Dreams are as old as the human species.
Whether you remember your dreams or not (my partner swears he doesn’t dream), the stories dancing in our minds at night have been valued and interpreted for centuries. Even before modern science and sleep studies, people valued dreams. Some believed they were prophecies from God, others interpreted dreams as bad omens from demonic forces.
While Freud and Jung are often touted as the Western fathers of dream studies (called oneirology in the science world), humans have been fascinated by the imaginations that plague our sleep since the beginning of human history. In fact, writing down and interpreting dreams isn’t a new practice at all. People have been recording, analyzing, and attempting to decipher dreams for centuries, as is seen in evidence of cave drawings and early literature. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, is a poem from ancient Mesopotamia that was written around 2100–1400 BCE. Not only is it thought to be the earliest surviving story, but it’s also regarded as one of the first recorded dream interpretations.
Why Keep a Dream Log?
If you’re like me, you dream a lot. From as young as I can remember, I’ve been waking in the morning with vivid scenes reeling in my head. Sometimes the dreams are dark and disturbing, other times they are full of light and joy and curious happenings. There are the falling dreams, the dreams where I forget to put on clothes, and the nightmares where I am trying to run from danger but my feet won’t move. I also have reoccurring dreams, ones that almost feel like a tv series or suspense novel. I wake, frustrated, and wish I could force myself back to sleep to find out what happens next.
Because I dream so often, recording my dreams in a journal makes sense. Even if nothing comes from writing down the scenes and characters, I have a record of what is happening in my mind while I sleep. I can use this log for analysis and interpretation, or I can just find pleasure in having a notebook full of quirky and seemingly senseless dreams. Either way, it’s at my disposal when I need it.
The Benefits of a Dream Log
I recently wrote about the benefits of keeping a sleep log (empowerment, intentionality, self-awareness), and my reasons for keeping a dream log are not so different.
Improving Sleep Quality
For starters, logging my dreams in conjunction with my sleep patterns just makes sense. If I am trying to improve the quality of my rest, taking notice of my dreams and mental state upon waking is as important as observing my physical state. Some experts also believe your final thoughts before bed can influence your dreams. This is especially true when consuming media. One recent study found that watching violent or sexual media before sleep caused users to dream about the material. What we watch before bed can positively or negatively impact our dreams and sleep quality. By logging our dreams, we become more aware of our habits negatively affecting our rest.
Empowerment Through Awareness
Writing down our dreams can be as empowering as logging our sleep. Self-awareness is the most empowering tool we carry. The more we learn and understand our souls, our minds, and our bodies, the more empowered and autonomous we become. Keeping a dream log is just one more way we can get to know ourselves and better understand our unique wiring.
Listening to Our Bodies + Checking in With Our Mental Wellbeing
Dream journals are also beneficial for observing our mental health, and possibly even our physical wellbeing. Did you know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dreams are believed to indicate the condition of organs in your body? While physicians and scientists argue about the validity of this, it is an intriguing idea. Our bodies are connected in more ways than one, so to imagine our dreams as indicators of things happening elsewhere in our bodies is fascinating.
A more widely accepted idea is that dreams can teach us about our mental wellbeing. Through recording our dreams we can more easily notice heavy burdens and toxic relationships we’re holding onto. Think of keeping a dream journal as a way to get to know parts of yourself you’ve yet to meet. A dream log is a chance to engage with your subconscious—or rather, a chance for your psyche to speak to you, and to bring more awareness to your wellbeing.
Dream Logs as Creative Banks
A final push for recording your dreams—dream logs can also be our creative banks. For artists, writers, and creators of any kind, old dreams can be wonderful for inspiration, introspection, and creative juice. This is especially true of the more whimsical and curious dreams that seem to belong to another world. Use that content to create something!
Practical Tips for Keeping a Dream Journal
Like the sleep journal, your dream log should be tailored to you. You can use an old notebook or start fresh with one of our favorite blank notebooks for freewriting. You may even want to record your dreams in your sleep log rather than keeping a separate journal.
Really the most important tip for keeping a dream journal is consistency, as well as writing your dreams down first thing in the morning. Write down as many details as you can remember, even if they don’t make sense. In his article published on Psychology Today, Dr. Kelly Bulkeley explains that it’s ‘these seemingly worthless details that often become highly significant in later explorations.’
// Further Reading //
I’m not a sleep expert or an interpreter of dreams, but I do value the power of mindful observation, and I believe our dreams have much to teach us. We can brush them aside as commonplace, or we can embrace them as magical gifts for further self-exploration and discovery.
For further reading from experts on the topic, here are five books on dream interpretation and analysis:
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
The Dream Handbook by Jane Teresa Anderson
Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth by Robert A. Johnson
Why We Dream by Alice Robb
The Tibetan Yogas Of Dream And Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.