Why do some people not remember their dreams?

Not sure if this goes here as I don’t think there’s one agreed upon scienticic explaination. But I’m looking for the best scientific speculation, as opposed to personal anecdotes (though I am not opposed to them if they might shed some light).

I’m wondering (and here comes my personal anecdote) because my SO says he never remembers his. And I am flabbergasted at the thought of life without dreams. Imagine never getting to fly! Or having the chance to sleep with the sentient being of your dreams (literally)? And how do you know what to do when you find yourself at school naked if it’s never happened to you before??

Anyway, I’m wondering is this a matter of brain structure? Sleep patterns? Faulty REM? I’ve “taught” myself vivid dreaming, is it possible to teach someone to remember their dreams?


A lack of dream activity can mean protein deficiency or a personality disorder.

Drug and herb use affect dream activity as well.

check out http://brain.web-us.com/Dream/dreamfaq.htm

This site has tips on remembering and controlling your dreams. I don’t believe it answers your question, but it’s relevant.

Semi-anecdotal, but since you said you aren’t opposed if it might shed some light:

Most of my dreams, when I do remember them (e.g., when I wake up frm the alarm clock in mid-dream so it’s still “echoing” in my head) don’t render well in words so I think it’s hard for the conscious mind to retain a good grasp of them and the content slips away rapidly. e.g.,

Dream Fragment

[something previous, lost to recollection by the time I woke up]…and then it’s looking for me, maybe, or it’s inevitable, and I’m scared. It’s red round and huge and made of Anger. Killing me, I am dead. I’m autumn leaves. Wind is blowing me over and over, flipping, in the wind, dead leaves is all that’s left, I am over.

Another one

[something previous, lost to recollection by the time I woke up]… I’m uneasy but I go to bed anyway but something is wrong. Odd, the lights are out but I can see within the room. I can see the walls, the ceiling light, the lines and angles where the walls come together and where they meet with the ceiling. Aaagh! The light fixture, it’s the light fixture, blue is coming out, it’s shining secret evil blue light and the edges, the corners, everything is TOO SHARP, it’s [doing something evil and bad for which there are no words], and it’s SHINING ON ME TOO!

This is a bit of a WAG, but I seem to remeber that REM dreaming is somewhat analagous to a defragmentation, so most people don’t attach any meaning to the sensations they experience when they’re asleep.

Anecdotally, I only remember the dreams I get right before I wake up. Those are also the ones that I can have some control over, and make some sort of sense.

On the contrary.

When I remember my dreams, I know I’m stressed about something and it’s making its way into my waking life.

When I go through each night with normal REM sleep but don’t remember I know that I am of healthy mind and there’s no stress.

I *could * attempt to remember my dreams. I’ve done it before. But I never saw any point. So you could almost say, at least in my case, the choice is voluntary.

There is a big difference between dreaming (“dream activity”) and remembering one’s dreams.

AFAIK you simply have to wake up during REM - and when you’re dreaming - to remember a dream. It fades away pretty quickly, though, so later in the day you might still remember that you had dreamt something, but not what it was.

Exactly! I have had very few dreams in my life that I remember ANYTHING about now*, and even a few minutes after I wake up it’s already fading, usually. I remember that I dreamt. I just don’t remember what about.
*[size=1]One about a disembodied hand that grabbed children from the shadows, one about my Charlie Brown dolls coming to life, one about shadows and cracks in the wall coming to life as the things they looked like (a camel, a lion, etc.), and a sometimes recurring theme (with different settings and people) about being totally accepted sexually and emotionally by a whole crowd of beautiful men. Yes, I’ve self-analyzed that last one several times, just because of its repeated theme.

I saw the results of a study which said that people who woke up in the middle of REM state were more likely to remember their dreams than people who didn’t. Also, some studies seem to indicate that the more effort you make towards remembering your dreams, the more dreams you’ll remember.

As someone who rarely remembers his dreams, I’m always bewildered by the reaction of folks who do remember their dreams upon hearing that I don’t remember mine. They seem to think that there’s something seriously wrong with me because of it (they’ll even go so far as to suggest I seek medical treatment for my inability to remember my dreams). Frankly, I find the waking world interesting enough, and AFAIK there’s no medical dangers associated with not remembering your dreams (though, IIRC, there is some with not having them), so I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.

I remember general elements to my dreams. Like the setting, the cast of characters, and the feelings I had. But most times, I can’t remember the plot, or I’ll just remember a fragment.

When I was younger, my dreams were more vivid and more story-like.

It’s okay to remember your dreams but one word of advice - don’t tell them to Winsor McCay because that blabbermouth will tell them to everyone.

I think you remember your dreams only if you think about them immediatly after you wake up (actually while you’re waking up). They fade extremely quickly. I think it’s only an issue of being accustomed or not to pay attention to your dream.
I sometimes do, and sometimes doesn’t. If I really wanted to, I could remember all of them (more exactly the ones I was making just before waking up), but I would need to make it an habbit.

besides, it’s also depends on how you’re waking up. IME, you’re less likely to remember your dreams if :

-you’re still tired hence don’t have a clear enough mind to pay attention to what you were dreaming about

-You’re busy, preoccupied, etc…hence the first thing you do upon waking up is thinking about the real world

-you don’t wake up spontaneously, but for instance are waked up by your alarm clock (probably because in this case, you wake at an arbitrary moment, rather than at the end of a REM sleep phase, like you do when you wake up spontaneously, so you you didn’t dream just before waking up)

However, I’ve a problem with the ussualy accepted fact that dreams are quickly erased from memory (for instance, that they would be stocked only in the short-term memory). In rare occurences, i remembered a dream much later during the day, when something somehow related to the content of the dream would occur (I’m not speaking about precognition, but for instance, I’m buying bread and I suddenly remember a dream I made the night before and that involved entering into a bakery).
As for losing something by not remembering his dreams, not necessarily. Mine are consistently negative. I essentially never have a pleasant dream. So I wouldn’t lose much by not remembering them, exept a chance to wonder about why I’m having this kind of dreams.

I wonder about posting this, because it seems so odd, but, to contrast, here goes. My dreams, since a child, have always been vivid, as much as waking hours. Full Color, fully flushed realities, with fully formed characters, very interesting “people”, with intricate plots and subplots. I often wake up thinking there’s no f’effin way that came outta my mind, ain’t that smart.

Go Figger.

i wish I wouldn’t dream! btw, how is it that I can smell in my dreams??? this is really weird, doesnt happen all the time, but plenty enough.


Another take on this:

I usually don’t remember my dreams, but do sometimes. They’re strange, dreams are. Not unpleasant, really, but hard to figure where they came from, or where they would have lead to if they had continued. Hard to figure what brought on any given dream.

I guess that’s my problem with remembering dreams, and my mild distaste for it. Remembered dreams leave me preoccupied for the rest of the day trying to remember the dream, and trying to resolve the dream in some manner or other. Silly, at that, because there’s nothing to resolve. Near as I can tell.

Instead, the fact that I can forget them means to me that they’re peaceful enough to let me keep sleeping. So, yes, I imagine I could remember them better if I tried harder, but I don’t see much benefit to it. Better to forget them, and move on with waking life.

I know that people on some SSRI meidcations report less dreaming (or rememberance). It might imply that some dreams are partially a reaction to or generated from stress/anxiety.

I recall, many years ago, hearing that a B vitamin deficiency (possibly B6) caused the inability to remember dreams. At the time, I took that vitamin for a few weeks, and it really worked. And when I stopped taking it, I no longer remembered many.

Is anyone else familiar with this?

Very likely a placebo affect.

I daresay you only remember the ones you remember. It is entirely possible that you are having hundreds of dreams that you do not remember. Why don’t you remember them? For the same reeason your SO does not remember dreams? Another reason, perhaps?
When I was young a girl asked me if I remembered all of my dreams. I found the question to be unanswerable.