This is a great question, and one I?ve wondered about myself. Now
you?ve given me a good excuse to actually research it.
There are plenty of theories floating around to explain the mystery of
why we forget our dreams so quickly ? many of them with
psychoanalytical roots. It does seem that a dream we?re so emotionally
immersed in while we sleep should stick with us for more than just the
few seconds or minutes after we wake up. It?s maddening to lie there
and try to grasp the dream as it just dissolves away in front of us.
The psychoanalysts (starting with Freud himself) would have us believe
that we subconsciously ?want? to forget the dream or suppress it ?
that the dream has some special meaning and that forgetting it tells
us something about ourselves and what we may be wanting to hide or
discard. Some would also suggest that if we would just try harder,
think harder, look deeper, we could remember more.
There are also theories that say our minds discard dreams because they
make no sense, have no relevance to reality, are not formed when we
are conscious, are not fully formed thoughts, or because they are
over-written quickly with ?real? events and memories.
The fact is, we don?t exactly know why dreams are lost so quickly, but
brain research has given us some good leads. What it comes down to is
brain chemicals. During sleep, molecules called aminergic
neurotransmitters are decreased as you pass from wakefulness through
NREM to REM sleep. A lack of these molecules has the effect of
dampening recent memory. In other words, the part of your brain that
stores the visual dream as it unfolds can?t do its job.
You will find that dreams with a strong emotional content are easier
to remember. This is because a different part of your brain encodes
emotional data than the one that encodes visual data (which is what
dreams are primarily made of). The emotional portion of your brain
retains its ability to store memories while you are sleeping.
When you wake up, you get a jolt of those neurotransmitters and you
can sometimes recall a portion of your dream, but the rest is lost.
Those little flashes you retain tend to be the ones that repeat
themselves throughout the day when you suddenly think you?re getting a
glimpse of your dream again. But, no matter how hard you try to follow
that thread, you can?t. It just doesn?t exist any more. Often, when
think we are recalling a ?lengthy? dream ? even as we lie there in bed
trying to reconstruct it, we are actually filling in the blank spots
in retrospect, using our more logical conscious brain to force the
dream into some kind of sensible pattern.
If you want to remember more of your dreams, try using a snooze
button. The repeated jolts of aminergic neurotransmitters that you get
when it goes off every 9 minutes will help you recall the dream you
just came out of. Because you doze right back off, you may even fall
back into a ?continuation? of the same dream and the next time the
alarm goes, you?ll be able to recall just that little bit more.
So, I trust that answers your question, as least as far a science can
answer it. Let me know if anything I?ve said isn?t clear, and I?ll be
happy to clarify.
Here are some sites for more information.
New Trends in Dream Brain Research; Richard Catlett Wilkerson
Snooze You Can Use
Skeptics Dictionary: dream
Why is it so hard to remember what we have dreamed about after we wake
up? (scroll down for Q&A)
Thanks for your question and sweet dreams!
Why ?we forget dreams?
aminergic neurotransmitter memory dream
remember dreams memory brain