Recalling and recording my dreams has been a significant and constant part of my life since 2005. I had written down dreams for many years before then, but 2005 is when I found a site which allowed me to keep an organized digital journal of them... www.dreamjournal.net . With conscious practice and dedication, I have gotten to the point where I can generally remember parts of at least one dream every night. Sometimes, I remember up to five or six separate dreams in one nights sleep. I keep an Olympus voice recorder hanging on the wall next to my bed so that I can easily record anything I remember without having to move or even open my eyes. This practice increases recall and makes it easier to fall back asleep once the dream is recorded.
We spend about one third of our lives asleep. This is an essential part of life, as it gives the physical body time to rest and recuperate, and the mind time to establish electrical connections in the brain and store memories. It is a proven fact that lack of sleep decreases memory retention. This is because REM sleep, or the time during which we dream, is when memories and learned information is hard-wired into the brain. And when we sleep we sleep in stages and cycles: a deep Delta sleep stage where the brain is inactive, followed by an REM stage. After 90 minutes of this, we wake up (usually not to the point of complete conscious awareness), and fall back asleep, starting the cycle of stages over again. The longer that we are asleep, or the more cycles that we go through, the shorter the Delta stage is and the longer the REM stage is. This is why the longer we sleep, the better we remember things.
So why are dreams important? There are several reasons. I will begin with the simplest argument. As stated above, sleep takes up about a third of our lives, and dreams are the only memory of these 25 years that we have. Since the span of our life is limited, it stands to reason that we should experience as much as possible while alive, to get as much out of life as we can. The only way to get anything other than rest and memories out of sleep is to remember your dreams.
Dreams also give an insight to what we really think, and what we expect. Because the progression of dreams are based upon our expectations. Often times it is difficult to truly know how you feel about something while awake, as our rational mind and inhibition interferes with our decision making. This isn't the case while dreaming. Whenever the dreaming mind finds itself in a situation, whatever it expects to happen is what will happen. In other words, we are never wrong while dreaming. For example, lets imagine one dream scenario played out by two different people. The scenario is this: you find yourself along a dark street, and ahead of you is the figure of a person whose face you cannot distinguish. A worrisome and paranoid person will expect that the figure is someone who wants to hurt them, and thus the figure becomes a killer who begins to chase them. On the other hand, a social and carefree person might expect that the figure is someone they know, and thus the figure becomes a friend who greets them. So our dreams are guided by our expectations, and our expectations are formed by experiences in our waking life. Depending on what you have experienced in life, you will come to expect certain outcomes from specific scenarios. Back to the worrisome and paranoid person. Lets say they play out the same scenario described above, but while they are actually awake. They might jump to the same initial conclusion - that the figure ahead is someone who wants to hurt them. But because they are awake, their fears will not immediately materialize and they can test and debunk this conclusion to find that the figure is in fact any other person, with little or no interest in them.
Taking the above into consideration, a lot can be learned from our dreams. They give us a chance to see how we would react to various hypothetical situations. They also make blatantly obvious our fears, hopes, and desires. With this knowledge, one can use their dreams to better their waking life. From personal experience, I can say that on several occasions a dream has inspired me to make a fundamental change in my lifestyle, yielding a positive result. Whether it be forgiving someone I had differences with, or stopping a bad habit that might eventually harm me, I have gained a significant amount by remembering and analyzing my dreams.
This, however, is only half of the story of dreams. While our dreams progress via our expectations, the scenarios and content of our dreams are often directly related to input recently received in our waking life. Whether it be something we heard, saw on television, thought about, discussed, or read, it can and does materialize in our dream in the strangest of fashions. In 90% of the dreams that I recall, I can directly relate some aspect of it to something experienced in my recent waking life. Perhaps this is because my mind is converting these experiences into memories, and the by-product is a dream cameo appearance. This is one of my favorite aspects of dreams, because I never know what crazy or random conglomeration of ideas will become reality while asleep. It is like watching a movie every night, with an unpredictable plot and storyline based on our experiences, memories, and expectations. What better entertainment could you ask for?
Dreams are often times symbolic, too. I will give an example of a dream told to me by a friend. She dreamed that she was being held down and operated on by a group of elves. They had to cut her open in order to remove something from her. She didn't want this operation to take place, but her family was there telling her that she needed it and preventing her from escaping. The elves part of the dream is quite random. Perhaps it was linked to a recent input in her life. The dream itself is quite symbolic, however. She had recently started college and was still living at home with her parents. She wasn't happy living there and needed to get out. This was symbolized by her family holding her back and forcing her to remain with the elves. A couple months after the dream, she moved out on her own and hasn't recalled any similar dreams since.
Recalling my dreams has taught me a lot about myself, and has given me a sense of pride and accomplishment. Perhaps the best part of it is that I know that I have much of my life ahead of me, and plenty of time to dream more wild and crazy dreams. I sincerely believe that this is an interest that will stay with me for the rest of my life.