To dream, or never dream again. The risk of stunted dream development, cognitive atrophy and decline in the dreaming mind.

Ian Wilson (2021)

Every human produces 4-6 dreams each night during REM cycles[1]. That doesn’t mean everyone recalls their dreams.[2] People who have more dream recall than people who don’t show more neural-pathway development and density in the medial Prefrontal Cortext (MPC)[3]. Brain injury studies on the medial prefrontal cortex is also associated with loss of dream recall[4] as well as injury to the Parieto-Occipito-Temporal junction (PTO)[5]. Dream loss due to injury is known as Charcot–Wilbrand syndrome (CWS)[6] which is known to only affect a rare number of people.

Other neural-degenerative disorders such as degenerative dementia and Alzheimer’s disease[7] can also impede dreaming and behaviors in REM can be early markers for some these disorders.[8]. Depression is also linked to reduction in dream recall[9] as well as several medicines and drugs.[10]

If the above can be ruled out, the most common reduction in dream recall frequency stems from age with a 50% drop[11] in adults after the brain develops[12] with a rapid decline towards the age of 60+ with 99.98% loss in dream recall.[11]

In improving dream recall, it has long been known (Reed 1973[13]) that keeping a dream journal and making an effort to record dreams will improve dream recall.[14][15][16] REM cycles become longer during the last hours of sleep and are considered to be where most people have dream recall.[17]

Other insights into dream recall from neurophysiology is the fact that the hippocampus doesn’t fully wake up until 2 minutes after sleep and may result in 90% recall loss[19].

If dream recall is improved through making an effort to journal and recall dreams and increased neural-pathway density in the medial prefrontal cortex in the control group of high-frequency dream recall participants[3]. Dream recall should be viewed as a developmental skill and cognitive function that develops neural pathways when a person is active with that skill.[20]

That making no effort to routinely recall dreams will not stimulate the neural-pathways in the medial prefrontal cortex leaving them prone to cognitive atrophy as unused neural pathways can undergo synaptic pruning[21]. And making an effort to recall dreams will stimulate the medial prefrontal cortex to promote neural pathway growth[22][23] as the skill of dream recall develops through routine and training.

Dream recall is a cognitive function[24] of the brain that develops or atrophies depending on an individuals routine and interest in recalling dreams upon waking. That the same approaches to cognitive function decline with age could benefit dream recall such as exercise[24] for improved blood-flow in conjunction with a healthy diet.[25]

Although dream journals may contribute to the development of dream recall, there are other methods that may work such as cognitive stimulation activities[26] built around stimulating the medial prefrontal cortext for dream recall. Inactive underdeveloped or atrophic neural-pathways will respond through activity and develop as would any skill.

For example, the hippocampus two minute delay[19] on waking would suggest laying in bed reviewing dream memory for a few minutes would help reduce memory loss when proceeding to the next step of journaling.

As dreams reside in short-term memory writing key words before flushing out the dream will help with memory recall and is useful for dream segments that recede back into an amnesiac state. They can act as a mnemonic memory[27] trigger for fading dream recall.

Most importantly, having a routine to encourage development for dream recall to help strengthen the neural pathways to counter atrophy that may develop if activity for dream recall ceases.

Here is a fun free 7-day course for dream recall using stimulation training.


[1] Patel AK, Reddy V, Araujo JF. Physiology, Sleep Stages. [Updated 2021 Apr 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from:

[2] Mangiaruga A, Scarpelli S, Bartolacci C, De Gennaro L. Spotlight on dream recall: the ages of dreams. Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:1-12. Published 2018 Jan 9. doi:10.2147/NSS.S135762

[3] Vallat R, Eichenlaub JB, Nicolas A, Ruby P. Dream Recall Frequency Is Associated With Medial Prefrontal Cortex White-Matter Density. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1856. Published 2018 Sep 27. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01856

[4] Nir Y, Tononi G. Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology. Trends Cogn Sci. 2010;14(2):88-100. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.12.001

[5] Murri L, Massetani R, Siciliano G, Giovanditti L, Arena R. Dream recall after sleep interruption in brain-injured patients. Sleep. 1985 Dec;8(4):356-62. doi: 10.1093/sleep/8.4.356. PMID: 3880176.

[6]Bischof M, Bassetti CL. Total dream loss: a distinct neuropsychological dysfunction after bilateral PCA stroke. Ann Neurol. 2004 Oct;56(4):583-6. doi: 10.1002/ana.20246. PMID: 15389890.

[7]Fabian Guénolé, Geoffrey Marcaggi, Jean-Marc Baleyte, Lucile Garma . Dreams in normal and pathological aging. Psychologie & NeuroPsychiatrie du vieillissement. 2010;8(2):87-96. doi:10.1684/pnv.2010.0209

[8] McCarter, S.J., St. Louis, E.K. & Boeve, B.F. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and REM Sleep Without Atonia as an Early Manifestation of Degenerative Neurological Disease. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 12, 182–192 (2012).

[9] Armitage, R., Rochlen, A., Fitch, T., Trivedi, M., & Rush, A. J. (1995). Dream recall and major depression: A preliminary report. Dreaming, 5(3), 189–198.

[10] Nicolas A, Ruby PM. Dreams, Sleep, and Psychotropic Drugs. Front Neurol. 2020;11:507495. Published 2020 Nov 5. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.507495

[11] Nielsen T. Variations in dream recall frequency and dream theme diversity by age and sex. Front Neurol. 2012;3:106. Published 2012 Jul 4. doi:10.3389/fneur.2012.00106

[12] Arain M, Haque M, Johal L, et al. Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013;9:449-461. doi:10.2147/NDT.S39776

[13] Reed H. Learning to Remember Dreams. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 1973;13(3):33-48. doi:10.1177/002216787301300305\

[14] Schredl, M., & Basak, M. (2020). A diary study of dream recall: Successful dream recall and contentless dreams. International Journal of Dream Research, 13(1), 123–126.

[15] Schredl, M., & Göritz, A. S. (2020). Dream journaling: Stability and relation to personality factors. Dreaming, 30(3), 278–286.

[16] Schredl M. (2018) Dream Recall. In: Researching Dreams. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[17] Robert Stickgold, Edward Pace-Schott, J.Allan Hobson, A New Paradigm for Dream Research: Mentation Reports Following Spontaneous Arousal from REM and NREM Sleep Recorded in a Home Setting,

Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 3, Issue 1, 1994, Pages 16-29, ISSN 1053-8100,

[19] Lee Ann Obringer & Yves Jeffcoat. How Dreams Work (2021)

[20] Emily R. Oby, Matthew D. Golub, Jay A. Hennig, Alan D. Degenhart, Elizabeth C. Tyler-Kabara, Byron M. Yu, Steven M. Chase, Aaron P. Batista. New neural activity patterns emerge with long-term learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201820296 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820296116

[21] Duncan Bryce W., Murphy Kelsey E., Maness Patricia F. Molecular Mechanisms of L1 and NCAM Adhesion Molecules in Synaptic Pruning, Plasticity, and Stabilization Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 9 2021 10 DSI:10.3389/fcell.2021.625340 ISSN: 2296-634X

[22] Bruer, John T. “Neural Connections: Some You Use, Some You Lose.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 81, no. 4, Phi Delta Kappa International, 1999, pp. 264–77,

[23] Sunbin Song, Nikhil Sharma, Ethan R. Buch, Leonardo G. Cohen, White Matter Microstructural Correlates of Superior Long-term Skill Gained Implicitly under Randomized Practice, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 22, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 1671–1677,

[24] Exercise, cognitive function, and aging Jill N. Barnes Advances in Physiology Education 2015 39:2, 55-62

[25] Gómez-Pinilla, F. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat Rev Neurosci 9, 568–578 (2008).

[26] Andreas Fink, Roland H. Grabner, Daniela Gebauer, Gernot Reishofer, Karl Koschutnig, Franz Ebner, Enhancing creativity by means of cognitive stimulation: Evidence from an fMRI study, NeuroImage, Volume 52, Issue 4, 2010, Pages 1687-1695, ISSN 1053-8119,

[27] Pressley M, Levin JR, Delaney HD. The Mnemonic Keyword Method. Review of Educational Research. 1982;52(1):61-91. doi:10.3102/00346543052001061

January 4, 2022

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