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Writing

How to Keep a Dream Journal: 3 Benefits of Dream Journaling

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

The mysteries unspooling in your own head while dreaming can be better than an action movie (or so mundane that they’d put you to sleep if you weren’t already, you know, asleep). There is a multitude of lives waiting to be lived, just beyond the veil of sleep.

Many artists have found inspiration in the strange and magical qualities of their dreams, and lucid dreamers hone their skills by practicing dream recall—which is precisely where dream journaling comes in.

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What Is Dream Journaling?

Dream journaling is the practice of recording fragments of your dreams each morning while they are still relatively fresh in your mind. Good dreams can be just as informative as bad dreams; both can be useful instruments for unlocking the creativity that goes unnoticed during your waking life.

Some dream journalers sketch what they see, while others prefer to free-write. (You can even purchase journals specifically formatted for dream recording, with prompts and grids that make it easy to analyze its contents at-a-glance.) If you find that your scribbled notes are unintelligible the next day, or trying to capture details in writing only makes them disappear faster, keep a voice recorder by your bed, and try dictating your dream journal instead.

3 Ways Dream Journaling Can Benefit You

  1. Reveals dream patterns. Dream journaling over an extended period of time can reveal patterns, through recurrent dreams or the repeated appearance of important details in your waking life, and the more familiar your mind becomes with these patterns, the more awareness it might begin to have in wielding them while asleep. Some repeated imagery, or dream symbols, can even be analyzed using a dream dictionary.
  2. Breaks creative blocks. Dream journaling can also be a way to break a creative block. Dream researchers believe that the subconscious mind creates scenarios to solve particular problems or explore the curiosities of a day’s events, bringing all those things you may have seen or heard without much thought into the light. For other tips on combating writer’s block, read our guide here.
  3. Helps practice lucid dreaming. One compelling reason for keeping a dream journal is to develop a knack for lucid dreaming, which allows a dreamer to navigate dreams in a conscious state. They are able to observe the setting and world of their dream as if they were awake, and can then control some aspects of how the story unfolds. Some lucid dreamers believe that they are better able to synthesize events of real-life into creative expression, the fruits of which are recorded the next day in a dream journal, or dream diary.
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How to Keep a Dream Journal

Dream analysis is more of an art than a science, but there are numerous creative benefits.

  • Do it first thing. The key to recording dreams is speed and immediacy. The feeling of a dream’s logic slipping away the moment you try to explain it to someone else is a familiar one: Keep your dream journal and a pen close at hand. That way, you can jot down everything you remember when you first wake up—whether that's in the middle of the night or the next day.
  • Write in the present tense. Describing your dream world in the present tense, as if it is happening again in real-time, may help you resurrect details and follow the action more clearly.
  • Try to capture emotions, not just plot points. Get in the habit of noting how your dream self felt in any given situation. Were you apprehensive inside of this dream? Was it in a familiar setting? Was there an aspect about that dream that was thrilling, or did it terrify you?
  • Track your sleep cycles. You are dreaming most deeply during your REM cycle (or rapid-eye-movement cycle), for about two hours at a time. Understanding how long it takes you to cycle through the different stages of your sleep patterns may allow you to record dreams immediately post-REM, when your brain has returned to a semi-alert state.

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