Why do we forget our dreams so soon after waking up?

Off to never never land...Who isn’t familiar with those mornings where you wake up in the middle of a dream and – in the few seconds it takes you to realise it wasn’t real – the memory suddenly evaporates? Sometimes it sticks around long enough for you to share some of your socially acceptable lunacy with a wider audience; but even these more persistent dream memories fade eventually.

Truth be told, we don’t know yet why dream memories are so easily lost. (In fact, sleep researchers are still racking their brains over the true purpose of dreaming full stop). However, it seems that whatever our brains are doing in this curious state, memory isn’t its top priority. In fact, the dreaming brain seems to be physiologically hostile to forming new memories; the brain’s chemical balance is radically different from when we’re awake. On top of this, we know that certain areas of the brain stop communicating altogether when we’re dreaming. After waking up, our brain recovers gradually, but likely not fast enough to remember that last snippet of dream quite so long.

There seems to be some hope though for dream enthusiasts. The internet is full of reports (by bloggers primarily) identifying vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) as the key to better dream recall. However, only one lonesome piece of research backs this scientifically. Vitamin B6 is high in potatoes, bananas, marmite and animal products, including cheese. (So maybe the urban myth that eating cheese before bed gives you nightmares isn’t so crazy after all). Because dreams tend to be negative, it may be a good thing that we don’t remember many. But in case you plan on self-experimenting, a quick safety hint: do not consume more than 100mg per day – it can cause nerve problems leading to weakness, numbness and pain of your limbs.

We need vitamin B6 to produce serotonin (the chemical linked to happiness) and noradrenaline (a fight or flight hormone). Curiously, levels of both these chemicals are particularly low during vivid dreaming. So taking vitamin B6 to boost these low levels and thus improve dream memory would make sense, if it worked.

In conclusion: we don’t really know why we even remember dreams  (let alone or why we dream), so figuring out how to improve dream memory is tricky. Cheesy chips could help though.


Answer by Isabel Hutchison

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Article by Isabel Hutchison

October 8, 2014

Isabel is currently working on a Ph.D. in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Sleep (which, ironically, involves not getting very much sleep at all). Besides doing science and writing about it (check out her sleep science blog here), Isabel loves music, dancing , travelling and art.

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