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Why we forget dreams and how to remember them better

Why we forget dreams and how to remember them better Illustrative photo (Photo:
Author: Daria Shekina

People rarely remember their dreams. Some may recall dreaming 2-3 times a week, others only occasionally, and some claim they never dream at all. However, this is not the case, and people simply cannot remember anything upon waking up.

Why people don't remember their dreams and how to learn to remember them is explained by RBC-Ukraine.

Sources used in preparing the material: Cleveland Clinic, 24 Health.

What you need to know about dreams

Human sleep is not continuous; it is divided into cycles, each containing several stages of sleep.

Scientists divide them into slow-wave and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep phases. Most dreams occur during REM sleep - during this phase, the brain behaves as if we are awake. Dreams experienced during slow-wave sleep are less detailed and narrative, making them harder to remember.

Each sleep cycle lasts 90-120 minutes, and throughout the night, we go through 4-5 of these cycles if we sleep an average of 7-9 hours. Typically, the first half of the night consists of slow-wave sleep, while the second half consists of REM sleep. Therefore, we often experience vivid and prolonged dreams closer to the morning.

Why we don't remember dreams

Hypothesis 1. Chronic sleep deprivation. If you don't get enough sleep, the duration of REM sleep shortens, reducing the chance of experiencing memorable dreams. If you wake up feeling like you haven't slept, you probably woke up during slow-wave sleep.

It's worth noting that some medications can suppress sleep phases. For example, antidepressants delay the onset of REM sleep or shorten its duration. Alcohol also has this effect.

Hypothesis 2. Neurons actively forget information during sleep. Research suggests that during REM sleep, active forgetting of unnecessary information occurs. This is necessary to prevent overloading the brain with irrelevant information and to remember what is essential. Special neurons are involved in this process, also participating in the synthesis of hormones responsible for controlling sleep and appetite. At night, they act on the hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation.

Hypothesis 3. The hippocampus wakes up slightly later than you. It's possible that different brain areas may fall asleep at different times in people. One study found that the hippocampus likely falls asleep later. Throughout the night, it actively forms memories of the day's events and sends them to the brain's cortex.

Scientists speculate that if the hippocampus wakes up later, it may also wake up later, causing a delay in recording our dream memories. Thus, there's a small window - when the hippocampus hasn't woken up yet and can't record our dream memories.

Hypothesis 4. The dream structure isn't conducive to storage. Unlike memories of real events, dreams don't follow logic, and our memory isn't designed to store such fantasy. Sometimes dreams have no narrative at all and can be a jumble of random thoughts and images.

How to remember dreams

First, ensure everything for a full night's sleep, particularly for REM sleep. You need to get enough sleep, avoid alcohol before bedtime, and try to wake up during REM sleep. There are special devices that can detect when you're in the right sleep phase and start waking you up.

If the dream hasn't slipped away yet, try to write it down or tell someone about it immediately after waking up. This will help preserve as many dream details as possible. You can even keep a dream journal and reread it after some time.

By the way, we've previously written about foods that help you fall asleep faster.

We've also talked about foods that help produce endorphins and improve mood.