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Why Do We Remember Some Dreams and Forget Others?

Dreams are often hard to remember, sometimes they are so vivid that you feel like you were there to experience them, and sometimes you forget them the moment you wake up. The paper will be discussing today how and why we tend to forget some of our dreams and not the others. In order to understand the reasons behind this, it is pertinent to understand why some dreams are even as vivid and realistic as they are. Lucid dreaming has been a topic of interest for many people, as they provide the individual the ability to be able to control their dreams and even make decisions the more advanced they get. This also varies according to the individual, as some people are better at remembering their dreams. My interest in this topic stems from the fact that I have always been able to have very vivid dreams to the point where I feel attached to them even when I’ve been awake for a while. A few years back, I started to have recurring dreams of tornadoes, and they would appear in almost all scenarios in my life and include all my loved ones, and those were the only dreams I could actually remember even though I knew that I was dreaming of other scenarios that were more normal and calming, this prompted me to learn more about our sleep cycles and how our brains respond to certain triggers, and my fear of tornadoes was also a contributing factor. These dreams became more vivid as time went by and more realistic where I would wake up in fear and have recurring images of my dreams, but they would feel like memories, it caused me a lot of sleepless nights but made me think why I couldn’t remember the other dreams I was having, I could feel them faintly remember the topic, but they never felt as real, even now I can visualize the tornado in the middle of the room with my brother right next to it trying not to fall in. There were also phases in my life where I would not remember any dream I had, and I cannot remember my dream from last night, and yet I can remember this specific dream from years ago; why is this so?. In my culture, there is also a superstition to spit three times on the right side if one has a nightmare in order for bad omens to keep away, so dreams have always been a topic of interest for me. Sometimes one can remember dreams for years to come whether because they were so intuitive or simply because something happened in the dream that was shocking, which is what makes this topic even more interesting. This analysis will be complex and has a lot of factors that need to be highlighted in order to come to a conclusion or lean towards one.

Why Do We Remember Some Dreams and Forget Others?

Dreams are images and videos that are created by our minds, whether they be frightening or comforting. There are many factors related to dreaming that makes the topic of research even more interesting. Research declares that individual dreams at least 3 to 6 times every single night, making the probability of remembering our dreams even higher, but there are still nights where we feel no dreams, and each dream reportedly lasts from 5 to 20 minutes, which also raises the probability of remembering our dreams since 20 minutes is a long time to remember something. In order for the research question to be answered, it is important to understand the causes of dreams in the first place. There has not been one definite link to explain the reasons why we dream, but some include dreams to be representative of an individual’s desires or wants, so whether an individual is dreaming of a person or a place, there is some truth to the fact that they might be inclined towards that which is why many songs and movies always use the concept of a person dreaming of another as a way to showcase their feelings. But dreams always don’t have a romantic background, and sometimes dreams are just ways for our brains to process all the information that has been gathered during the day, whether it be good or bad, which is why sleep can be comforting as our brain is working hard while our bodies rest which is also why one of the causes of dreams is that they are working as a form of psychotherapy. Dreams also serve as developing the cognitive abilities of the mind (Nichols)

Dreams and the stages of sleep we experience are integral in answering the question of why some dreams are remembered and some forgotten. There are five stages of sleep that almost each individual experiences keeping in mind that sleep is induced naturally without the use of any substances. The Alpha and Theta stages are the first stages of sleep, and this is when an individual is falling asleep but not yet unconscious, which is why this stage almost feels like daydreaming. The fascinating part of this stage is that an individual can experience it throughout the day, even when we are not in our beds trying to fall asleep. Individuals who partake in meditation often are usually in the Alpha phase of the stages of sleep, which is why they experience bouts of peacefulness. The next stage is almost twenty minutes, where the brain often produces sleep spindles, which are rapid brain waves in the rhythm, which can lower our heart rates and ease the body. Delta waves are the steps where the body and brain are in the process of going from light sleep to deep sleep, maybe the difference between a nap and a full night’s sleep. Stage five is the phase where our brains start to dream, which is called the REM sleep, which stands for rapid eye movement. This is often termed as paradoxical because an individual’s brains and other body parts become increasingly active while the rest of the body becomes almost paralyzed, the images or visions in the daydreaming or Theta stages of our sleep often turn into vivid videos and motion in the REM stage of our sleep. The stages of the cycle are felt at least 4 or 5 times through the night, which is why one wakes up randomly in the middle of the night, and the REM stage of sleep often is over 90 minutes long and is the only stage where one can actually enter into the dreaming world (Walcutt).

It is important to understand the causes of dreams and the stages of sleep as they help in figuring out the reasons for remembering and forgetting dreams. Matthew Walker, a sleep expert, has explained a few reasons as to why some dreams are remembered and some forgotten. He declares the REM stage of sleep to be one of the significant contributing factors in explaining the process of dreams, and Walker declares this stage to be where we have the almost hallucinogenic and memory-laden dreams. In comparison to adults who are only in REM for one-fifth of the night, babies are in REM at least 50 percent of their sleep cycle, which is why we often see babies laugh and smile when they are sleeping. Dreams occur in the REM stage because our bodies are paralyzed, but our brains are working even more actively, and the functions of the brain such as visual perception are activated, which also show how the hippocampus of the brain where our memories are stored, and the amygdala where emotions are produced and given meaning are also in an activated state, these regions are almost 30 percent more active while we are asleep then when we are awake. Another reason why some dreams are remembered in comparison to others is that since the parts of the brain where emotions are produced are more active, it is easier to remember dreams which have an emotional linkage. Experiments conducted in the REM stage have also shown how these emotional dreams are linked to longer dream diaries as well. These dreams were also remembered because the participants were awoken in the middle of the REM stage, where the mind and brain are the most alert (Breuck).

There are different theoretical perceptions as to why dreams occur, such as Freud’s viewpoint of dreams acting as visions of our wishes and the needs we need to be fulfilled. He also contributed to the notion that recurring dreams are often a cause for a childhood experience, whether it be good or bad (Nagera). Researchers and scholars have, however, criticized the work of Freud and his dream interpretation, and scientific analysis has negated his theories on dreams. However, his interpretation has made a significant impact on the perception of dreams in popular and modern culture, also pertaining to why a goal or a desire, even while not sleeping, is considered a dream. Carl Jung refuted almost all of Freud’s theories about dream interpretation and perceived dreams to be a window through which one can judge and analyze emotions since he believed dreams to be measures of what emotional turmoil an individual was feeling. Recurring dreams, according to Jung, were experienced due to suppression of a task or emotion that was being neglected and demanded attention in the manner of recurrence in dreams. He also contributed to the notion that dreams were just revisions of the day’s events or what he called day residue, which can be explained through the non REM stages of sleep (Jung). One of the most common dreams people tend to have is before an important event in their life where they are naked on stage, or on their graduation because they’re nervous and scared. Do people only remember bad dreams?

Research has, however, also found that our brains tend to sort out the essential and non-essential information during one’s sleep, which is also why some dreams that can be more meaningful are easier to remember than others. The ability for some people to remember dreams better than others is due to their ability of memorization as a general trait, especially since during REM, our brains are transforming short term memories into long term memories. Although some dreams can be so vivid and realistic that our brains try to mask or hide these from our memories, which is why some days, one knows the feeling of the dream but tends not to remember the details. The temporoparietal junction of the brain, which is the part of our body that processes emotions and memories, together with the hippocampus can put an individual into a trance-like state where brains can process and remember dreams better, so people who experience more activity in their temporoparietal junction are able to remember their dreams more vividly and better in comparison to those who experience less active phases. Personality characteristics play a major role in the recollection of dreams as well, and people who are intuitive and introspective have an easier time remembering their dreams compared to people who are more attached to the outside world and are less connected to their emotions. Stress and trauma are also two major factors in helping remember dreams as they tend to aid in more vivid dreams, which is why many times, people mourning a loss tend to experience detailed dreams and often dream of their loved ones. This can also be why people sometimes remember nightmares very well since they tend to bring emotions of fear and anxiety with them and wake one up in a jolt of panic and cold sweat (Fielding). However, this can be used to explain why my recurring dreams about tornadoes destroying my childhood home or my favorite places were being experienced at a time where I was under a lot of stress and bouts of anxiety. I realized how there were many emotions I had to process, which were all stemming from fear. This was also one of the reasons why I couldn’t remember any other dream because maybe it was my body and brain’s way of telling me to process these fears and emotions and telling me to slow down. This has enabled me to keep a dream journal where documenting my dreams has become so much easier, and it is also a healthy tool for me to understand my emotions well and realize if something is wrong in my life.

An easy explanation as to why an individual remembers some dreams and forgets others is because we dream a lot during the night even though it may not seem that way, an individual dream for almost two hours every night, which is why the easiest time to remember a dream is exactly after one wakes up. Dreams can also trigger memories that can feel like predictions, which is why a glass of water braking in real life can bring back the memory of the dream, making it seem as though it was preconceived (Gupta). Since we live in a digital age where we are connected to our devices and even fall asleep watching something, these distractions can also play a huge role in the remembering of dreams. If an individual is woken up by the sound of a phone call or television noise, especially when in a non REM stage, the memory of the dream can quickly get wiped out from the brain. These distractions could make it easier to forget and hard to remember, especially if the dream you were dreaming was not memorable. An important thing to remember, however, is that even when an individual cannot remember their dreams, it does not mean they are not having them (Weingus).

For the purpose of this paper, I asked two of my friends about their dreams, if they could remember them, and if they could, what did the dreams entail. One of my friends has been working during the pandemic, and she could barely remember any of her dreams. However, there was a recurring dream she would have where she would be swimming in an ocean, and that was all she would do, and it was unnerving to hear, to say the least. My other friend could not remember her dreams at all, and she would tell me that she did not dream at all during the night, but as research shows, it is impossible for a human to experience REM sleep and not have dreams. Dreams sometimes feel like a mirror to the emotions broiling inside a person, which is also why the myth of never telling someone else your bad dreams also exists. It’s because talking about the nightmares addresses our fears, which is also why we tend to remember them the most since they trigger an uncomfortable and unwanted feeling inside our souls. Humans feel a variety of emotions during different events in their life, but I personally feel that people who tend to be more empathetic and sensitive tend to remember their dreams more since the moment my friend told me about her dream, I also started to dream of a vast ocean. So is it true that we tend to remember dreams that trigger emotions within us, or is it because we only dream so vividly when we enter a REM phase. Many people tend to dream of their previous partners, tricking themselves into thinking there are lingering feelings, so dreams can even have a real consequential effect on one’s lives.

Dreaming is a natural element of life that is experienced by humans and even animals, which is why I sometimes see my cat moving her eyes and almost shivering and understand she is in a REM stage. Dreams have been a topic of mystery for many researchers and medics alike since Freud interpreted his ideals about a dream in the early 19th century. Many experiments have been conducted, where the participants are usually awoken in the middle of their REM stages of sleep, where the mind is most active. The research has made it easier to understand why some dreams are remembered, some forgotten, and why some people are better at remembering as well, which was all discussed and analyzed in the essay. This paper has also pointed out an interesting factor that people really do only remember nightmares or bad dreams and rarely does anyone ever remember a dream about mundane things or about everyday life.  Even though there is no certain explanation for why we even dream, much of the prior research points to the fact that sleep cycles, sleep stages, and our own ability to remember things affect the dream memory an individual possesses with the stress factor to boot. So if one wants to remember their dreams, the best way to do so is to write them down the moment you wake up in order to be able to answer any needed emotional questions as well.

Works Cited;
  • Breuck, Hillary. There’s a scientific reason why we remember some dreams but forget others. Business Insider, 2017. News Article.
  • Fielding, Sarah. Why Some People Always Remember Their Dreams and Others Forget. Healthline, 2020. News Article.
  • Gupta, Vandana. Why do we remember some dreams and not others? BBC, 2020. News Article.
  • Jung, Carl. Dreams. Routledge Classics, 2000. Book.
  • Nagera, Humberto. Latent dream-content, Basic Psychoanalytic Concepts on the Theory of Dreams. Routledge, 2014. Book .
  • Nichols, Timothy Legg & Hannah. What does it mean when we dream? Medical News Today, 2018. News Article.
  • Walcutt, Diana. Stages of Sleep. 2018: Psych Central, n.d. News Article.
  • Weingus, Leigh. Here’s Why You Only Remember Some Of Your Dreams. Huffpost, 2020. News Article.

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