The Early Morning Habit That Will Help You Figure Out What Your Dreams Are Trying to Tell You

published Feb 6, 2021
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Flying. Falling off a cliff. Running away from your ex who’s dressed like a pirate. Reliving the literal nightmare of flirting with your middle school crush, except you have no teeth. Dreams are, without a doubt, bizarre, to say the least. While you most likely brush them off, maybe text your best friend about, and then go on with your day, let me leave you with this thought: What if you could use your dreams as a way to understand yourself on a deeper level and live your higher purpose?

Behold the power of dream journaling. 

As someone who’s been fascinated by dreams for as long as I can remember, dream journaling has been key to accessing my intuition. By drawing patterns between my dreams and waking life, I’m better able to understand my emotions, anxiety triggers, as well as make more aligned decisions.

Given you spend a third of your life asleep, it makes sense there’s important information stored in your subconscious. There’s no right or wrong way to track your dreams, but there are a few things you can do to connect with the depth of them. Let’s dive into it.

Credit: Lula Poggi

Why start a dream journal?

No pun intended, but many people are “asleep” to their deeper emotional world. Dreams are a goldmine of knowledge, thoughts, and feelings that live underneath the surface, even and sometimes especially when it comes to things you swore you were “over.”

The question of why people dream has interested scientists and psychologists for centuries. Its exact purpose isn’t 100 percent known, but research has shown dreaming plays a role in emotional processing during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During this stage of deep sleep, there are high activation levels in your limbic or “emotional” brain, hence connecting with deeper feelings. Dreams are also said to enhance memory processing, creativity, and even predict future events.

“When we are dreaming, we are thinking on a much more insightful level than when we’re awake,” says certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg. “We’re actually problem-solving, it’s just in a different language. The subconscious mind, through dreams, is alerting us to problems it wants fixed or giving inspiration for goals it wants to reach.” 

So if dreams are a window into your subconscious with clues you can use to enhance your everyday life, keeping a dream journal can be a great place to make sense of it.

Credit: Lana Kenney

How do I keep a dream journal? 

Let’s get the elephant out of the room because I know you’re thinking it: What if I don’t remember my dreams every night? Making a habit of tracking your dreams can actually lead to better recall. However, if you don’t remember your dream one night, don’t sweat it. Forcing words may lead to fabrication, which defeats the entire purpose. Here are some things to keep in mind. 

Write down the events of your day before going to sleep. 

Given dreams are a continuation of our thoughts from the day, Loewenberg suggests keeping a dream journal alongside a day journal.

Before going to sleep, write the events of your day on the left side of your page, either in bullet points or sentences. Some things you may want to jot down include what you did, what you thought about, what you struggled with, conversations you had, and a general emotion you felt.

Record your dreams right when you wake up.

Your recollection fades throughout the day as your brain focuses on other things, so for the most effective dream journaling, it helps to take a moment to yourself in the morning when your dreams are still fresh. You can even add this into your morning routine.

When you’re ready, write your dreams on the right side of your journal page. Loewenberg suggests using this side-by-side method to draw easy comparisons from the events of the day to what happened in your dream. 

Look for crossovers between your day journal and dream journal. 

Now that you have notes from your day and your dream, it’s time for the fun part: Figuring out what the heck they mean.

Say, for example, you have a dream about a snake that’s trying to attack you. You can look at your day journal and notice that whenever you dreamt of snakes, there was a stressful situation at work with your boss. You can also look at how you felt in the dream. Were you anxious? Afraid? Perhaps oddly calm? This could further tell you that you’re going through the motions of your job but it isn’t fulfilling a deeper purpose. The snake could be a powerful wake-up call to your intuition to confront the situation and take action. 

What symbols should I look out for? 

Since dreams are so personal, symbols aren’t always one-size-fits-all. The snake in the dream above may represent toxicity to one person, but for another, it’s a symbol of power and inner healing. This is why paying attention to context and emotional state within your dreams is so telling. 

Using a dream dictionary can be a good place to start looking into the meaning of your dreams. I often use it as inspiration to get my analytical gears turning so I can then draw my own conclusions. It’s important not to take what you see *too* literally, as dreams vary so much from person to person. 

According to Loewnberg, there are a few common symbols that regularly appear in dreams. If you often dream of falling, that can indicate feeling let down by someone or something. Dreaming of being naked in public can mean you’re worried about how others perceive you. Being chased can mean you’re avoiding a confrontation and responsibility, and death in your dream can be indicative of change or a cycle ending. 

But your dream symbols don’t have to be momentous or nightmare-inducing to mean something. “Even the dreams that feel trivial are an important piece of the puzzle that when put together, is a complete message, Loewenberg says. Think of them as “a message from you, to you, about you, designed to improve you.”

So, next time you dream of parachuting across town with Pete Davidson (what, just me?), use that dream — and your newfound journal habit — as an invitation to connect with yourself. You might just discover a deeper truth you’ve been searching for.