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and reported by International Business Times suggested that those people who reported high dream recall had more activity in the temporoparietal junction than those who didn’t recall their dreams often.

Why some people remember and others forget

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Lambert tells Healthline that if someone consistently doesn’t get enough sleep, the amount of REM sleep they experience will drop, making it harder for them to remember their dreams the following day.

Even personality traits can be an indicator of whether someone will be able to remember their dreams.

Lambert continues: “Researchers also looked at the most common personality traits that are presented in people who can recall their dreams. Overall, such people are prone to daydreaming, creative thinking, and introspection. At the same time, those who are more practical and focused on what is outside themselves tend to have difficulty remembering their dreams.”

This may mean that some people are naturally more likely to recall their dreams than others, despite their quality of sleep.

Other factors, like stress or experiencing a trauma, can also cause people to have vivid dreams or nightmares that they’re more likely to recall the next day. For example, a person who’s coping with grief after losing a loved one may dream about the death in elaborate detail. Remembering the dream the next day may affect mood and cause even more stress or anxiety.

As a writer who’s constantly daydreaming and focused on introspection, this doesn’t surprise me. In fact, as I’ve grown, the way I view my dreams, itself, has evolved. For most of my childhood, I would watch myself in third person, almost like a movie. Then, one day, I started experiencing the dreams through my own eyes, and it never reverted.

Sometimes my dreams will build on each other, even expanding on a previous event’s dream in a current one. This could be a sign of my brain continuing its storytelling in my sleep.

While I was worried about my dreaming being a sign that I’m not sleeping well, it turns out dreaming itself doesn’t affect sleep quality. Though being able to remember dreams can sometimes be a sign of something else, such as a health condition or medication.

“While there may be some biological differences that result in some remembering dreams more than others, there are also some medical causes that should be considered. Alarm clocks, and irregular sleep schedules can result in abrupt waking during dream or REM sleep, and thus result in recall of dreams. Sleep apnea, alcohol, or anything that disturbs sleep can also cause dream recall,” Dimitriu says.

So the more you’re waking up throughout the night, the easier it may be to remember your dreams, at least in the short term. “In most cases, this happens because there’s something alerting that nudges us awake during dreaming, and in turn the dream content is recalled,” Dimitriu says.

What about those dreams that are so intense or disturbing that they literally wake you out of your sleep? You may find yourself in a sweaty panic, your heart racing, and sitting up in bed totally confused about what just happened. Dimitriu explains that having dreams or nightmares that regularly wake you up isn’t always normal and may be a sign that you need to speak to a doctor.

People who have post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) may have vivid nightmares that involve flashbacks or replays of the trauma, either directly or symbolically. These can affect sleep quality and mood the next day.

Also, excessive fatigue during the daytime may be a sign of sleep issues that require a person to seek help. If at any point your dreams, or remembering your dreams, is causing you stress or anxiety, you should consider speaking with a doctor.

While researchers still aren’t sure what exactly causes dreaming, it’s a relief to know that remembering your dreams is a common, healthy thing. It doesn’t mean you aren’t sleeping well, and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re crazy or “not normal.”

Though I do feel more tired at times when waking up from a detailed dream, remembering them keeps things interesting — not to mention, it gives me some great story ideas. Aside from the time I dreamed about snakes for an entire week. That’s a tradeoff I’ll take.

(Video) Why Can’t I Remember My Dreams?

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Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion and food.

FAQs

Why do some people always remember their dreams? ›

If you're a light sleeper, dream recall probably feels natural to you. In a 2017 study, Vallat and a team of scientists discovered that dreamers' brains react more to sounds during sleep, which points to activity differences in the so-called temporoparietal junction, an information-processing center in the brain.

Is it normal for people to remember their dreams? ›

Researchers say almost every human dreams several times at night, but the average person only remembers dreaming about half the time. And while some people remember every night's dreams, others have virtually no dream recall.

Why do we forget and remember dreams? ›

“Since dreams are thought to primarily occur during REM sleep, the sleep stage when the MCH cells turn on, activation of these cells may prevent the content of a dream from being stored in the hippocampus — consequently, the dream is quickly forgotten.”

Why do my dreams feel so real? ›

During non-REM sleep, the thalamus is inactive, but during REM sleep, when we are dreaming, the thalamus is active, sending the cerebral cortex images, sounds, and sensations, which is why we are able to hear, feel, and see in our dreams similarly to how we do when we are awake.

How many people can remember dreams? ›

Belicki (3) found in the laboratory that wakening people up in the REM sleep phase reveals that about 80% of them remember dreams, but in clinical practice young adults remember dreams upon awakening once or twice a week.

When you dream about someone are they thinking of you? ›

However, sometimes there can be symbolic meaning that we can infer from the dream. And because dreams are the product of our own subconscious thoughts and experiences, that means that when we dream about someone, it is not because they are thinking about us, but rather because we are subconsciously thinking about them.

Does dreams come true in real life? ›

Sometimes, dreams come true or tell of a future event. When you have a dream that plays out in real life, experts say it's most likely due to: Coincidence.

Why do I forget things easily? ›

Forgetfulness can arise from stress, depression, lack of sleep or thyroid problems. Other causes include side effects from certain medicines, an unhealthy diet or not having enough fluids in your body (dehydration). Taking care of these underlying causes may help resolve your memory problems.

What happens if you never remember your dreams? ›

Less REM Sleep

If REM sleep is occurring, the vivid dreams that are associated with it may not be recalled. If there is a transition from REM sleep to another state of sleep (most often stage 1 or stage 2), prior to recovering consciousness, the dreams may be forgotten.

Do dreams mean anything? ›

Do dreams mean anything? Alan Eiser, a psychologist and a clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, says dreams can be “highly meaningful,” because they “deal with the sort of personal conflicts and emotional struggles that people are experiencing in their daily lives.”

Do dreams last for 3 seconds? ›

The length of a dream can vary; they may last for a few seconds, or approximately 20–30 minutes. People are more likely to remember the dream if they are awakened during the REM phase.

Are there people who don't dream? ›

Everyone dreams — even people who believe that they “never dream” and can't remember any of their dreams. That's according to a group of French researchers writing in the Journal of Sleep Research: Evidence that non-dreamers do dream. In questionnaire surveys, up to 6.5% of people report that they 'never dream'.

Which sleep is better with dream or without dreams? ›

Sleep without dreams is the most restful sleep. Scratching your head at the last one? No one would blame you. There's no shortage of science-backed tips for better sleep, and about one in five people now use an app or wearable to track and improve their zzz's.

Why can I feel touch in my dreams? ›

Yes it is possible to feel several or even full of the senses while dreaming. It's called epic dream a higher level of lucid dream. You can feel anything in your dream, gravity, temperature, taste, sense of touch,et.

Why are my dreams so long and detailed? ›

Sleeping issues that cause a lack of sleep, such as insomnia and narcolepsy, can increase one's risk of experiencing vivid dreams. Changes to your sleep schedule, such as flying overseas (and going to sleep at a different time) or getting less sleep than usual, can also increase this risk.

Why do my dreams repeat? ›

Experiencing recurring dreams may point at underlying issues regardless of the dream's content. Adults who experience frequent recurring dreams tend to have worse psychological health than those who do not, and many experts theorize that these dreams may be a way to work through unmet needs9 or process trauma10.

Why do some people dream and some people dont? ›

“While there may be some biological differences that result in some remembering dreams more than others, there are also some medical causes that should be considered. Alarm clocks, and irregular sleep schedules can result in abrupt waking during dream or REM sleep, and thus result in recall of dreams.

What are the signs that you miss someone? ›

Signs That You're Missing Someone
  • Being consumed with thoughts about that person.
  • Experiencing a sense of longing.
  • Eating more or less than you normally do.
  • Feeling lovesick.
  • Feeling lonely or isolated.
  • Feeling distracted.
  • Having intrusive thoughts.
  • Having physical symptoms such as stomach upset or headaches.
17 Nov 2021

When someone is always on your mind what does it mean? ›

The more you think about something, it is going to impact the way you feel about it too. We tend not to spend much time pondering things we don't really care about. That means there's a good chance this person is on your mind because you do care in some way about them in some way, shape, or form.

How do you make someone think about you? ›

So here are some of the best ways, according to experts.
  1. Talk To A Mutual Friend About Them. ...
  2. Always Leave Your Last Conversation On A Positive Note. ...
  3. Keep Them Laughing Even When You're Apart. ...
  4. Hide Secret Notes For Them To Find. ...
  5. Do Something Thoughtful For Them. ...
  6. Use Scent To Trigger Memories.
23 Feb 2018

Do 7am dreams come true? ›

It's an old myth that dreams come true when they happen in the early morning. There may be coincidences but that's all it is.

What are your dreams telling you? ›

Scientists and psychologists, old and new, tell us that dreams reveal critical aspects about ourselves. Dreams are a reflection of your recent state of mind, future possibilities, and changes that you have experienced.

What are the 4 types of forgetting? ›

The four main theories of forgetting apparent in the study of psychology are as follows:
  • Cue-dependent forgetting.
  • Organic causes.
  • Interference theories.
  • Trace decay theory.

What are the 3 foods that fight memory loss? ›

What are the foods that fight memory loss? Berries, fish, and leafy green vegetables are 3 of the best foods that fight memory loss. There's a mountain of evidence showing they support and protect brain health.

What are the 3 types of dreams? ›

Types of Dreams: A Mini Series Part 3
  • 1) Daydream – Daydreaming is classified as a level of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. ...
  • 2) False Awakening Dreams – I know this has happened to me several times in the morning. ...
  • 3) Lucid Dreams – Lucid dreams occur when you realize you are dreaming.
21 Jun 2013

Can dreams be warnings? ›

In one study, a third to a half of the 1,000 surveyed reported having “anomalous” dreams. Many of us have premonitions, warning “flashes” that alert us to an unseen danger or a fortuitous event. Perhaps we dream about a plane crash and cancel our flight.

How rare is it for people to remember their dreams? ›

A very small percentage of Americans — just one in 10 — say they always remember their dreams, while an equally small percentage say they never remember them. For most Americans, it's somewhere in between. Women are more likely to report remembering their dreams than men, but there is a larger difference by age.

What percent of dreams do we forget? ›

People have several dreams each night, but probably forget about 95 percent of them.

What percentage of dreams come true? ›

According to Forbes business, only eight percent of the world's population manage to turn their dreams into reality. These statistics are repeatedly quoted on many sites such as inc.com, lifehack.org and many others.

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