9 Ways to Recall Our Dreams and Why We Dream

DreamsMost people can remember one or two of their dreams, but what if there were ways to increase that number exponentially?

We’ve all heard the stories of hugely popular novels which stemmed from the author’s dreams. For example, Stephanie Meyer and Twilight. Dreams serve health benefits, too. Researchers believe dreams help with memory consolidation, mood regulation, and/or conflict resolution. Nightmares aren’t fun. Night terrors are even worse. It’s important we pay attention, though, because they can signal a disruption in our lives and sometimes, provide the answer.

Sigmund Freud believed dreams are a window into our subconscious, that they pave the way to satisfy urges and secret desires that might be unacceptable to society. Personally, I think it depends on the dreamer. When it comes to dream interpretation there’s no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all definition.

Case in point: crime writers dreaming about murder. If an average Joe plotted revenge in his dreams, it might be cause for alarm. When writers delve into the dark recesses of their subconscious mind, it’s not all that unusual or morally wrong.

While some researchers believe dreams are an anomaly of sleep, others think they may help us save memories, problem-solve, and manage emotions.

Dreams and the Brain

During REM — rapid-eye movement, when brain activity piques — and non-REM sleep, we have the potential to dream.

How dreams affect our brains

Superior temporal gyrus

Dreams are connected to the creativity part of the brain called the Superior temporal gyrus.

We have three creativity sections of the temporal lobe…

  • Superior temporal gyrus — mainly auditory, this gyrus is responsible for processing sounds, sound level and frequency, as well as interpreting language and social cognition.
  • Middle temporal gyrus — exact function unknown, but it’s connected to recognizing familiar faces, contemplating distance, and interpreting word meanings while reading.
  • Inferior temporal gyrus — visual stimuli processing and recognition, memory and memory recall, particularly with objects. This gyrus stores the color and shape of objects so they’re easily recognized when we see that object again.

This could explain why serial killers, who often have temporal lobe damage, experience different phases before, during, and after they kill. And why, during the Aura Phase colors become vibrant.

Did you notice in the 3D image the temporal gyri aren’t limited to the right-side?

Right Hemisphere vs. Left Hemisphere

Dreams and the brainBrain cells in the left hemisphere have short dendroids which pull in information. The right hemisphere, however, branch out wider to absorb distant unrelated ideas, connections between concepts, and is responsible for insight and Ah-ha moments. It’s here where our creativity comes alive.

Part of the Brain Responsible for Dreaming

The cerebral cortex is responsible for our dreams. During REM sleep, signals are sent from an area of the brain called “the pons” and then relayed through the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, which attempts to make sense of these signals. The end result is dreaming.

The pons also send signals to neurons in the spinal cord, shutting them down, causing temporary paralysis of the limbs. This safety switch prevents the dreamer from physically acting out dreams and harming themselves. However, there are exceptions. A condition called REM sleep behavior disorder exists. Can you guess what this causes? If you said, the pons fail to paralyze the limbs during REM sleep, you’re correct.

Why Dreams Are Difficult to Recall

Some researchers believe we’re not designed to remember our dreams, that if we had perfect recall dreams might get confused with real-life memories. During REM, maybe our brain shuts off the Inferior temporal gyrus, responsible for memory recall. And why, we may only recall our last dream before waking, because that part of the brain is now switched back on. However, studies show people actually have more brain activity and more vivid dreams during REM.

Others say our brains store dreams, which is why the tiniest detail later in the day can trigger the memory of what we dreamt the night before.

8 Tips to Recall Dreams

Bad news for the sound sleepers. You’re less likely to recall your dreams. Consider yourself lucky; the rest of us don’t sleep as well. Even so, maybe these tips will help

  1. Don’t use an alarm clock. You’re better off waking naturally. When that annoying buzz startles you awake, you’re concentrating on slapping the snooze button rather than dream recall.
  2. Once you get in bed tell yourself to remember your dreams. This may sound silly, but sometimes making the conscious choice to do something works wonders.
  3. Upon waking, don’t move. Studies show if we remain in the same position as when we had the dream, we’re more likely to remember the details when we wake. Keep your eyes closed and concentrate on the emotions you felt while dreaming. Were you frightened? Exhilarated? Blissful? By first tapping into our emotions we can more easily recall the circumstance. In this case, the dream.
  4. When you wake, concentrate on recalling your dream rather than reviewing your to-do list for the day. Easing into your day promotes healthy living and helps with dream recall.
  5. Regular routine. Going to bed and waking at the same time each day aids in dream recall.
  6. Keep a dream journal next to your bed. When that perfect plot idea jolts you awake, scribble the scene in a notebook before you forget, the more detailed the better. Or sketch pictures of what you envisioned. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense yet. Critically-Acclaimed Author Ruth Harris suggests several pads, pens, and notebooks that would make perfect dream journals.
  7. Tell your significant other your dreams. By bringing dreams into your reality, it helps to recall the next one. Maybe skip the intimate dreams if they do not include your partner. I can hear it now, “Don’t blame me. Sue told me to tell you my dreams.” An angry mob storms my peaceful milieu, with pitchforks and murder on their mind! Seriously, though, the above link is fascinating and might also help explain why you’re having sexy dreams about ________________.
  8. Studies show pleasant aromas cause happy dreams. Whereas unpleasant odors cause bad dreams or nightmares.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. Mastering dream recall takes time. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.


About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. An interesting post, Sue. 🙂 — Suzanne

  2. Marjorie Hembroff

    A dream I had this morning will be part of the setting for my third book with Bess as my main character.

  3. Great post, Sue, with wonderful suggestions. I had to keep a dream journal in college while taking a dream-interpretation class. I started to feel like I was living a double life at night! It was fun but hard to keep up once the class ended. 🙂
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  4. Fascinating post Sue. I read it because I was already thinking about dreaming. I have nightmares almost every night and I remember them quite well. I have been battling PTSD for years and wrote my first book, a memoir, on why those creepy nightmares may be there. I have also found as some of your commenters have said that I frequently receive the answer to a problem I’m working on or a plot or character detail after sleeping on it. I hope the dreams are healing, but I think trauma changes the brain in some way. It has gotten better over time but the dreams persist.

    • Oh, no, MJ. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re suffering. I think dreams do help us heal. PTSD can seem insurmountable at times, though. {{{hugs}}}

  5. Some dreams I’m okay forgetting, like the one where I was being chased by vampires, but of course those are the ones I remember, and I forget the good ones. You know, the ones where I’m lounging on a tropical beach being served umbrella drinks by a super-cute guy 🙂
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    • Hahahaha. So true!!! Bring on more umbrella drinks, tropical islands, and uber-hot men. 😉 Hey, maybe if we burn a coconut candle right before bed we can conjure them ourselves.

  6. Fiction writing is a kind of waking dream. The critical factor of the conscious mind is temporarily suspended and anything seems possible. Editing, on the other hand, requires that critical faculty. Writing is a right brain activity while outlining and editing are left hemisphere processes. I wear two hats. I take off my editing hat when writing. I take off my writing hat when editing. There are days when that’s the only physical exercise I get.
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  7. Interesting stuff, Sue. Dreams seem to be one more of the many consciousness levels in the brain where science still can’t explain the true source. I’m sure it’s all part of the complicated, unexplained creativity process. I also wonder how the hell nightmares occur. I had one the other night I’d like to forget where I was a backup singer for ABBA. It was more of a nightmare for others, though – especially Rita when I screeched “Take a chance on me” 🙂

    • Hahahahahaha!!!! Too bad she didn’t have a tape recorder handy. She could blackmail you for years.

      I agree. Like with many parts of the brain, much of the studies are speculation and often contradict each other. The mystery surrounding creativity continues…

  8. Dream recall has always fascinated me. For the most part I have little problem recalling my dreams. I can still recall snippets of some particularly vivid ones years and decades later.

    I remember an old wives tale (or maybe it isn’t) that says “don’t eat before you go to bed or it will cause you to dream.”

    I never thought of dreaming as a bad thing. I’ve gotten some highly creative ideas from my dreams, including a short story I wrote years ago.

    And didn’t Mary Shelley dream Frankenstein?

    Great post, Sue!

    • Did she? I didn’t know that, Mae. Although, I have heard of numerous other authors who dreamed blockbuster hits.

      Ha! Funny you should mention the old wives’ tale. Growing up, my mother told me to never eat ice cream close to bedtime, or it’d cause nightmares. And you know what? Every time I go for it, I have nightmares. Not sure if it’s psychosomatic at this point, or if there’s some truth in it. Bob thinks it’s all in my head. 😉

      I’m fascinated by dreams too. Over the years I’ve gotten my best titles that way, and even have worked out plot problems. I wish someone would invent the writer’s cap, where our dreams could be captured electronically. Wouldn’t that be cool?

  9. Could the fact that some serial killers focus on a type indicate damage or some kind of difference in one part of the brain. I think Bundy was known for a specific type of woman for his victims. Messing with the brain could lead to all kinds of science fiction stories.

    • Damn this tablet. That was supposed to say Bundy.
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    • The reason serial killers focus on a certain type is akin to dating. Who they’re attracted to plays a role, and so do certain types who remind them of the person they’re subconsciously killing over and over. Take Ed Gein, for example. Even though he had an unhealthy obsession with Mom, he killed women who reminded him of her. In Ted Bundy’s case, he raped and killed women who looked like the women he dated.

      The damage to the frontal lobe causes several things to go wrong inside the brain, but I’m not sure it’s connected to who they kill, necessarily. I think there’s a deeper psychological reason at play. Course, I could be wrong. It’s happened once or twice. 😉

  10. This is really interesting, Sue, as all of your posts are. The more we learn about the brain, the more important restful sleep and dreaming seem to be. Even if a given dream doesn’t have a deep meaning, they serve really important purposes. In fact, I read a study not long ago that suggested that dreams are, in part, the brain’s way of, for lack of a better term, cleaning itself – getting rid of the toxic stuff of stimulus. True? I don’t know. One study does not a fact make. But no matter what dreams actually are or do, we need to dream.

    • I ran across that study, too, Margot. And it is an interesting way to look at dreams. Personally, I like a more meaningful explanation, but I’m a dreamer at heart, in the non-scientific sense. I did find it fascinating how beneficial dreams are to our health. Plus, dreams have no limits. We can do anything, be anyone, achieve the impossible. To me, that’s awesome.

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