August 25, 2022 - Category: General

The surprising reason why you cannot recall your dreams, and others can (or the other way round…)

talk dreams michael olsen

“Sometimes it’s important to wake up and stop dreaming” …famous words by Google-founder Larry Page at a Michigan University commencement address, stressing the importance of actually utilizing the immense resource that your nocturnal dreams are.

He was referring to the importance of documenting your dreams, in order not to lose the fantastic insights and highly creative ideas brought to you by them, free of charge. In his case, the underlying technology behind Google, not an insignificant idea.

“BUT – what if I cannot recall my dreams (at all), or what if I recall them very rarely??!”

Todays newsletter is going to dig into the topic of why some are good at recalling their dreams, and others aren’t. The reason for this I am quite sure is going to surprise you, and then again, when you hear it, it is in fact quite obvious. And knowing this reason is an important element of you becoming better at recalling your dreams.

Now let me begin somewhere else, namely by stressing this one thing; you do dream every night. In fact you dream about 2 hours every night, and you have somewhere between 3-8 dreams per night.*

That is of course, if you sleep 7-9 hours per night, which for most of us is what we need in order to thrive, and get most out of our waking hours (if you struggle with getting enough quality sleep, please see the end of this newsletter).

This means that it is as such wrong to say things like “I never dream”, or “I haven’t dreamt anything last night”. It is more correct to say that you can never recall your dreams, or that you can’t recall any dreams from last night.

So why it is then that some are good at recalling their dreams and others aren’t?

Imagine this situation.

Sophie is 5 years old, and she has just woken up from a terrifying nightmare. A nightmare of falling into a deep deep hole, and then just falling, falling, falling… Until she wakes up startled, her heart beating fast, short of breath… and scared to death of what just happened!

Now know this; when in a dream, what we experience is real, i.e., it is experienced as beeing real, and unless we have a lucid dream – a dream in which we are awake in the dream, and consciously know that it is a dream – it is in fact as real as experiencing it in real life (more about lucid dreaming and how you can train yourself to wake up in your dream in later newsletters).

Adding to the example that Sophie is just 5 years old and most likely cannot yet distinguish between dreams and reality, she did in fact just fall into a deep deep hole…

Sophie runs into her parents bedroom, and wakes them up, literally crying for help. Now her parents can respond in different ways. They can say:

“What a crazy dream Sophie! Luckily it was just a dream. Please lie down here with us and get back to sleep (and then we don’t talk more about it…).”

Or they can say, “Wow, what a terrifying dream Sophie! Tell me more! What happened – did you die? Were you rescued, or what else happened in the dream!?”

And if you are like me, you would not be too fund of bringing yourself up to higher levels of excitement in the middle of the night (jeopardizing your own sleep), so instead of having this dialogue at 2 a.m., you could say

“What a terrifying dream Sophie! Luckily it was just a dream. Please lie down here with us, and get back to sleep. Then let’s talk about the dream in the morning when we wake up” (and then make sure that you actually talk about the dream in the morning).

Dream socialization research is the part of dream research that looks into the significance of how our parents responded to us when we as kids told them about a dream we’d had, for our ability as adults to recall our dreams.

At this point it might not come as a surprise to you that if parents choose one of the two last options just described, in other words, acknowledging the fact that we dream what we do for a reason, and that it is in fact highly valuable to talk about our dreams, we grow up with a deep understanding that our dreams carry significance, and, surprise surprise, we are much better at recalling our dreams as adults.**

And just to add to it; the same dream socialization research has found that mothers, more than fathers, tend to talk about dreams with their kids, especially with their daughters (luckily, this is slowly changing, and in my home, guess who’s most active when it comes to talking about dreams with our kids?!?! Well, it’s not the mum, although she is quite good at it too).

And this gender bias probably explains this surprisingly (?) small difference, discovered in one of my own studies, published in the American scientific journal”Dreaming” (published by The International Association for the Study of Dreams).

Women on average recall 3.2 dreams per week. Men on average 2.8 dreams per week.***

Now the good news is this. It is quite easy to once again start recalling your dreams, and it all starts by developing a sincere interest in them. By cultivating a deep-felt curiosity with regards to “what might be hiding in my dreams? And what might I gain from tuning in on them?” (a bulletproof way of cultivating that curiosity is by making sure you continue reading my newsletters :-)).

But, let me get you started with this simple exercise; say to yourself several times during the day, and of course, also as you fall asleep: “I really want to recall my dreams when waking up, I really want to recall my dreams when waking up”. The more deepfelt, the higher the likelihood of recalling your dreams. And in this case, you can actually fake it until you make it.

I can’t wait to write my next newsletter to you. This will be all about some of the very best and very practical ways of recalling your dreams. Of once again having access to the power of your sleeping intelligence.

Until then, happy dreaming!


P.s. Strugling with getting enough quality sleep? Despite following standard sleep advice, I myself struggled with bad sleep for many years, right until I discovered the underlying reason why. This led me to last year host a webinar entitled “The Art of Sleeping Well – The most proven methods, and what truly makes the difference” – you can access the recording of the webinar here.

P.p.s. Want to hear Larry Page talk about his dream that later led him to launch Google? Watch his commencement address here (go to 5 min 55 sec. if you don’t want to hear the full speach)