Science hasn’t been able to fully explain the purpose of dreaming. It may be a way to help us process emotions and make sense of the world. That’s probably why even the most outlandish dreams contain snippets of reality.
You might remember a dream in intricate detail, as vivid as anything you’ve ever experienced. Or you might wake up with the faint hint of a dream that fades away before you can fully grasp it.
Maybe you can’t remember even the tiniest sliver of a dream. It’s unlikely that you never, ever dream, though you could be in a dry spell because you’re not sleeping well. Or it could be that you simply can’t recall your dreams.
Let’s look at why you may be missing out on dreams, how it impacts health, and tips for remembering dreams.
We can’t know for certain if a person never dreams. We do know that some people rarely, if ever, recall their dreams. If you have trouble remembering dreams, you’re in good company.
Most of us have 4 to 6 dreams a night, but we forget the vast majority of them. The dream you’re most likely to remember is the one you had just before waking up.
Dreams tend to occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle of sleep. A 2019 study noted that our ability to make memories is impaired during REM sleep. That would help explain why we’re prone to forgetting dreams.
Missing out on REM sleep could mean missing out on dreams, too. Poor sleep can be a consequence of a health problem or a contributing factor in one.
Sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea, can keep you from entering the REM sleep cycle. Insomnia can increase your risk for:
- cardiovascular disease
Other factors that may contribute to poor sleep include:
- medication side effects
Among adults with depression, up to 90 percent report trouble sleeping, and insomnia is the most common complaint.
That could account for fewer or less-memorable dreams. But depression may also increase disturbing dreams or nightmares.
Sleep problems are highly prevalent in people with bipolar disorder. Sleep problems may lead up to an episode of mania or depression.
Between 69 and 99 percent of people experiencing a manic episode experience sleep disruption such as needing less sleep or having trouble falling asleep.
Insomnia can be a risk factor for developing anxiety or a result of anxiety. Sleep problems are reported by people who have:
Although lack of REM sleep can cut down on dreams, people with anxiety are more likely to have scary dreams.
Medication for anxiety or depression
You may not have vivid dreams when taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft).
These are often prescribed for anxiety or depression. SSRIs can block REM sleep needed for vivid dreams.
There’s a connection between quality of sleep and dreaming. If you’re dealing with insomnia or sleep disruptions, you may be missing out on REM sleep. This is the stage where you’re most likely to dream.
Lack of quality sleep can make mental health disorders worse, and mental health disorders can exacerbate sleep problems.
You wake up with a dream on your mind. Minutes later, you can no longer recall it. That’s frustrating. Or maybe you can’t remember dreaming at all.
Either way, here are a few tips to promote your dream recall:
- Before going to sleep, tell yourself that you want to dream and remember those dreams.
- Place a notebook and pen next to the bed. Every time you wake up, no matter what time it is, write down everything you can remember about your dreams, even it’s just a small detail or emotion.
- Set an alarm to wake up a bit earlier, when you’re more likely to recall a dream.
- Linger a moment before getting up. Think about dreams and review your notes from the night.
Better sleep may help you remember your dreams. Here are some tips for getting quality sleep:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, particularly in the few hours before bedtime.
- Get regular aerobic exercise.
- Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day.
- Eliminate electronic screens in the bedroom.
- Do something relaxing in the hour before you go to bed.
If you can’t remember dreaming but you’re sleeping well, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, make an appointment with your doctor. Lack of sleep can worsen existing health problems or lead to poor overall health.
It can also be a sign that you have an underlying condition, such as sleep apnea or insomnia, that your healthcare provider should address. There are many effective treatments for sleep disorders.
While sleep problems and depression are linked, not dreaming doesn’t mean you have depression. See a doctor if you have other signs of depression, such as:
Rather than not dreaming at all, it’s more likely that you don’t remember your dreams.
On its own, not dreaming is no cause for concern, and there are even a few things you can do to encourage dream memory.
When a lack of dreaming is due to lack of quality sleep, that’s another story. Poor sleep could be a sign of a physical or mental health problem. Chronic sleep problems can harm your overall health.
Sleep disorders are treatable, so it’s worth making an appointment with a doctor.