Why can't we remember our dreams?

06 July 2008

Question

I was wondering why it was so difficult for us to remember our dreams when we wake up in the morning?

Answer

Professor Mark Blagrove, Professor of Psychology at Swansea University, answered this question...

People differ on whether or not they can remember their dreams. Some people have a great deal of interest in their dreams, have very vivid dreams or their level of anxiety or sleep quality results in people remembering dreams at different amounts each month, say.

In general, for all of us, dreams are very easily forgotten once we wake up if we don't consolidate them or, in other words, if we don't transfer them from short-term to long term memory immediately upon waking.

There's a few theories of why that happens to all of us. One possibility is that our brain neurochemicals, during sleep, are very different from during wake time and so they don't allow us to consolidate memory.

The other thing that's quite possible is that we don't pay attention to our dreams or are unable to do so during sleep. We are unable to remember what occurs to us during sleep. Even people with sleep apnoea who wake up during the night don't know that that happens to them.

Similarly, when we have a dream, we're not consolidating it as it occurs. Indeed, if you have people having a long REM sleep period and you wake them up, once the REM sleep period gets over about 20 minutes you don't find that dreams increase in length very much. It's as if during the dream we forget what was happening. The same happens immediately we wake up: the dream just disappears.

Comments

This is such a cool article, It help a lot with a school project. Also I learned a lot of cool facts about sleep and dreaming. Anyways thank you!

I wake up majority of my mornings not dreaming anything. I can't remember anything, it's like I woke up right after I fell asleep. Sometimes, I can only remember a short amount time being in darkness. Like some thing was suppose to fill in for that darkness, obviously it was my dreams but I can never remember them no matter how much I want to. It's scary because I feel like I keep forgetting these dreams because my brain wants for forget it. Somehow, I feel like these dreams are very important and are trying to tell me something. It's just my intuition though. Also the only dreams I can remember were never good, of course it's caused by stress. However, it still appears even when I'm happy. Overall, it feels scary knowing that I can't remember my dreams. I can't just remember just being in darkness I want to know what my dreams were.

I'm not an expert myself, but I heard one of the experts about dreams say that whether or not you remember, every person (on this earth) had 5 or 6 dreams (or even more) per night. So it's not that you don't dream. And also, the expert said if you had a nightmare even if you feel happy, then it's that your subconciousness tries to tell you that there are things you need to care take of (about yourself) even though you think you have no problems.

And this is my opinion:
Even if you don't remember your dream that is trying to tell you something, your subconciousness would've caught it and would do proper things. So I really don't think you need to worry about your condition. Plus worries only aggravate the situations. Who knows? once you start not worrying too much about it, you may get what you want!

The neuro chemicals in our brains are not the same as those when we are sleeping / dreaming ( in the REM period ) so our brains can recall the dreams we had since they were stored as short term memories

I keep dreaming of a woman I don't know and is creating problems.

That woman that you dream of is actually someone you have ever met before in you life time. You might have met her somewhere you cannt recall maybe on the subway and you probably didnt pay attention to her but the image of her face was stored in your brain. So the fact that you keep dreaming of her is that you cerebrum is trying to figure out where her image fits in your memory

I always thought our brain just decided that dreams were useless so they threw the memories away or something.

Hmm. It's kind of as if our brain doesn't want us to remember our dreams

Thank you for writing the piece on why we can't remember our dreams. It really helped me with a project i have for school. Q&A and don't worry i didn't copy word for word.

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