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May 21, 2024/Living Healthy/Sleep

Should You Be Keeping a Dream Journal?

Recording your dreams may help you become more mindful, understand your thought patterns, process your emotions and even reduce your stress

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Maybe you’re running down the hallway, but it seems to just keep getting longer, leaving you with a sense of dread and anxiety when you wake up. Or you’ve got about a minute left before class starts, but suddenly, the floor falls from under you. As you’re falling, you jolt awake thinking, “Wait, I graduated years ago.” Or maybe, you’re walking with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, laughing and smiling, flooding your morning with happy feelings when you open your eyes.


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Our dreams can often be so vivid that they feel real — so much so that they can leave us startled, elated or even in a cold sweat. In fact, it’s common for nightmares or especially vivid dreams to impact us emotionally, even after we wake.

You may have wondered if your dreams can tell you anything about your emotional state or subconscious mind, and if it’s worthwhile starting a dream journal to keep track of them.

There are indeed benefits to chronicling your dreams — and anyone can do it. Sleep psychologist Alaina Tiani, PhD, explains ways in which you can keep a dream journal and the potential benefits of doing so.

What is a dream journal?

In short, a dream journal is a way to chronicle and recall your dreams after you’ve woken up. Your first thought may be a diary or a notebook, which is the most common format.

But as Dr. Tiani explains, “A journal doesn't necessarily have to be pen and paper. A journal could be sketches or drawings of themes, symbols or scenes from our dreams. It could also be an audio recording of you talking through what you remember from the dream experience. The most useful medium is the one that will encourage you to journal regularly and allow you to easily review previous entries.”

Benefits of keeping a dream journal

Dreams can influence numerous aspects of our waking life. They may support your creativity and imagination, trigger recall of certain memories or reveal information about your emotional well-being.

Keeping a dream journal may help you:

Notice patterns and connections

If you’re noticing that certain images, memories or even feelings are repeating, it may help with self-reflection. Similarly, noticing if your dreams are extra vivid or more unpleasant can provide insight into your emotional state (and sometimes, physical state as well).


For example, some people report experiencing especially vivid or intense dreams when they’re running a fever. In other cases, you may experience a dream where you get up to go to the bathroom, signaling that possibly, nature is calling.

Reviewing your dream entries may reveal recurring themes, symbols or situations. Recognizing patterns in your dreams can provide valuable information about your subconscious mind.

Process emotions

You’ve probably had times when the stress of a work deadline creeps into your dreams or the memory of a great vacation is replayed one night.

This is because our emotional states while awake and while we’re asleep can often overlap. A 2018 study found that our emotional state while we’re awake is greatly linked to our dreams. For example, the results show that participants who experienced frustration during waking hours also reported more negative emotions while dreaming.

Dreams can also provide insight into emotions that you may not be mindful of during the day. As Dr. Tiani explains, “Dreams may help you recognize and even process some emotions that you may not be fully aware of or in tune with in your waking life.”

Reduce stress

When it comes to stressful emotions that may be haunting your dreams, it’s helpful to write them down as a form of catharsis.

It allows you to express and process emotions you’re experiencing in your dreams that may be causing stress or anxiety in your life.

Dreams may often tap into deep-seated emotions like anger, stress, anxiety or sadness. Recording your dreams allows you to process and release these emotions in a safe and controlled way.


Assist in therapy

If you’re currently involved in psychotherapy, it can sometimes be hard to know what to talk about or what your emotions are telling you. Keeping a dream journal (or any journal in general) might help you make sense of things and draw connections between thoughts, feelings and experiences, which you could discuss during therapy sessions.

“If you’re working with a therapist or mental health provider and are noticing recurring themes in your dreams, you may decide to share these experiences with your provider and explore these themes with their guidance,” says Dr. Tiani.

Improve mindfulness

Most of us lead busy lives, so it can be hard to find a moment to meditate or simply be mindful. Keeping a dream journal can be a small way for you to be more mindful of your inner experiences and can serve as a practice of slowing down. Jotting down reflections of your dreams can help foster a sense of presence and awareness in both your dream and waking life.

May help with nightmares

Bad dreams are something we all have from time to time. But if you’re regularly experiencing recurrent, distressing nightmares, it may be a sign of a nightmare disorder. Recurring and vivid nightmares can also be a sign of medication side effects or a symptom of another mental health concern, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Keeping track of the frequency and intensity of bad dreams might be the first step toward managing them. According to Dr. Tiani, “For those who do experience nightmare disorders, image rehearsal therapy (IRT) is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy that can help to reduce nightmare frequency and severity. Part of this therapy involves keeping a version of a dream journal.”

How to start a dream journal

Keeping a dream journal is quite simple — you can start as soon as tomorrow morning if you’d like! The main process involves archiving any thoughts, emotions or details you remembered from the night before.

“It’s helpful to think about what pieces of the dream experience are most significant or resonate the most with you, such as the people, places, sounds, sights and feelings generated in the dream,” notes Dr. Tiani.

Here are some ways to start a dream journaling routine:

  • Experiment with different mediums. As Dr. Tiani points out, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to start dream journaling. If you’re unsure what works best, try a couple of different formats — sketching out your dreams, jotting them down in a notebook, typing them out or recording a voice note on your phone.
  • Set a reminder each morning. To get the most out of your dream journaling, it’s good to stay consistent. That way, when you look back on your entries, you can start to explore patterns and connections from night to night. You can even make dream journaling part of your morning routine as a way to ground the rest of your day.
  • Write out a description of the dream you had. This can be as brief or in-depth as you prefer to make it. If you only remember a couple fragments, jot it down anyway. Don’t worry too much about each entry being a perfect or complete description. Instead, just try to grasp any details that stand out to you.
  • Reflect on emotions that come with the dreams. You should also record how you felt during the dream. Did you feel scared? Happy? Sad? Even if the dream didn’t feel completely clear, you can still record any emotions you felt upon waking up.


This exercise can inform how your dreams are affecting you and what your subconscious mind might be thinking. “You may try to make connections between the feelings you’re having in the dreams and what that may say about some of the emotions you're experiencing during the daytime,” Dr. Tiani adds.

Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. “There’s not a right or wrong way to interpret dreams,” says Dr. Tiani. “They are highly subjective and personal experiences.”

Dream journaling isn’t meant to give you an exact answer as to why you dream what you dream. Be sure to interpret your dreams in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

Should you start a dream journal?

Everyone may have slightly different reasons for starting a dream journal.

“There are many ways you can utilize a dream journal,” says Dr. Tiani. “It just depends on your intentions and what you’re seeking to get out of it.”

Whether you’re just curious about what your dreams are telling you or are looking to find certain patterns, archiving your dreams can be a helpful practice. If your dream journaling process starts to indicate signs of stress or serious nightmares, talk to a mental health provider.


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