How to Keep a Dream Journal that is Actually Effective


Some Preface:

I have been keeping a dream journal for almost four years now. I started in high school when I was 17, and it was only because I had so many empty notebooks lying around that I wanted to fill with something.

So what is a dream journal exactly? It is simply a journal in which you write down the dreams you can remember having while you were asleep!

Honestly speaking, starting to keep track of my dreams was one of the best things I did for myself at that age. It is one of the few things that I kept constant for myself as I transitioned into adulthood, and that is because the positive outcomes of keeping a journal like this long-term have been absolutely phenomenal.

So what are these positive outcomes?

1. You will have a healthier morning routine! The great majority of us wake up an immediately reach for our phones. Journaling first thing in the morning helps you get away from that habit and really helps to wake you up.

2. You will begin to see patterns i your dreams, such as seeing certain people or symbols often, which is very intriguing once you start to notice them. It didn’t take very long for me to notice there are bodies of water in my dreams when I am feeling overwhelmed in my waking life. The cool thing about this is that these patterns are tailored to you and your brain only. You will begin to learn more about yourself and how your brain is working so that eventually you can learn from your dreams and interpret them for yourself and/or relate the dreams to your waking life.

3. Looking back at old dreams after you forgot about them is super fun and interesting! The longer you have not re-visited a dream you wrote down, the more fun it is to look back. You will see dreams you don’t even remember writing down that are so random you’ll actually laugh out loud! On a more serious note, you’ll see the date on your old journal entries and see what was going on in your life at that point in time that was causing those dreams. You’ll see that at one point in your life, this person was in your dreams a lot, or when you were working that one job, you had a lot of dreams about this certain object, etc.

4. You are doing something good for yourself. Journaling is a form of self-care. It helps you take time out of your day to do something for yourself and be in your own little world. Drinking coffee and dream-journaling in the morning has become one of my most favorite forms of me-time!

5. Your dreams will start to become longer, more complex, and have story-lines. You will also start being able to remember more of your dreams. However, this is something that happens over time. The very first dreams I have recorded back from 2015 were pretty short, but soon enough I was able to write pages of detail on a single dream.


Getting Started

The fun thing about a keeping a dream journal is that you can be as budget-friendly or as extra as you want to be! A journal from the Dollar Tree is great! A fancier, more aesthetically pleasing journal from Urban Outfitters with glitter pens? Just as fine! What matters is the amount of effort you put in to getting the most out of dream-journaling. I personally started out with a puppy notebook I had in the back of my closet that I got from a Scholastic book fair back in 4th grade and paired it with a pen I found on the ground!

My only real recommendation would be to use a pen, not a pencil. Only because when keeping a journal long-term, pencil markings will begin to fade over time.

Okay but what about electronically recording your dreams?

For a while I did try to record my dreams on a Google Doc just to see how I liked it. However, for me personally it just was not the same and did not feel as personal as writing my dreams down in my own handwriting and having a physical notebook to hold. But that’s just me. If a Word Document or Notes app works better for you, then yes absolutely use your phone or computer! The point is to just do it. 



Keep it simple! I personally write the date on which I woke up on a fresh line, skip a line, then go right into the dream. Here is an example of one of my journal entries (just to give you an idea of a very easy and to-the-point way of formatting your journal entries):

“Sun, July 29th 2018

I was walking through a sunny, almost golden looking orchard w/ white sand/soil with pear trees and so much fruit and llamas going around eating the fruit. It was so beautiful and I was there walking north, through a path w/ a small group of people”

As you can see, I try not to worry too much about grammar. I tend to use a lot of abbreviations and don’t even care about run on sentences because this is a journal for ME and as long as I can understand what I am trying to say, it’s all good! I try to write very to-the-point by describing as many things I saw that I can, what I remember thinking, or how I felt in the dream. It’s okay to be a little messy with the writing because you are trying to get as much detail down as possible before the dream completely slips your mind.

However, sometimes it’s hard to describe something, or it’d just be lengthy to write it all out. In this case I like to draw pictures instead of describing something with words!  You don’t have to be the best artist ever because this journal is for YOU and as long as you understand your stick-figure drawings, your journal is perfect!

I personally like to draw pictures when I am trying to explain the layout of a place I was at in my dreams, almost like a construction blue print. I will draw a square, with boxes within that square and label each box “kitchen” or “bedroom”.

Drawing is also handy if you are trying to describe an object in your dream that was just straight up weird! For example, once I had a dream in which I saw a really weird plant in a glass tank. It was unlike any plant I have ever seen in real life. I had no other way to describe it other than drawing a picture and trying to label parts that were different colors/textures.

Now what about if you know you had a dream, but just can’t remember it?

In this case I will just write the date, and skip a line to leave some blank space to signify I had a dream this day but do not remember it. This way, in the case I DO randomly remember part of the dream later on, I have space to write it down. If not, the empty space is just a way to know I had a dream I can’t remember, which is completely okay as well. Other times, I will just straight up write “can’t remember this dream”.

Similarly, some days I can only remember so little of my dreams. This is okay too! Sometimes my entries are simply just the date, followed by just a few words, such as “street, dim”, or even, “something about frogs? That’s all I remember!”.

What about if you have multiple dreams in one night?

In this case, I start out (as always) with the date on which I woke up. Then, I will write in the margins under the date “Dream 1:” followed by an explanation of my 1st dream. When finished writing the 1st dream, I will skip down a line and write in the margin “Dream 2:”, then proceed to explain my second dream.

Again, this is YOUR dream journal. These are just suggestions of formats that I have found work best for me. Writing my dreams down in the formats I just suggested look cleanest to me personally. If you find a different way in which to format your dream journal that works better for you, do it! These are just formatting ideas to get you started!


Conquering Doubt

What if you don’t dream often? What if you just CANNOT remember your dreams? Plus any other things stopping you from starting!

All very understandable concerns! Bear in mind every obstacle is completely and 100% okay! Many many many times my journal goes months without being touched because it is normal for us to not remember our dreams for periods at a time.

When you DO have a dream after a long period of dreamless nights, make sure to write it down immediately. The more you practice and the more you train your brain to re-focus on the dream as soon as you wake up, the better it gets. All it takes is tons and tons of practice. Also keep in mind there is also no need to put any pressure on yourself for not being able to remember your dreams. Just make an entry when you can. It’s perfectly okay if entries are 7 months apart or 7 days apart.

Something that also might help is experimenting with your night routine. A lot of people claim what they eat before bed has an effect on their dreams! Even my own partner has told me his dreams are noticeably more wild when he eats ice cream before bed! However, I personally have not noticed a pattern between what I eat before bed and how I dream. But it may be worth a shot for you, everyone’s different!

Another obstacle that I have found for myself personally is that some of my dreams can get pretty dark and terrifying. To the point where I don’t want to remember or spend any more time thinking about those dreams! It is something that has happened ever since I was little.

For myself personally I know that if I draw too much attention to a dream that really creeped me out, I will psych myself out and/or put myself in a really negative headspace that I don’t want to be in. I conquered this issue by intentionally making myself forget a dream by completely disregarding it, not writing it down, and just straight up not giving it any more attention than it already got. I do get my fair share of bad dreams that aren’t a problem to re-visit as I write down. But some dreams are just too much to fathom, and that’s okay. Moral of this mini-story is to not let nightmares, night terrors, or bad lucid dreaming experiences discourage you from journaling. Let them pass. They happen sometimes, but they are nothing to be afraid of, nor anything to allow to consume your mind.


Venturing into Dream Interpretations

This is the fun part.

I know that there is a lot of skepticism when it comes to dream interpretation. Especially when you look up a meaning of a dream online and you find your dream’s meaning to be the most broad, umbrella meaning that is so vague it makes dream interpretations seem like a fraud!

I understand. I feel that too.

That is because most dream interpretations you find online or in a book are trying to be very general to fit what it MIGHT mean for MOST people. It is not catered to you specifically. I rarely ever try to ever look up symbols or events in my dreams online.

Instead, I rely on past dreams to give me clues to what my current dreams could mean. I keep track of what kind of dreams I have when certain events are happening in my life or when I am feeling certain ways.

Two personal examples:

1.My first ever flying dream happened on the night of the 2017 Solar Eclipse, which I thought was interesting.

2.After getting hit by a car in a crosswalk and being unable to do all my normal things as my body was healing, all my dreams had been taking place at night or in dim lighting. The first dream I had in bright light after weeks of dark dreams happened after I got set up with a new job and started working towards getting myself back into college after the car accident.

There are patterns. You just have to pay attention to them.

Things to pay attention to:

  1. People you see in dreams often
  2. Places your dreams take place in often
  3. Time of day your dreams take place in

However it is also important to understand that not everything in your dream has a meaning. Michael Scott was in my dream once. This was only because I had been binge watching The Office for weeks beforehand. Another example is my partner once told me he was having a lot of dreams about water. This was after we adopted a fresh-water turtle and were spending a lot of time cleaning the tank, messing with water filters, messing with the water temperature and a whole bunch of other water-related stuff for our new baby. So it makes sense why he would have been dreaming about water and it not have any deeper meaning than just being around water a lot in waking life.


Final Thoughts & Some Tips!

I know keeping a journal like this isn’t for everyone. Just like any given thing couldn’t possibly ever be for everyone. It is 100% worth the shot though!

You could end up learning a lot about yourself, or if anything, have the chance to take a few minutes out of your day to really reflect and meditate. Or this may give you the opportunity to just straight up take a few minutes to yourself every morning to be off your phone for a bit, get the creative juices flowing, and have an emotional/creative outlet.


I’ll leave you off with some final tips:

  1. A lot of times I do not feel like grabbing a pen and my journal as soon as I wake up. But I know if I snooze the dream will slip my memory. In this case, I will open the notes app on my phone and write down a few key words to help me remember my dream later. I mean let’s face it, reaching for your phone is so much more convenient than reaching for the pen and paper, also getting glasses on if you have them. Jotting down a few key words in your phone is also helpful if you are in a rush in the morning and cannot really take the time to sit and write your dreams before heading off! I did this for a long time when I worked the morning shift at my old job. I would just write my dream down when I had the time.
  2. If you have trouble feeling motivated to take the time to write out your dreams in full detail or for consecutive days in a row, sometimes having a journal you really like and are inspired to write in helps a lot. I know earlier I said the cheaper notebooks dollar store are great. But if it helps to have a fancier looking journal that actually makes you feel motivated to write in, then go ahead and go for the fancy leather, vintage-looking, or glitter journal!
  3. If it is a special day (such as Easter, your birthday, a full moon, etc.) make sure to note that next to the date, it could be important, as you saw when I drew the connection between my first flying dream and the solar eclipse.
  4. Lastly, don’t sweat it if you cannot remember a dream. I know sometimes it’s like that annoying feeling of having a word on the tip of your tongue, but if you can’t remember it just let it be. This journal is for you. There’s no pressure, no right or wrong, no time limits, no competition. You succeed at this by letting your mind just simply be itself.

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider going on the journey of keeping a dream journal. My hope is that this post helped to inspire you in one way or another! My inbox and comments section is always open to any thoughts, questions, or concerns. I’d love to hear from you if you have a dream journal and have had positive outcomes because of it, or if you are considering starting! All and anything is welcome here.

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4 thoughts on “How to Keep a Dream Journal that is Actually Effective

  1. I loved this post! I’m just starting to dabble with journaling, and I’ve been looking for some ideas of how to direct my thoughts so I’m not just aimlessly waiting for an idea to spring up. Journaling about dreams is such a fun idea I hadn’t thought of. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. I did pay for my domain name! To get started though you do not have to pay a pretty penny. You can set up a site with wordpress for free and use one of the free templates!

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