10 practical tips for recording and remembering your night dreams

It’s one thing to be interested in night dreams, but another thing altogether to actually remember and record them regularly. Life is so busy that other things just crowd out those intentions. Moreover, the details of a dream can disappear in the blink of an eye!

I learned to interpret dreams while raising three boys, leading a church and holding down a professional job – so I truly appreciate the challenges involved; if I can do it, anyone can!

In this article I share some practical tips to help you get started.

Contents

Preparing to record dreams

  1. Identify the most helpful way to record your dreams
  2. Decide on the best time to set your alarm
  3. Be prepared to get up in the night
  4. Ignore the inner voice that says your dream means nothing

Recording dreams

  1. Record your dream as soon as possible after waking
  2. Record the significant details first
  3. Record whatever you can remember – even if it’s only a snippet!
  4. Consider drawing (or mind-mapping) the dream

Reviewing dreams

  1. Keep an electronic dream record
  2. Review your dreams regularly

Preparing to record dreams

1. Identify the most helpful way to record your dreams

When I first started recording my dreams I always kept a notebook and pen by my bed that I used to write them in. That was a good place to start, but it did have a few problems! I didn’t want to wake my husband, so if I had a dream in the night I would have to creep out to the bathroom to put the light on. I’ve heard tales of people using pens with built-in lights to overcome that problem!

These days it’s much easier. Many people have access to a mobile phone or other electronic recording device. This gives us several additional options:

  • Typing the dream into a note-taking app (we don’t have to worry about lighting!)
  • Using a voice recording app
  • Using an electronic pen and tablet

Which one suits you best probably depends on several factors:

  • What devices/apps you already have/use
  • Whether you prefer writing or speaking
  • Whether or not you have a partner who you don’t want to disturb!

I have currently settled on using my iPad with an Apple Pencil and writing app.  I can handwrite my dream and then convert it to text in the app. This suits me very well at the moment.

For many years I used Microsoft OneNote. I would type in the dream on waking, then it would automatically sync with all my devices. Then, later on I could revisit the dream on my phone – while on the train or during my lunch break at work.

Action Point:

Decide which recording method you are going to use – and then implement it! Make sure you have the necessary equipment by your bed before you go to sleep, and then record any dreams you have!

2. Decide on the best time to set your alarm

Dreams are best remembered if we wake up naturally after them, rather than to the intrusive sound of an alarm clock. Therefore, try setting your alarm for the latest possible time, and ask God to wake you up with a dream before the alarm goes off.

Doing this gives us the best possible chance of waking up straight after a dream, and having time to write it down. I have to admit I struggle with this one – I love the snooze button too much – but I know that many people find it helpful.

Personally I need a bit more time to wake up! I do set my alarm a bit earlier than I need to, to give me some quiet time alone with God. This works for me. It means that I have time factored in to write down and reflect on any dreams that I have.

Of course, during lockdown many of us are able to work more flexibly from home or are furloughed, so that makes it much easier to wake up naturally! Because of this, it seems that people are remembering more dreams than usual. If that’s you – make the most of it while you can! Once your brain starts to realise that you value dreams, you will find that you remember more of them.

Action plan:

Decide what time you will set your alarm for. Do you want to give yourself some quiet time? Or maybe you could ditch the snooze function and set the alarm a little bit later? Whatever you decide to do – make a plan!

3. Be prepared to get up in the night

I don’t know why this is, but many of the most important, life-defining dreams that I have had over the years have come in the middle of the night!

I know from experience that if I wake up in the night after having a dream, then it’s going to be worth writing it down; and I will regret it if I don’t.

But the truth is, getting up to write a dream down is the hardest thing to do in the night! When it’s cozy in bed and cold outside it’s easy to close our eyes and snuggle back under the covers!

The best tip I can give is to mentally prepare in advance. You know that you won’t want to do it in the moment itself, so make the choice before you go to bed. Make the decision that you will record any dreams that you have in the night, and then follow through if it happens!

Action plan:

Decide what you are going to do if you have a dream in the middle of the night. Will you write it down while in bed, or get up to do it? Make sure you have everything you need to hand when you go to sleep.

4. Ignore the inner voice that says your dream means nothing

This is the biggest hurdle that I have had to overcome in order to record and remember my dreams.

When I’m tucked up in bed, a dream seems so unimportant. It’s so tempting just to settle back to sleep. There’s a voice in my head that tells me I don’t need to remember this one – it doesn’t mean anything. Or conversely, I think it’s such a vivid dream that I’ll certainly still remember it later; I never do.

In those moments I often think I ‘know’ what the dream was about. I’m convinced I had it because of processing something that happened recently, or because of some other factor, and there is ‘certainly’ no point writing it down!

Yet, having made the decision countless times to write down the dream despite those thoughts, I have discovered that it was never actually about what I thought it was! Thinking about the dream later, while fully awake and more objective, was usually much more fruitful.

Our sleepy brains will do anything for a few more moments in bed, or to rationalise away our dreams. The only way to break out of this is to ignore those voices and write down the dream anyway.

Action plan:

Prepare yourself by anticipating these negative voices, and make a choice that you will write the dream down anyway!

Recording dreams

5. Record your dream as soon as possible after waking

We all know how quickly dreams seem to vanish. I always think they disappear like quicksand; it’s as though a crevice opens up in our mind and swallows the dream – and once it’s gone into our subconscious it’s impossible to recover it, however hard we try! On the other hand, if we write the dream down we can recall it when we read it later.

I’ve heard that we forget dreams within five minutes of having them. This means that if we don’t wake up straight away we don’t remember that we’ve even had a dream. But it also means that we only have a short window of opportunity in which to record them.

It’s true that sometimes a previous dream will suddenly pop into our mind, but usually something triggers it! Personally, I know how bad my memory is, so I don’t take any chances. I’d rather write the dream down so I can think about it later.

So don’t waste precious time and let those dreams slip away. Write them down as soon as you can!

Action Plan:

If you have a dream, instead of hitting snooze or rushing off to some other activity, write down as much of the dream as you can straight away.

6. Record the significant details first

Years ago, when I was first writing my dreams down, I used to find it hard to remember certain details. If I wrote the whole dream out in full I would forget some important parts by the time I got to the end of the dream.

Some of the details that we can easily forget are things like:

  • Numbers, dates and times
  • Names of people and places
  • Specific words, messages or instructions

These things can very quickly disappear from our memory, yet are often key to the interpretation of the dream.

Therefore, I suggest that as soon as you can after waking, you grab your pen or electronic device and quickly note down all the important words and details that you think you might forget.

Then afterwards, you can go back and write down the whole dream. You can refer to your quick notes and fill in the details.

Because I have recorded so many dreams over the years, I’ve got much better at remembering details, so I don’t need to do this so much. But I still use this technique sometimes if there is a vital piece of information that I need to remember accurately.

Action plan:

Next time you have a dream, try jotting down some specific details first, and then write the whole dream afterwards. See whether it helps you remember better.

RECORDING DREAMS 
Record 
the significant 
words first

7. Record whatever you can remember – even if it’s only a snippet!

I was chatting to a friend recently about recording dreams. She mentioned that she had a vivid dream in the night, but didn’t write it down because she could only remember a couple of snippets.

I’ve been there! It’s very easy to dismiss a dream because we can only remember a small part. However I would recommend writing it down anyway! Just write down whatever you can remember.

There are various reasons for this:

  • Often the part you remember is the most important bit. Dreams can contain little ‘pictures’, like the prophetic pictures people sometimes get in church. I have often been greatly helped by a tiny snapshot of a dream. So record the snippet; it’s actually a bonus if you can remember more!
  • Once you start writing, other parts of the dream can suddenly start coming back to you.
  • You need to train yourself to remember and record dreams. So by starting with what you can remember, you will get better at it – and remember more in future.
  • It shows faith, and sends your subconscious a signal that you take dreams seriously; you will probably start to wake up after dreams more frequently.

Action plan:

Make a decision in advance to record any dreams you have, even if you can’t remember all the details! Practice this and see whether you start remembering more.

Picture of lady and laptop with text: record whatever you can remmeber - even if it's only a snippet

8. Consider drawing the dream

I know some people who find drawing much more helpful than writing; so if that’s you, why not try drawing your dreams? Drawing is quick, and can also be a good starting point and memory jogger.

I don’t draw all my dreams, but sometimes it’s just too difficult to explain a dream element with words. Sometimes I need to actually draw something to record it accurately. This could be, for example, if there is a complicated road layout, an unusual looking item, or a particular detail that can’t be described properly.

Drawing a mind map can also be a very quick way of recording the main details of the dream while it’s fresh in the mind. I frequently used mind maps when I started out with dreams.

Sometimes I search online to find a photo to illustrate a dream detail. This could be an option for those of you who don’t like drawing. I have found that I can’t usually find an exact picture of what I want, but I can normally find something close enough, and I just note the ways my dream image differed from it.

So, to summarise, drawing a dream can be helpful:

  • If you find drawing easier than writing
  • To record certain details that are hard to describe
  • To record the main elements of a dream quickly

Action plan:

Try drawing or mind-mapping a dream, and see whether it helps!

RECORDING DREAMS 
Consider 
drawing the 
dream

Reviewing dreams

9. Keep an electronic dream record

If you are serious about understanding your dreams, then I strongly recommend developing an electronic system for storing them.

The reason for this is simple: it’s very hard to find old dreams if you have to go hunting through old journals. But if they are stored electronically, then a simple search is all that’s required to retrieve them!

In my early years of dream interpretation I wrote all my dreams in journals.  But I also kept a spreadsheet with all the dream titles, and a very simple attempt at interpretation. Here is a screenshot of what those old lists looked like:

One of my earliest attempts at keeping an electronic dream list

You can see that I highlighted dreams that seemed more important so I could find them easily. Having a list on the computer meant that I could find my dreams again, because I could see the date and look in the right journal. Keeping a list helped me keep track of the dreams I had, and the main messages they contained.

This type of thing ticks my boxes, as I like to see things in lists;  the process of making a list helps me to remember the dream and identify the important parts. I still make a list, even though my dreams are stored electronically now. But if making lists isn’t you – don’t worry! 

I would, however, recommend finding a way to store your dreams in such a way that you can easily find them again. Unless you have a perfect memory, you’ll need to help yourself in this respect! This might simply mean recording your dreams on a phone/tablet from the outset.

Action plan:

Think about how you will store your dreams long-term, and how you will be able to retrieve them when you need to.

RECORDING DREAMS 
Keep an 
electronic 
dream record

10. Review your dreams regularly

This one takes a bit more planning, but is the secret to my success in understanding dreams!

For me, dreams are an integral part of my relationship with God. The moment I realised that God was speaking to me through dreams, I knew that I had to dedicate some time to listening to them. I had always struggled to hear Him through other ways (despite my best efforts), so it was a no-brainer for me.

But even if you don’t think dreams are from God, I assume you think that there is some value in them, or you wouldn’t have got this far! I am not a naturally gifted dream-interpreter, and have always been a pretty busy person too. But, despite these challenges I have learnt to interpret dreams by trial and error – I am believe you can too!

Every few months I would dedicate some time to go through my dream journal (and my dream summary list).  I would review what I thought each dream meant at the time, and then I would see from hindsight whether I was right! I would then adjust the interpretation accordingly and continue to think/pray through my dreams.

Doing this helped me to remember my dreams. Many times I would be in worship, listening to a sermon, reading the bible, or praying about something, and I would suddenly understand the meaning of a dream like a flash of inspiration!  And the dream would then be a wonderful confirmation of what God was saying to me.

I leave you with this thought: If we don’t review our dreams regularly, then they disappear from our memory over time, and it’s harder for inspiration to strike at moments like I’ve just described.

Action plan:

Set aside a date and time when you will review your dream journal.

RECORDING DREAMS 
Review 
your 
dreams 
regularly

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed these tips on recording and remembering your dreams!  I would love to hear what tools you find helpful too!  I’m sure there are as many ways of doing this as there are people, so let’s help each other!

To summarise, here are the main points that we have covered:

Preparing

  1. Identify the most helpful way to record your dreams
  2. Decide on the best time to set your alarm
  3. Be prepared to get up in the night
  4. Ignore the inner voice that says your dream means nothing

Recording

  1. Record your dream as soon as possible after waking
  2. Record the significant details first
  3. Record whatever you can remember, even if it’s only a snippet
  4. Consider drawing (or mind-mapping) the dream

Reviewing

  1. Keep an electronic dream record
  2. Review your dreams regularly

Of course these are all very practical tips  which anyone can use – which was the purpose of this article. 

For those of you who are Christians like me, there are also spiritual ways you can prepare to hear from God in your dreams, which we can look at another time – but do feel free to comment if you have some good ideas about that.

So now is the time to put some of these ideas into practice and start recording those dreams!

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Picture of man journaling with text: 10 practical tips for remembering and recording dreams - read more in the blog

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