Dreams are mysterious things. Whether they're good or bad, tricks of memory or flights of fantasy, humans have been studying dreams and what they mean for a long time. Today, dreams play a role in the work of psychologists, scientists, artists, and even mathematicians! What role do dreams play in your life? You might be able to figure that out if you start keeping a dream journal.
A dream journal (or dream diary) is a record of experiences that you dream about in your sleep. You can start by simply writing down what you remember from your dreams. As you go along, you can start to analyze what your dreams mean (especially if you keep having the same kinds of dreams over and over).
A dream journal is a type of reflective diary, where you reminisce on important or unusual things that happen to you and then meditate on what they might mean. Here are some tips on writing reflective journals.
Dreams are fleeting. In general, the more time that has passed since you woke up from a dream, the more difficult it will be to remember what that dream was about. Writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up will make it easier to remember what they were about later. In addition, paying closer attention to what your dreams are about will help you remember them more easily in the future, with or without writing them down. It's like exercise for your brain!
As part of your psychology, it should come as little surprise that dreams can affect how you feel and think. Having a positive dream the night before may help you skate through a day with happiness and optimism, while waking up from a nightmare may make your next day full of sadness and worry. Chronicling your dreams can help you understand why you feel the way that you do each day. You may even be able to identify triggers for your thoughts and emotions that you may not always be consciously aware of.
One of the most often-mentioned benefits of keeping a dream journal is that it can help you advance from merely experiencing your dreams to actually controlling them. This is known as "lucid dreaming," a state in which you are not only consciously aware that you are dreaming, but can also consciously manipulate what happens in a dream (at least to some extent). Becoming a lucid dreamer can help you learn how to give bad dreams good endings, or even learn to avoid having nightmares in the first place.
A big part of why dreams can be fun is that they aren't always constrained by everyday conventions. You can use this to your advantage by dreaming about a subject or problem in an unusual way, and then writing down the result in a dream diary. It might just inspire you to find a new method for creating something or solving a problem, one that you wouldn't have normally thought about in the waking world. Many writers have used their dreams to inspire their stories, and even some mathematicians – including Albert Einstein – have relied on dreams to develop their formulas and theories in ways nobody thought possible at the time!
Keep your dream journal as close to your bed as possible. That way, you can quickly start writing in it when you first wake up in the morning. As time passes, and even as you start to move around after waking up, you start to lose the ability to remember what you were dreaming about. So it's important to be able to access your dream diary quickly after having a dream.
Note everything that you can remember happening in your dream, including where you are, who you're with, what time it is, what sounds you can hear, what objects and colours you can see, how you're feeling emotionally, and any other sensations that you experience. This may be hard at first, but it will get easier with practice. The more detail that you're able to recall from your dreams, the easier it will be to interpret them.
Some people may find dreams difficult to describe in writing, but easier to express through pictures. So if you're one of those people, try drawing what you see in your dream instead of trying to make sense of it in words. Of course, if you're talented in both drawing AND writing, try capturing your dream through both. It can lead to some very interesting analyses!
As a first step towards interpreting your dreams, try taking your journal with you during your daily activities and writing a short summary of what happened each day. Then, when you write down what your dream was about the next morning, you can look back on the previous day's events for clues as to why certain elements may have shown up in your dream. Conversely, you can also look at your dream to see how it might have influenced what you thought and felt for the rest of the day.
If you own a smart phone, there's an easy way to do this. Just download and install the Penzu app for your Google Android devices and Apple iOS device, and you can take your diary on Penzu anywhere that you take your phone. Talk about convenient!
Once you get good at recording the details of your dreams, you can start to analyze them. Look for elements that are consistent across your dreams: are you always in a certain place and/or time? Is there a certain person always there with you, or are you always alone? Is there a particular plant, animal, or other object that always shows up? Are you or anyone else in the dream always feeling a certain way?
If you keep dreaming of the same things over and over, it may point to issues in the waking world that you're trying to deal with or perhaps have been reluctant to confront. For some examples of what those might be, have a look at our reflective journal prompts.
As we've discussed, there are a lot of different aspects about your dreams that you can record and analyze. Everyone's dreams and ways of thinking are different, too. So it should come as little surprise that there are several different ways to record and organize dreams. Here are a few examples.
Rob Vincent's dream journal – a pretty basic blog-style dream journal. He doesn't go into a lot of detail analyzing his dreams, but he often notes his general mood for the day after having the dream.
Andy Zaitsev's dream journal – a collection of dreams recorded at various points from 1996 to 2003. Notice that he separates his dreams into lucid and non-lucid, and does a little bit more post-dream analysis.
The Elder Dreams – a journal written by comic book writer Dan Curtis Johnson from 1988 to 2005. You can see where he gets his inspiration from!
John DuBois' dream journal – the journal of the late software engineer John H. DuBois III, spanning from 1991 to 2007. It's interesting to note that he organizes his dreams not only by date, but also by theme.
The setup for your dream journal will probably vary depending on what the goal of it is. Are you trying to understand your thoughts and emotions? Put your sleep cycles back into balance? Solve a problem? Make your dreams lucid so that you can control them? These will all affect what kinds of information you include in your diary. Here are a few sample logs that you can use for reference.
Dr. Eric H. Chudler's template – a template from a psychology professor at the University of Washington. It's pretty basic, but notice that it includes spaces to record when you go to sleep and when you wake up. Keeping this information in your journal can help you regulate your sleep patterns, so if that's something that you want to work on, then try this template.
Savetz Publishing's Free Medical Forms template – a somewhat more detailed dream diary template. It not only provides space for you to describe your dream, but also to make possible interpretations. You can even indicate if your dream was interrupted or if you completely remembered it, so you can track your progress.
Recording and analyzing your dreams can be a fun pastime, and there are many other good reasons for doing it, too. It can build your mental stamina and help correct your sleep cycles. It can help you understand and regulate your thoughts and emotions, perhaps even by coming to terms with an underlying issue in real life that you're having trouble confronting. It can help you train yourself to be aware of your dreams so that you can partially control them, which means more good dreams and fewer bad ones. And it can help you come up with new ideas, or think about how to solve a problem in a new way.
Whether you're on a desktop computer or a mobile device, Penzu and the Penzu app are great starting points for your dream journal. You can set your diary up for free, write as much as you want in it, and keep it secure from snoopers with a password. Plus, Penzu is available pretty much anywhere there's an Internet connection, so even when you're out and about, your journal is at your fingertips. So dream on, journal-keepers, but don't forget to write down what happened when you wake up!