Why You Don't Dream or Can't Remember Your Dreams When You Wake Up

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If you wake in the morning feeling disappointed that you don’t recall any dreams that you had overnight, you might ask yourself why you don't remember your dreams. You may even wonder if you dream at all.

The truth is though—everyone dreams every night. However, the reasons why you don't remember your dreams can vary from person to person.

Read ahead to learn why you have trouble remembering your dreams upon waking up.


7 Theories on Why We Dream Simplified

Why You Forget Dreams When You Wake Up

Here are some of the reasons why you don't remember your dreams after waking up.

You May Not Have Had Enough REM Sleep

If you can't remember your dreams when you wake up, it is possible that REM sleep is not occurring (or at least not occurring as much as normal).

REM Sleep

Most of your dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The tell-tale signs of REM sleep include an active brain, rapid eye movements, and a loss of muscle tone.

If REM sleep is occurring, the vivid dreams that are associated with it may not be recalled. If there is a transition from REM sleep to another state of sleep (most often stage 1 or stage 2), prior to recovering consciousness, you may forget your dreams.

Medications may suppress REM sleep. In particular, antidepressants seem to have a powerful influence by delaying the onset or reducing the amount of REM sleep. Alcohol may also act as a REM sleep suppressant, at least until it wears off.

Your Recollection Of Dreams Begins to Fade When You Wake Up

As a general rule, dreams fade quickly after waking. The electrical signals and chemical signatures that constitute the experience of the dream may disappear as wakefulness ensues.

But, it is possible for elements of the dream to be recalled later in the day, perhaps triggered by an experience that reactivates the same area of the brain that created the dream overnight.

Particularly memorable dreams may create an impression that persists for decades. Recounting the dream to another person may help to stabilize the memory. Dreams (or nightmares) that are associated with intense emotions, including fear, may also stick in the mind. The amygdala is an area of the brain that may help to elicit these emotion-laden dreams.

You May Have a Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders may impact dream recall. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea may also contribute to fragmented REM sleep as disturbed breathing occurs due to the relaxation of the airway muscles. For some, this may lead to increased dream recall (including dreams of drowning or suffocation).

Sleep apnea may likewise lead to REM sleep deprivation and effective continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy may cause a profound rebound of REM sleep.

People with narcolepsy also experience sudden sleep transitions that contribute to dream recall, sleep-related hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.

Poor sleep habits, stress, and psychiatric conditions may also fragment sleep and increase dreaming and recall.

How to Remember Your Dreams

If you are interested in improving your dream recall, consider a simple change: keep a dream journal.

Start a Dream Journal

By keeping a pen and a notebook on the nightstand next to the bed, it becomes easy to quickly record dreams immediately upon waking up. You'll be able to write them down before you start to forget them.

Writing down your dream may encourage improvements in dream recall. If the scribbled notes can be interpreted later in the morning, it may be possible to reflect on the meaning of your dreams.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why am I remembering my dreams lately?

    If you suddenly remember your dreams more than usual, it might be due to fragmented REM sleep. Alarm clocks notoriously interrupt REM sleep towards morning. Other causes of fragmented sleep that might cause you to remember your dreams include sleep apnea, limb movements, or snoring. It is even possible to fall asleep and re-enter the same dream experience repeatedly.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.