Dream Journaling: The Link between Dreams and your Mental Wellness

Did you know that we spend about 2 hours every day (or every night, rather) dreaming? 

World Sleep Day was commemorated this March, and while much has been written about how we can sleep better, it’s about time we take a look at what happens while we’re sleeping instead. Most of us dream every night – whether we remember it or not – and so, let’s take a look at dreaming and how our dreams can have an impact on our mental health.

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How do we dream?

Before delving into why we dream and how it can help us, we should first understand a little about how dreaming happens. 

Our sleep consists of four stages, broken into whether it’s Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep or non-REM sleep. We’ll cycle through three stages of non-REM sleep, and then one stage of REM sleep; before the cycle starts all over again, when we sleep every night.

During REM sleep, our brain activity is almost as active as when we are awake! In fact, REM sleep is when we have the most vivid dreams; and these are the dreams that we’ll typically remember when we wake up.

Why do we dream?

To be honest, there’s still no real answer as to why we dream or the function of dreams. While researchers continue searching for an answer, there are a couple of popular theories about how dreams help to support our overall health and wellbeing.

Dreaming supports our memory

One of the most popular theories is that dreams help with consolidating our memories. Research has shown that REM sleep is key in helping us store experiences and learning new information into our long-term memories. As such, dreams are also associated with this cognitive function.

Dreams help us process the day and emotions

Studies have shown that our brains mix the day’s experiences, past memories, and new scenarios to form the contents of our dreams; and this can be a crucial way that we process our emotions, and regulate our feelings about certain significant and traumatic experiences. When we revisit these charged episodes in our dreams, it gives us another opportunity to confront whatever had triggered us, so that we’re better able to come to terms with it when we awake. 

Dreams are an insight into ourselves

A strong proponent of dreams being a guide into our unconscious mind is Sigmund Freud. In one of his seminal publications, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, Freud wrote that dreams were a direct way for us to understand our unconscious mind, and showed us our repressed thoughts and desires. 

Through this, Freud thought that dreams and their interpretation could be a tool that psychologists and counsellors utilised, to help an individual better understand their conscious self.

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Is it important that we remember our dreams?

Remembering your dreams isn’t crucial to repeating all the benefits of dreams we’d listed above. About only 40% of dreams remember what they’d dreamt – and even then, it’s not regularly.

Factors that can affect whether you remember your dreams are not include:

  • Whether you’d drank alcohol before sleeping: Alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep and how much REM sleep you manage to clock
  • Medications that you are on: Similarly, certain types of medication may disrupt your sleep cycle and make it less likely for you to remember your dream
  • When you wake up: Those who wake up during their REM sleep are better able to remember what had happened; although the dream may also quickly fade from memory after they’ve been awake for a while
  • Gender and Age: Some studies have shown that adolescent girls are most likely to remember what they’ve dreamt

It does feel like a shame to forget what your brain’s conjured up while you’re snoozing, especially if you tend to have adventurous and exciting dreams. If you’d like to improve your dream recall, dream journaling can be a good place to start.

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Tips to start dream journaling

Apart from being an aid to remember your dreams, dream journaling has other benefits: such as being a creative outlet for you, or being a space and prompt for self-reflection. You may also notice that you get better sleep after you’ve been journaling for a while.

There’s no fixed way or single correct method to dream journal. ‘Journal’ may even be a misleading word! Some people may find it easier to do voice notes of their dreams, instead of having a physical journal. 

These are just a few simple tips to get you started, while you find a method that works best for you:

  • Set your intention: that you want to remember your dreams, before you drift off to sleep
  • Keep your dream journal (whatever format or medium it may be) next to your bed, so that it’s immediately accessible to you once you wake up
  • Record your dream the moment you awake as it’ll be fresh in your head; and jot down as many details as you’re able to remember, as the act of recalling can lead to you remembering other ‘scenes’ in your dream too. If you can’t quite remember your dream, you can try reflecting on how you’re feeling instead as this may be a trigger to recall what happened in your dream.

The more you practice this, the easier it’ll start to be. Once you’ve amassed a couple of entries, take some time to read your past dreams. It may be interesting if you spot recurring themes or scenarios; there could be something that your subconscious is telling you!

If you find that something’s been stressing you out, and you’d like some support to overcome these stressors, we’re here for you. Make an appointment with any of our mental health professionals.

In the meantime, we wish you sweet dreams!


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