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What Is A Dream Journal And Why Should You Keep One?

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Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Featured image of what is a dream journal.

17 May 2024 14 min read

We dream every night. If we sleep for several hours, then we dream more than once. Sometimes we remember a dream, sometimes only partially, and in most cases we do not remember at all. Dream journal can help significantly.

You certainly don’t remember when you first dreamed, because according to the general expert consensus toddlers are starting to dream around the age of two. Some psychologists and dream researchers believe that this happens even earlier, in the first year of life.

Anyway, you don’t remember when you started dreaming. But dreams are an indispensable part of our lives. You will dream all your life, sometimes you will remember every detail, and sometimes not.

Even when you think you remember every detail, it is very likely that you only remember certain fragments. Many people pay a lot of attention to dreams. Dream interpretation is a form of psychotherapy, although it has never been 100% proven how effective this method is.

There are also many people, since ancient times, who believe that it is possible to communicate with the dead during dreams and interpret dreams in various superstitious ways. We will not discuss that, but we will focus on what a dream journal is and why you should keep one.

The Significance of Dreams Across Cultures and History

Dream journaling is not a modern concept but a practice deeply rooted in the fabric of human history and culture. Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Greeks, revered dreams for their mystical and prophetic powers. The Egyptians believed dreams were messages from the gods and recorded them on papyrus, treating them as sacred texts. Similarly, the Greeks considered dreams to be divine interventions that could foretell the future or reveal hidden truths. The famous Oracle of Delphi was known to interpret dreams as part of her prophecies, illustrating the cultural importance of understanding dreams.

In many indigenous cultures, dreams are seen as a bridge between the physical world and the spiritual realm. For example, the Native American Iroquois and Australian Aboriginals practiced dream sharing and interpretation within their communities, believing dreams offered guidance, healing, and insights into the collective welfare of their people.

The Evolution of Dream Analysis in Psychological Research

The scientific study of dreams began to take shape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud's seminal work, “The Interpretation of Dreams,” posited that dreams are the “royal road to the unconscious,” revealing desires and emotions repressed from conscious awareness. Freud's analysis of dreams focused on their symbolic meanings, suggesting that journaling and reflecting on dreams could unlock deeper psychological insights.

Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud, expanded on the concept of dream analysis by introducing the idea of the collective unconscious—a shared repository of human experiences and archetypes manifesting in dreams. Jung encouraged the practice of dream journaling as a means to connect with these universal symbols and facilitate personal growth and self-discovery.

Modern psychological research continues to explore the function and significance of dreams, with studies suggesting that dreaming plays a crucial role in emotional regulation, problem-solving, and creative thinking. Dream journaling, therefore, is not just a tool for personal reflection but a window into the cognitive processes that occur during sleep.

Incorporating Dream Journaling into Modern Life

Understanding the historical and cultural significance of dreams, along with their recognized psychological benefits, can enrich the practice of dream journaling. By recording and reflecting on our dreams, we engage in a tradition that spans millennia, connecting with both our ancestors and our inner selves. Dream journaling offers a unique blend of personal insight, creative inspiration, and emotional healing, grounded in the rich tapestry of human history and psychological science.

As we continue to navigate the complexities of modern life, the ancient practice of dream journaling remains a powerful tool for self-exploration and understanding. By honoring the wisdom of the past and embracing the insights of contemporary research, we can unlock the transformative power of our dreams.

Understanding Dreams: A Psychological Perspective

Dreams have fascinated humanity for centuries, serving as a window into our deepest thoughts, fears, and desires. From a psychological standpoint, dreams are more than just nightly narratives; they are a complex interplay of cognitive processes, emotional regulation, and creativity. Understanding the psychological underpinnings of dreams can offer valuable insights into our mental health and creative potential.

The Cognitive Processes of Dreaming

Psychologically, dreaming is considered an extension of our waking cognitive processes. During sleep, particularly in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase, the brain remains highly active, processing and consolidating memories, emotions, and experiences from our waking life. This processing is not just a replay of daily events but a creative recombination of elements that can lead to novel insights and problem-solving abilities. Dreams can thus serve as a unique cognitive space where the mind synthesizes information in ways that are not constrained by the logical and linear thinking of our waking state.

Emotional Regulation Through Dreams

Dreams play a crucial role in emotional regulation, a process vital for maintaining mental health. Research suggests that dreaming helps individuals process and make sense of emotional experiences encountered during the day. This nocturnal emotional processing can contribute to emotional healing and resilience by allowing individuals to confront and work through unresolved feelings in a safe, symbolic space. For instance, dreams about challenging situations or fears can help individuals mentally rehearse coping strategies, leading to a sense of preparedness and emotional stability in their waking life.

Creativity and Dreams

The link between dreaming and creativity is well-documented. The unbounded, associative nature of dreams provides a fertile ground for creative thought and innovation. Many artists, writers, and scientists report drawing inspiration from their dreams, translating the surreal narratives and imagery into groundbreaking works of art and scientific discoveries. The dream state's ability to bypass the critical, self-editing mechanisms of the conscious mind allows for the free flow of ideas, making dreams a valuable resource for creative exploration and expression.

The Importance of Dreams in Psychological Well-being

From a psychological perspective, dreams are not mere byproducts of sleep but integral to our cognitive and emotional well-being. Engaging with our dreams through practices like dream journaling can enhance self-awareness, foster emotional healing, and stimulate creativity. By paying attention to our dreams, we tap into a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, unlocking the potential for personal growth and self-discovery.

References

How do dreams improve your creativity?

Let's put aside everything that can't be proven and let's focus on what has been proven many times, that dreams improve your creativity and make you smarter. All these benefits of dreaming, including improving memory and everything else, are most pronounced during the REM phase. But contrary to what was thought until recently, it is not necessary to reach the REM phase, but napping that includes dreaming has a positive effect on your creativity and brain in general too.

a-young-woman-boosting-creativity-with-a-dream-journal

As measured by electroencephalograms (EEGs), your brain activity is significantly increased during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep when you dream compared to the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phase, which occurs an hour to an hour and a half before REM. Lucid dreams are the type of dreams where creativity develops the most and your memory improves. 

These are dreams in which people become aware that they are dreaming and then they can control them to a certain extent. Exactly how much they are able to control them depends on individual characteristics but also on practice, because lucid dreams can be mastered more and more.

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How to dream more?

You have probably noticed among your family members and friends that there are certain people who are always able to remember their dreams in great detail and retell them. While some others can never remember what they dreamed the night before and you are maybe one of them. There are ways to dream more and if you want, you can try to implement these things into your routine. Over 90% of people who have tried that routing have noticed that they dream much more often compared to the time before they started doing following things.

An image of A woman dreaming in the bed.

Convince yourself that you’ll dream

While it may seem too simple, this is a very effective way to really dream tonight. Before you fall asleep, think about how you will dream tonight and it will stimulate the brain. Also, you can think of some specific things that will then come to your dream. Don't be demoralized if you don't succeed right away. Repeat this several evenings in a row.

Give yourself more sleep

In addition to the obvious reasons why it is important to get more rest, there are two reasons why it can help you dream more often. The first reason is that when you are dead-tired, the activity of your brain will be significantly reduced once you fall asleep. The second reason is that the longer you sleep, the more times you will enter the REM phase and that gives you more opportunities to dream.

a-young-woman-sleeping-in-a-bed

Wake up at the middle of REM phase

You are much more likely to remember a dream if you wake up in the middle of it (usually the middle of REM phase) than in the morning. You can do this by setting the alarm about 4 hours after you go to bed. It gives you a good chance to wake up in the middle of a dream, write it down and continue sleeping. Just don't do this too often, especially if you're having trouble falling asleep again. Then you can jeopardize your rest in the waking world and sleep patterns.

A-woman-waking-up-at-night-at-the-REM-phase

Pump your melatonin level up

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t watch TV or scroll through Instagram before bed, because the lights your device emits disrupt the production of melatonin which is a sleep hormone. It is recommended that you turn on night filters that are available on all smart devices, but even that is not a complete solution to the problem. Therefore, it would be ideal not to be exposed to this type of light for an hour before going to bed, and also to sleep in a completely dark room. Those suffering from insomnia or other circadian rhythm disorders should take melatonin supplementation.

How to run the dream journal?

Dream journal or dream diary is a place where you will write down your dream world.  While it may sound more complicated than it really is, all you need is one notebook and a pen. You can choose a notebook with an interesting cover, because after all, many things from your subconscious mind will be written there.

An image of a dream journal.

Place it next to your bed

You have to place your dream diary right next to your bed. If you need to get out of bed and go to another room, even if it is only a few seconds, during that time you will forget at least part of the sleep if not the whole. So keep it at your fingertips and as soon as you wake up, start writing, while the memories are still vivid. Also, you will find easier to fall back to sleep if you don’t have to get out of bed.

Write down every day

It is necessary to be consistent in writing down your dreams, and not to do it occasionally. To start remembering your dreams regularly and for lucid dreaming to become possible, you need to write it down every day or at least every time you remember a dream, no matter whether those are good dreams or bad dreams. Never skip, let it become a habit even when traveling. Keep your dream journal close to you always.

An image of a woman writing down in her dream journal.

Try to mention as more details as possible

Although it is not easy to concentrate on the details in the moment you wake up, do your best to write down as much detail as possible about what happened in the dream. Try to recall everything and not only the few most important things. While in the moment you wake up it seems that you will remember everything in the morning, believe us you will not. Only if you write everything down in detail will you be able to remember it.

Spot the dream patterns

Every day, analyze what you wrote in your dream diary. This way you will get valuable insight and in time you will start to notice patterns. It may not happen after 10 days, but after 6 months it certainly will. Every brain works in a unique way and that is why everyone can notice certain patterns in their dreams. These patterns and dream symbols will help you control lucid dreaming.

An image of a man trying to understand his dreams.

Why should you have a dream journal?

Without dream journal, it is almost impossible to practice lucid dreaming and understand patterns. No matter how much you want to try lucid dreaming, you will not succeed without help of notebook placed at your bedside.

Helps you to practice lucid dreaming

We have already mentioned lucid dreaming several times and how to practice it, so we will not go into details again. But to be able to fly and do whatever you want in lucid dreams, and also to be able to distinguish a dream from reality, as well as to be able to wake up when you want to, before you get into a situation similar to the movie “Inception“, you have to start dream journaling practice.

An image of a kid practicing lucid dreams.

Understanding the patterns

Same goes for patterns. Patterns and lucid dreaming are inextricably linked. Even without a dream journal, you will probably realise that there is a certain pattern of your dreams, but you will only notice the pattern that is most often repeated. And when you start writing down your dreams, you will realise that there are many patterns, not just one.

Important tips for keeping a dream journal

You should do at least 5 reality checks daily to be able to distinguish waking life and dream life. Reality check can be a finger through a palm, to look in the mirror, to turn off the light, to see if you have tattoos and various other things that will tell you whether you are awake or dreaming. In time, you will start doing this during lucid dreaming. Also, when writing, focus primarily on your emotions, since dream recall is based on emotions often. And of course, write down every dream!

An image of a young man trying to understand the pattern of dreams.

Enhancing Your Dream Journaling Practice: Tools and Resources

Dream journaling is a powerful practice for exploring the depths of your subconscious mind, understanding your emotions, and unlocking your creative potential. To help you deepen your practice and gain more insights into your dreams, we've compiled a list of recommended tools and resources. These include apps, books, and online resources designed to facilitate your journey into the world of dreams.

Dream Journaling Apps

Books on Dream Interpretation and Journaling

Spread the word

Online Resources

Recommended reading:

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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