What keeps us from remembering our dreams?

When you have dreams, do you remember them when you wake up? Some people do in detail but most don’t.

Picasso, the famous abstract painter, kept a pen and paper on tis nightstand next to his bed and would often wake up in the night and record the images of his dreams which became the basis for his famous paintings.

Some people remember their dreams in great detail. Some remember recurring dreams in detail but not other dreams they have.  Some people have vivd dreams but remember them for just a few seconds after awakening and then its difficult for them to remember the dream. Why is this?

Apparently when we are sleeping, our brains at rest go through a roller coaster of mental states and sometimes its full of mental activity.  This can be seen during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) state of sleep.  

During the time of REM sleep our eyes move rapidly under our eyelids and even our breathing changes as well as our circulation, at which time our body enters a paralyzed state referred to as atonia. These times of REM sleep occur in 90-minute intervals (it’s also the time our brains repair our bodies) and researchers say that its during these intervals our brains tend to dream. They also recommend having at least 6 to 7 of these 90-minute intervals or at least a minimum of six to 7 and a half hours of sleep.

Steven Dowling of the BBC News writes that our brains receive an extra flow of blood during REM sleep: to the cortex which controls the content of our dreams and the limbic system which does the processing of our emotions. While we are enjoying REM sleep these two areas of the brain get fired up with furious electrical activity

In a recent article in Gizmodo by professor of psychology, Deidre Barrett, she says that if our dreams have structure it’s easier for us to remember them but if they’re nonsensical and jumbled up it makes it harder to remember.

What influence whether our dreams are structured and retained by our memory is a chemical called noradrenaline, which is really a hormone that readies the mind and body for action while we are awake but is at a lower level during sleep.

And especially during our REM sleep our noradrenaline hormone levels are at a naturally very low level in the brain says, Francesca Siclari, who is a sleep research doctor at the Lausanne University Hospital, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Harvard Medical School sleep researcher, Robert Stickgold, says that the reason we can’t remember our dreams is due to the increase of the noradrenaline hormone because we fall asleep too fast, or sleep too soundly, and then wake up with an alarm clock which causes a spike in our noradrenaline levels which thus makes it difficult for us to remember our dreams.