Dreams have long been a source of scientific intrigue. Most humans can dream, but it is not as common that we remember them when we awake. It is estimated that an average dream lasts between 5 and 20 minutes, and we can have as many as 6 per night.
There are hundreds of theories as to why we dream. Many people believe that they are a reflection of our subconscious, revealing our unconscious wishes for our waking life. They are most commonly experienced during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. This phase constitutes between 20 and 25% of your total sleeping time.
We have all had a dream so interesting and engaging that waking up feels like a chore. You may try to close your eyes and drift back into the dream, but this is not always possible. There is a way to do it, but it is not foolproof and requires some effort on your part.
What is the scientific purpose of dreaming?
Scientists have done extensive research into dreams to try and figure out why they exist and what they mean. So far the evidence suggests a multitude of factors.
When we sleep, the brain undergoes a process known as offline memory reprocessing. This is where our waking experiences are recorded and consolidated into our long-term memory. This has been shown to help us develop cognitive skills.
It is believed that dreams incorporate elements of the present, the way you comprehend the past, and how you see the future. They show a psychoanalytic and reflective perspective on your mental functionality.
There are theories that dreams are a simulation of real life. We use our dreams to plan out and prepare for possible threats and scenarios later in waking life. This has been proven as during dreams, the same part of the brain is activated as when we daydream. This area is known as the waking default network.
Method 1 - Go straight back to sleep
If you are lucky enough to wake up before your alarm and have time to spare, stay still. Don’t move and alert your body to the fact that you have woken up, as this reduces your chances of continuing your dream. The more awake you become, the less chance you have of dreaming again.
If you open your eyes, the stimuli you experience will overwhelm your senses and pull you out of the dreamlike state. Keep them closed and try to stay relaxed in your bed. The light will activate your brain and wake you up, so try to avoid this.
Take slow, deep breaths in an even pattern. When you sleep your breathing naturally falls into slower and deeper patterns. The better you can recreate this, the higher the chance of falling back into a dream.
If you struggle to fall asleep, try a breathing technique such as 4-7-8. To do this, you will breathe in deeply for a count of 4. You then hold this breath for a count of 7, before exhaling completely for a count of 8. This will allow a lot of oxygen to enter your brain and will relax your body. It also allows your body to become more receptive to melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Try to recall as many details as you can about the dream you’re trying to continue. Focusing on these helps your brain to replicate the thoughts and feelings of your old dream, making it more likely you will continue the same one. Try to think about the emotions that you felt during the dream, as this is believed to be the most influential factor.
Method 2 - Dream journaling
A dream journal is essentially a written record of the parts of the dream that you remember. If you have woken up and do not think you will be able to fall back asleep, this is a great method to use. Think carefully about the dream that you wish to continue. Take note of the most important factors, and pay close attention to how you were involved in the action.
What were you doing? How were you feeling? Who was nearby? Why? When? Try to remember as many details as possible. As time passes, your memory will continue to decline in quality. This is because the short-term memory area of the brain is essentially inactive during dream phases, meaning that they are rarely stored for later recollection.
Try to write as many details as possible, in some semblance of chronology. Don’t focus too much on accuracy and proper formatting, just get the content out as fast as you can. If you are artistically inclined, use some sketches to complement your written account.
Method 3 - Sleep meditation
This is a technique that can be useful to use before you go to sleep. If you are trying to revisit an old dream, this is your best bet. Try to get into a meditative state, where you are completely relaxed. Your eyes should be closed, your breathing regular, and your mind clear.
Do not have any distractions in your room, such as light and sound. If you have kept a dream journal, read through the entry for the dream you are trying to continue. Repeat important details from it in your head as you settle.
Try to replicate the dream inside your head. Focus on the details, trying to zero in on your senses and how they responded to the actions of the dream. Try to return yourself to the same emotional state as when you were originally dreaming.
This is the easiest way to try and get back into an old dream. As we have mentioned, the emotional component is believed to be the most important factor. If you cannot remember too many details about the dream, focus on the emotions that it made you feel. This will send you back into a dream that will be similar to the original, and if you are lucky, may even allow you to slip back into the original.