Even if you don’t always remember your dreams, everyone has them. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people were reporting more wild dreams than ever. Researchers found that 29 percent of Americans reported recalling more dreams than usual, as well as qualitative changes in dream emotions. Researchers believe this may be due to either increased REM sleep with schedules changing, or that it’s a response to the threat of the virus itself. That second option may tax our dreaming's capacity to regulate emotion, thereby upping the imprint of dream memories when we awake.
My own vivid dreams recently prompted me to take up a regular dream-diary practice, and I’ve learned a lot about how to manage situations that may be weighing on my mind in my waking life. If you’ve found yourself among the growing population of people whose dreams have transformed lately, read on to find out from one dream work expert why dream journaling could facilitate your own self-discovery journey, and how you can get started.
Why is dream journaling helpful?
“Dreams are powerful gateways to hear our truth,” said Marci Moberg, D.C. based healer and intuitive coach. “So many people I’ve spoken to since the arrival of the pandemic have had vivid dreams. But they don’t know what to do with them or what they mean.”
We receive a number of signals and inputs throughout our day, whether they come from friends, family or society at large, but in our dreams we have space to look inward in a way that’s a bit more clear of that clutter. Or, as Dr. Roni Beth Tower explains from the viewpoint of neuropsychology: dreams serve the purpose of “consolidating information we have been exposed to and integrating emotional responses to that information.” In our dreams, we can take a step back and understand what our true intuition or inner response is saying about the circumstances of our life.
The challenge is that simply observing our dreams is only so helpful, as dreams are often just plain bizarre, featuring fantastical scenarios and less-than-obvious or seemingly random people, places and messages. In order to interpret what might be coming through, you have to reflect back on dreams within your waking life—which is what dream journaling is all about.
How to get started with dream journaling
When it comes to recording dreams, Moberg recommends that people write them down in the first-person present tense. “Doing so empowers people to recall details more easily,” she said. Moberg suggests that writing down dreams may make it easier for you to identify important long-term trends, but if you find writing too daunting to begin, recording an audio clip reciting your dream memory is a good place to start to establish a dream practice. Keep your journal by your bed so that if you awake in the middle of the night, you can write down a few key snippets.
A few prompts to guide your dream journaling practice are:
- What happens in the dream? Who is there, and what do you see or experience?
- How does the dream make you feel emotionally?
- Do you have any sense observations during the dream (vivid tastes, smells, colors)?
- How do you feel as a result of the dream now that you are awake? Do you feel like the dream is “lingering” with you in any way and how so?
When it comes to observing patterns or deeper self-discovery, consistency is key. “Dream work is not just about a dream in a single night. It's about medium, long and lifetime trends over the course of a dreamer's life and practice,” said Moberg.
How to interpret your dreams long-term
Dream researchers often caution against clinging too closely to dream dictionaries. Moberg similarly advises her clients—particularly those who are highly sensitive—to avoid them as they can make dream interpretation more difficult and confusing. “Dream dictionaries are based on the dreams of the writers’ themselves,” said Moberg. “But you aren’t them and your life material is different.”
However, there are a couple areas that Moberg offers as a framework for potentially interpreting the messages behind your dreams. One common theme: the appearance of an animal. Moberg suggests the consideration of an animal showing up in your dreams as a way of showing you a part of yourself that you might have left behind. “If an animal appears in your dreams, celebrate and get curious,” she said. “Explore whether an aspect of yourself is seeking integration, acknowledgement, practice or embodiment. Consider the strengths of this animal and how they could enrich your own life.”
Another common theme that Moberg recommends her clients look out for is the occurrence of embarrassing dreams. One example that Moberg describes is the common theme of dreaming about an ex-partner. Let’s say for instance that you have a dream with an ex that makes you feel exposed or put on the spot. Rather than focus on the people in the dream, journal instead on these questions: What was the emotion that I felt in my dream? And where in my waking life do I have that similar feeling?
Moberg stresses that no one should feel shameful about their dreams, and that everyone has dreams that feel embarrassing at certain points! It’s important to remember that often our dreams aren’t about the content or characters, but are an invitation to look deeper at the feeling that is provoked in the dream.
“Lean into those dreams,” said Moberg. “I have had some unusual, strange, embarrassing dreams that have been powerful portals for me to create massive change in my life.”