Keeping a dream journal is an important part of lucid dreaming. Fortunately, it's easy and fun - and ultimately improves your awareness of the dream state, making it easier to wake up in dreams.
The average person has five sleep cycles per night. At the end of each cycle, there is a period of REM sleep. Most people dream for 100 minutes each night. The closer it is to morning, the longer your REM sleep becomes.
So you are more likely to remember dreams as you wake up in the morning - the best time to write in your dream diary...
If you have trouble remembering dreams, you can use a lucid anchor. Anchoring comes from the fascinating branch of psychology called Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). Just before you go to sleep, choose an object that you can see clearly from your bed. This is going to be your anchor.
My anchor is a picture of a big grizzly bear stuck on the wall. I look at this picture when I go to sleep, wake up during the night, and first thing in the morning. When I look at it I think "I will remember my dreams".
The phrase acts as a trigger for my unconscious brain to relate to. It reminds me to focus on my dreams and plants a unconscious intention: to associate the bear with remembering dreams. And I look at that bear multiple times each night.
How to keep a dream journal may seem obvious. But there are a few things worth remembering. So here we go...
Step 1 - Find a notebook or journal specifically to record your dreams in. Keep it within arm's reach of the bed. Dreams fade quickly on awakening so you need to write them down as soon as you wake.
If you get up, walk around and start talking about other things, it will cause motor neurons to fire in your brain. This is what "overwrites" the memory of the dream. So be ready to jot down a few details first thing.
Step 2 - Note down the date of your dream. Then write down everything you can remember. Write everything in the present tense (eg "I am walking down the street when a frog jumps out of the bushes"). This helps with remembering dreams by putting you in the moment.
Step 3 - Identify dream themes. Think about the location, characters, sensations, sounds, objects and emotions of the dream. Underline key themes that may help with interpreting dreams (eg, "the frog is sad because he knows a drought is coming").
You may want to analyze the themes and fully interpret your dream. Otherwise, continue to write down all the memorable details in your dream journal.
Anything that you can associate with established neural patterns is also important (eg, you feel protective over a puppy). This may be a dream symbol or concept that represents a real life issue.
Step 4 - Don't worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar. As long as you can read it back later and it still makes sense, you are fine.
Step 5 - Sketch any strong images from the dream. It doesn't matter if you're not an artist. A sketch is just to help you visualize the dream later on.
Step 6 - When you have finished, jot down any major life issues that are going on right now. For instance, you may be suffering from a broken heart. Over time, you will be able to link your unconscious dream symbols with real life issues.
Step 7 - Give the dream an appropriate title. Nothing flashy, just something to remember it by. If you became lucid at any point in the dream, write "L" for lucid in a circle by the title. Identify what caused you to become lucid (unless it was a WILD).
How often should I write in my dream journal?
Write down your dreams whenever you get the urge. It doesn't have to be every day - a few times a week is usually enough. (But obviously, the more you remember, the better.) Sometimes you won't feel bothered because real life just seems more important. A wise choice! In fact, I would be worried if you did put your dreams before real life.
How can I improve my awareness of dreams?
If you have difficulty remembering dreams, your journal may look a little bare. Don't worry. Start by writing down little snippets - anything at all - and watch your dream recall improve over time. Try listening to self hypnosis recordings which remind you to remember your dreams. It may help to sleep in for an extra half hour on weekends. Just before you wake up, you are flirting on the border of consciousness and REM sleep. This is the best time for remembering dreams... and having lucid dreams!
How can dream themes help me become lucid?
Finding common themes and symbols will also help you create lucid dream triggers. Over time, see if you can find any recurring themes, such as running away from something. Remind yourself to become lucid every time this happens. The next time you are running away from something in a dream, you may be pleasantly surprised by a conscious realization!
"Dreams digest the meals that are our days"
~ Astrid Alauda
Let's not forget that the main reason for keeping a dream journal is to have lucid dreams! These can be recorded the same way in your normal journal.
Make sure you mark them as lucid dreams and describe the moment you became lucid (if it was a Dream Induced Lucid Dream, or DILD). Decide what it was that made you realize you were dreaming. This could be a useful trigger for having lucid dreams in future.
Then go on to describe your lucid dreams in as much detail as possible. How you felt, how you achieved greater clarity, and how long you thought the experience lasted for in real time.
For step-by-step tutorials on lucid dream induction and exploration, check out The Lucid Dreaming Fast Track, my online study program for beginners and beyond.