Scientists explain why we easily forget our dreams
08/15/2018 // RJ Jhonson // Views

Don't you just hate that nagging feeling of having an awesome dream but being unable to remember any of it? Scientists say it's not that you have a weak memory – it's just how your brain works.

It's something that happens to most people. According to Thomas Andrillon, a neuroscientist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia: “We have a tendency to immediately forget dreams, and it's likely that people who rarely report dreams are just forgetting them more easily.”

What this means is that you do dream even during seemingly dreamless slumbers – you just forget you did. But why?

One of the reasons for this, according to scientists, has to do with how the hippocampus works. This curved structure in your brain, despite its small size, actually fulfills a significant role. It's one of several structures, along with the likes of the hypothalamus and amygdala, that help you feel and react to your environment. It also converts short-term into long-term memory.

A 2011 study published in the journal Neuron found that the hippocampus is the last part of the brain to fall asleep. It stands to reason, therefore, that it's also the last to wake up.

"So, you could have this window where you wake up with a dream in your short-term memory, but since the hippocampus is not fully awake yet, your brain is not able to keep that memory," explained Andrillon.

This explains why sometimes, you wake up with a vivid memory of a dream only to forget it within minutes. It's because your brain needs, according to French researchers, approximately two minutes to function normally and regain its ability to store long-term memories.


This finding came from a study that compared the sleeping patterns of people who recalled their dreams on a daily basis and those who infrequently recalled their dreams. The researchers discovered that people in the former category woke up more frequently during the night than those in the latter group. These moments of being awake lasted for two minutes on average for high-recallers and about one minute for low-recallers.

Other studies offer a different, albeit related, explanation. A 2017 study looked into the activities of neurotransmitters in the brain during sleep and found a drop in acetylcholine and noradrenaline, also called norepinephrine. Both of these neurotransmitters are vital to storing memory.

Once a person enters the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, the point during sleep when you have the most vivid dreams, acetylcholine surges back to normal levels while noradrenaline remains low. The shift in acetylcholine awakens the cortex, but the reduced levels of noradrenaline, a chemical that's also linked to your ability to concentrate, prevents you from remembering your dreams.

A third explanation offers a much simpler take on things – your dreams are just not interesting enough. Much like how mundane thoughts you have every day – such as your random musings while you shower or brush your teeth – don't make it to your long-term memory, unmemorable dreams are dismissed by your brain. This explains why you often remember only those dreams that have the most dramatic and compelling content, no matter how nonsensical they may seem.

But what if you don't want to forget your dreams? Experts say it can be as easy as wishing for it. Every time you sleep, remind yourself to remember your dreams. There's a good chance you'll be able to remember your dreams more and more as you go.

Another step is to keep a dream journal, a diary of your dreams, in other words. Once you wake up, try to hold on to the fragment of the dream you can still remember. Try to describe the dream in your journal in as detailed a manner as you can. This will train your brain to be better at remembering dreams in the morning.

You could also eat the right food.

Learn more about how your brain retains memories at

Sources include:

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