How To Keep A Dream Journal
6 min

How To Keep A Dream Journal: Advice And Best Practices

6 min

Using a dream journal can be fun and informative. Getting closer to your dreams is exciting in its own right, and, for many, that's enough. For others, it can be a useful practice to bring things lurking in the subconscious to light. Either way, there are some simple techniques you can use to improve dream recall and get the most from your journal.

Keeping a dream journal is itself a fascinating journey. This practice greatly encourages the richness of dreaming itself, and allows for very clear dream recall during your waking life. Cheap and simple, anyone can try dream journaling. While it may be most famous as a technique for inducing lucid dreaming, it serves many other purposes too. From simple interest to dealing with nightmares and trapped emotions, dream journals can be a useful tool for just about anyone.

What Is a Dream Journal?

What Is A Dream Journal?

A dream journal is a record of your dreams. Another name for it could be a “dream diary”. Upon waking, you immediately record all you can remember about your dreams (some say that the present tense is best for dream recall). There’s no need to create a literary masterpiece; bullet points and rough sentences will do. As you begin writing out the content of your dreams, you will find that more and more information comes back to you.

Over time, the use of a dream journal will give you incredibly clear dream recall, making them seem far more vivid. Moreover, while you are dreaming, you will be more aware; they will seem more lifelike. It is for this reason that dream journals are great for encouraging lucid dreaming.

Why Should You Keep a Dream Journal?

Why Should You Keep A Dream Journal?

Lucid dreaming is not the only reason to record your dreams. By giving yourself clearer access to the workings of your subconscious, there are many ways you can improve the quality of your waking life. Below are several benefits of keeping a dream journal:

  • Creativity: It’s no secret that the dream world is fantastical, confusing, and often scary. When we dream, we experience things we are shocked to find inside our own minds. By recording our dreams, we capture these worlds, and may find that our creativity benefits greatly from closer, conscious access to dreamland.

  • Processing emotions: Dreams seem to be the mind’s way of going over things, be that memory or emotion. By recording and recalling the contents of our dreams, we may gain a better understanding of the emotions behind them.

  • Overcoming nightmares: For most people, nightmares are an irregular occurrence. However, for some, they are a real problem. For the latter camp, delving into their nightmares—though this may seem scary—may help them find the answer to stopping them. Perhaps there is some recurring theme, something that the mind cannot let go of.

  • Fun: Getting closer to the dreamscape is a fascinating feeling. By recording dreams, they shift from incoherent, unclear worlds to stark and crisp realities with processes of their own. When they gain such clarity, they become even more intriguing than usual.

How Does a Dream Journal Help With Lucid Dreaming?

How Does A Dream Journal Help With Lucid Dreaming?

Recording your dreams helps with lucid dreaming by improving dream recall. By actively remembering your dreams, this makes your mind more conscious of them. However, this is a change that takes place over time, and must be maintained in order to be effective.

Over time, your brain will learn to be more aware while it is dreaming. As it does this, you will become more conscious within your dreams. Eventually, this could lead to full consciousness within the dream world, aka lucidity.

Likewise, by identifying themes and recurrences in your dream journal, you’re more likely to gain consciousness the next time you experience these triggers in a dream. For instance, if you find that you regularly encounter a being or habitat, note this in your journal, and tell yourself to look out for it in your dreams. Eventually, you'll find that when you encounter this thing again, your mind will recognise it, triggering conscious awareness.

Essentially, by remembering your dreams, you are actively bringing your consciousness to them. Once you strengthen this connection, your consciousness will take itself there while you are asleep.

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How To Keep a Dream Journal

Keeping a dream journal is a very personal experience, and over time you will figure out the best practices for yourself. However, we all need a helping hand when starting out with things, so below we’ll list a few top tips on effectively keeping a dream journal.

Choosing Your Journal

Choosing Your Dream Journal

Before recording your dreams, though, you need to find yourself a journal. There are many products available out there, and even some apps. But these are mostly superfluous. Apps run the risk of you getting distracted by something else, and do you really need another part of your life on your phone? Likewise, while specific dream journals may work for some, for many, a standard notebook will do.

The most important thing to figure out is how big it needs to be, and whether you want to move the pages about. Given that, a blank notebook is the most useful, as you are in total control of how long each entry is. It’s no good getting a beautifully designed book if it forces you to keep your records tiny. It’s also worth considering getting a ring-bound book with removable pages, in case you wish to group your dreams by theme, rather than date. This can also be achieved with coloured tags.

When setting out, keep things simple. This will give you more freedom to adjust it as you go, until you find something that works for you.

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Before You Dream

How To Keep A Dream Journal: Before You Dream

There are a few things you’ll want to do before falling asleep to facilitate the recording of your dreams upon waking. Making the process as seamless as possible will give you the best dream recall.

  • Dedicate Space

It’s worth dedicating a specific space to your dream journal. Not only does this make it easy to find each morning when you’re still half asleep, but it also assists with making it habitual. The brain loves routine. By repeating the same routine each time you record your dreams, it will allow the mind to function more smoothly, ultimately allowing greater recall. Dream recall will, over time, become more reflexive.

  • Write the Date

When you wake up, you’ll want to begin recording your dream immediately. So write the date for the next morning before you fall asleep. This way, your groggy mind won’t go groping about for it while trying to remember your dream. Moreover, by doing this before you fall asleep, you’re reminding your mind to focus on your dreams. These little rituals assist in dream recall and lucidity.

  • Arrange Pages Appropriately

For some, rough bullet points will suffice. Others may want more structure. If you wish to interpret parts of your dreams, it may be worth splitting your pages into two columns. One for contents, another for interpretation. That way, you can write the interpretations alongside each memory. Play around with structure until you find one that suits you.

  • Consider Making Notes Before You Sleep

You may wish to record how you feel before you fall asleep. Perhaps, much like a diary, write down some key events of the day. That way, when you record your dream in the morning, you can compare these two things and look for connections. Over time, this may help you recognise recurring symbols in dreams, and what they relate to in your waking life.

After You Dream

How To Keep A Dream Journal: After You Dream

For the best dream recall, there are a few things you can do when you’re actually recording your dreams. Combining the pre-sleep practices with these will help you get the most out of keeping a dream journal.

  • Be Fast

Write your dreams down straight away. This is the single most important thing to do when recording your dreams. If you lie about for a long time, or get up and do something first, they will fade. As soon as you wake up, grab your journal and start writing. Then you can lie down again if you’re feeling lazy.

  • Be Detailed

Don’t miss out on detail. Detail is essential. By being as detailed as possible, you will find the dream unfurls like an avalanche. At first, it’s quite amazing how much of the dream you can recall when you do this. What feels like a few disparate memories will quickly become a whole coherent narrative.

  • Don’t Project

That being said, don’t project a narrative onto your dream. If one is present, it will become apparent. Just write down the memories as they come. It doesn’t matter if they seem incoherent or disconnected at first. If you try to look for a narrative, you will just end up cherry picking the memories that fit one, and this is not beneficial for dream recall.

  • Be Free

Don’t be concerned about grammar or cleanliness; just get them down. Getting detail down quickly is key—it’s just about content. Scribble half-formed sentences, bullet points, sketch pictures—whatever it is that helps you remember.

  • Don’t Worry About Interpretation

This may seem counterproductive, but it’s not. In the long term, many people may keep a journal for the purposes of interpretation, but don’t hold this in your mind too much as you’re writing them down. For one thing, trying to interpret at the same time you record will get in the way.

Also, nobody actually knows what function(s) dreams have, or whether they can be interpreted. So, if you want to interpret your dreams, let them come to you, if they come. If you go looking for them, it is likely you’ll just invent things, and the whole practice will lose some worth. Simply observing your dreams is beneficial enough.

Can a Dream Journal Help With Nightmares?

Can a Dream Journal Help With Nightmares?

Keeping a dream journal can be a useful way of tackling nightmares. By recording them, you essentially process them. By taking unconscious processes and dealing with them consciously, you are approaching them with different parts of the brain. In doing so, you are more likely to overcome whatever it is that's causing your nightmares. Be aware; it may or may not be a conscious realisation.

For nightmares, keep your journal as mentioned above. Even better, record all of your dreams, not only nightmares. This way, you may notice patterns between nightmares and normal dreams, and this could help in identifying the problem. But again, don’t get obsessed with interpretation. Like with phobias, simply embracing nightmares can be enough. A dream journal is a way of doing this. By consciously looking at your nightmares, you can somewhat lessen their impact.

Keeping a dream journal can have many benefits beyond lucid dreaming. Whether it’s purely out of fascination for the dream world or you wish to identify and deal with nightmares, dream journaling is likely to be of some use to you.

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter
With a BSc (Hons) degree in Clinical Health Sciences and a passion for growing plants, Luke Sumpter has worked as a professional journalist and writer at the intersection of cannabis and science for the past 7 years.
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