Developing dream recall is the first step towards having lucid dreams. After all, what is the use of having a great lucid dream if you don't remember it after you wake up? It's very likely that you've already had lucid dreams in the past but didn't remember them. Other than that, learning to lucid dream often requires you to know your dreams well enough to find any differences between your dreams and your waking life. For example, if you dream about a certain person, place or thing that you never see in your waking life, you can use that as a cue to aid you in becoming lucid. This is called a dream-sign or dream-cue, which is covered in more detail in the next section.
Getting enough sleep at night is essential to improving your ability to recall your dreams. As long as you’re well rested you’ll find it easier to focus your intent on recalling your dreams and your ambition won’t be clouded by fatigue. It's beneficial to sleep when feeling mildly tired at night and not when on the verge of crashing out of exhaustion. Also, if you’re able to get plenty of sleep during the night it'll be easier to wake up repeatedly to record your dreams, which is exactly what you’ll have to do. Finally, as discussed in the section on stages of sleep, the REM periods get longer during the latter hours of sleep; thus sleeping for longer periods will give you more of an opportunity to waken from your dreams and remember them, and will also give you more information to record.
A dependable dream recall will help in many ways, so it’s important that you don’t develop it in a half-hearted manner. Simply waking up in the morning and trying to recall the dreams you had throughout the course of the night is not enough. During the night you will have many different dreams—at least one per REM period of sleep. The brain tends to erase memories of the previous dream during the intermediate stages between REM sleep. Thus, to salvage the memories of your dreams you’ll need to wake during or immediately after the REM periods, while the dreams are still fresh in your mind. To become proficient with dream recall you’ll need to be able to recall a few dreams per night. Losing a night here and there to stress or anxiety is understandable, but be careful not to fall into a rut. Waking during or shortly after REM periods is tricky, but there are a couple methods to aid in this. The first method simply involves attempting to time your awakening via an alarm clock so that you’ll wake up during a REM period. As discussed in the section on stages of sleep, the REM periods occur roughly every 90 minutes. Aiming for the latter REM periods (about 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours into sleep) is best because those are the longest dream periods. The second method is similar but not as easy to regulate: drink a lot of water before going to bed.
To be able to eventually control your dreams you’re going to have to focus your intent on doing so. Therefore a better method of recalling your dreams is to focus your intent on remembering them before falling asleep, since this will prepare you for eventually attempting to control your dreams. You must be determined in your resolve and you should attempt to prevent extraneous thoughts from attenuating your intent. Verbally stating your desire to remember your dreams while falling asleep is the best way to accomplish this. It may sound silly but all you really need to do is talk yourself into remembering your dreams. Our minds are powerful instruments and even though it may seem that we lose control of them when we enter sleep, that's not entirely the case. Focus your intent to wake from your dreams and remember them just before you lie down, and continue to repeat your intent to yourself as you approach sleep. Repeat to yourself over and over, “I will wake from my dreams and completely remember them.” If you find your thoughts wandering as you slip into sleep, reaffirm your intent. You want your last thought before drifting off to sleep to be of your intent to awaken from your dreams and remember them.
Keeping a Dream Journal
When you wake up, try to make it a habit to think back on your dreams. If you wake up and immediately start thinking about the day ahead, the memories of your dreams will often be gone forever by the time you think to try remembering them. For most lucid dreamers, keeping a dream journal is the best and easiest way to help recall.
No matter how clear your dreams may seem upon waking during the night, you’ll have almost completely forgotten the previous ones when you again wake in the morning. A dream journal is the most common way of recording one's dreams. A dream journal is simply a writing pad that should be kept within reach of your bed (although other methods exist, such as using a tape recorder or personal computer). Upon waking, don’t allow your mind to drift—immediately attempt to focus on what you had just been dreaming, and write it down in the journal. Contemplate what you just experienced and attempt to put events in order. Often reliving the dream backwards will help: after remembering an event, ask yourself, “What was I doing before that?” Although it’s best to record as much as you can, realistically you may not want to reiterate the epic novel that is your dream at 4:00 a.m.; instead write down key points, such as what you were doing, where you were, and who was around you. Also, note anything strange—anything that wouldn’t normally happen in the waking world. If you find these strange events recur in your dreams, then they are your personal dream signs—you may be able to use these to help you induce lucid dreaming eventually. From here you should read the section on dream signs.
If you’re interested in sharing your dream journal with others, or reading the dream journals of others, then visit the Dream Journal forum on our message board. You may find the Dream Signs and Recall forums helpful as well.