For those who love either regular or vivid dreaming, or even lucid dreaming, being able to recall dreams is an integral part that makes their dreaming life so colorful and imaginative. While some individuals are capable of recalling at least one dream each night, some can only recall a couple dreams each month or a couple weeks. While the differences in dream recall frequency have been shown via differences in brain activity during sleep in both low and high dream recallers, it appears that there are a lot of uncertain scientific and psychological factors behind the reason why dreams are forgotten.
This blog focuses on the potential factors that cause the forgetting of dreams after awakening as well as discussing whether polyphasic sleeping is the ultimate tool to improve dream recall. 42 polyphasic sleepers who have adapted to at least one schedule unless specified otherwise have been interviewed for a survey questionnaire on the following questions:
- Do adapted polyphasic schedule(s) enable them to recall more dreams upon awakening, compared to during adaptation?
- Compared to monophasic sleep, does adapted polyphasic experience improve their dream recall or that they still forget as many dreams?
Alongside these questions, dream reports from some of these sleepers will be included in the sections below to demonstrate how and if polyphasic sleep may contribute to the changes in the dream recall pattern. Would dream recall benefit from polyphasic sleeping?
Polyphasic Sleep & Why Dreams are Forgotten
A. The Basics of Dreaming & Dream Recalling:
Dreaming has always been a common phenomenon during sleep. Whether an individual recalls dreams multiple times a week or only a couple times a month, dreaming experience in humans varies across the board. As previously discussed in the differences of dream recall frequencies, dreaming experiences portray a lot of interesting ideas to explore. One of the most common misconceptions in dreaming is reflected in a polyphasic sleeper’s experience below.
“So dreaming for me was always something I struggled with [redacted]. Obviously I got interested and started to collect info on dreaming and the first step I needed to take was to increase the dream recall rate, which felt like impossible at first. So I started to dream journal, meditate, use mantra etc but these didn’t really help me. Or maybe I should say it just wasn’t enough. After that I gave up on dreaming for quite a while, thinking it’s not doable for me but then I discovered polyphasic sleep and decided to try it out [redacted]. And it gave me some hope.” – Zecq, a DC1 sleeper with an ongoing adaptation, reported from the Discord.
From the above excerpt, one of the most common misconceptions that new polyphasic sleepers often have is that they do not dream during sleep, which seems to justify why they do not recall any dreams. In fact, humans do always dream, but a lot of cases do not recall their dreams upon awakening – dream patterns can be observed during sleep, typically from eye movements during REM sleep1. It is also worth noting that from EEG studies, dreaming occurs even in NREM sleep2 (NREM1, NREM2 and SWS), making it possible for dreams to be generated from all sleep stages3. Thus, what polyphasic sleeper Zecq mentioned above has to do with his dream recall ability, not that he did not dream. Another misconception that has been flying around for a while is that dreams only occur during REM sleep, which has been refuted in several sleep studies2,3,5.
Dream recall refers to the process of recalling or remembering dreams. Forgetting dreams in this context refers to the inability to recall dreams after awakening and how humans forget dreams as time goes on. For the most part, as seen from hundreds of polyphasic sleep dream logs, the majority of successful dream recallers fall into the second category, where their dreams usually did not last in their mind for longer than a couple minutes after awakening. This is unless they reported their dreams right upon awakening, were naturally good dream recallers, or had very vivid dreams that left a strong impression on them afterwards and had dream contents that recurred on a regular basis. Because of the transient nature of dreams, they are generally remarked as hard to remember and easy to forget1,4. It is also concluded that REM sleep has a higher dream recall rate than SWS sleep and light sleep stages2,3.
B. Factors that contribute to the recalling/forgetting of dreams:
The fragility of dream remembering can be attributed to several factors, ranging from sleep stages at the moment of awakening, substance use and natural dream recall frequency to Sigmund Freud’s dream recall theories (e.g, repression) to demonstrate how easy it is to forget dreams. This section will detail the most common and/or known factors that contribute to dream forgetting.
1. Sleep Stages & Brain Activity During Sleep:
In an EEG study on university students with a normal monophasic sleep schedule and no daytime napping habits, it was concluded that a higher frontal theta activity and alpha activity (5-7 Hz) was a solid predictor for a successful dream recall after awakening from REM sleep as well as a lower alpha activity (8-12 Hz) of the right temporal area (which involves the thalamo-cortical network that results in a lower cortical activation) upon awakening from NREM sleep2. It was also concluded from the study that an increase in alpha power would lead to poorer memory encoding performance, an important process that contributes to dream recalling.
Another polyphasic-related study where participants followed a sleep protocol of sleeping a 75m core sleep alternated by each 150m staying awake also delivered some interesting results for dream recall in relation with sleep stages and awakening time. The experiment lasted for only 40 hours, which was not enough for participants to completely adapt to this polyphasic pattern. A recovery sleep episode was conducted after this “multiple-nap” experiment.
Figure 1. 75m/150m Polyphasic Schedule
It was concluded in the study that as a sleeper enters SWS which generates oscillation behavior of NREM sleep, their synaptic responses are impaired (becoming non-responsive to the surrounding) and eventually dramatically reduces dream recall thanks to delta waves and an increase in sleep spindle activity5. However, it was also mentioned that dreaming in NREM2 resembles REM sleep to some extent, especially 15 minutes prior to awakening, lower EMG and the density of eye movements. This second study also confirmed the necessary characteristics of a successful dream recall from the first study (regarding alpha activity during NREM sleep).
What can be interpreted from both studies is that polyphasic sleepers with no EEG equipment to record their sleep should not be quick to conclude that they wake up from REM sleep or that their nap(s) contain predominantly REM sleep if they successfully recall dream(s); however, temporal units can be used to determine whether a sleep block is mostly NREM or also contains REM sleep. Similarly, even with no dream recall from any said sleep blocks, these sleep blocks may contain some amount of REM sleep. Being in REM sleep does not guarantee a successful dream recall incident. It is also reasonable to not recall/forget dreams upon awakening from a heavy sleep block that is predominantly SWS.
2. Substance Use:
Certain substances are known to suppress REM sleep, thus possibly nullifying dream recall in some individuals, as demonstrated in frequent cannabis users6 and the use of SSRIs7. However, the cited study on cannabis indicated that there may be differences between laboratory setting and home setting, and that certain results of dream recall frequency could not be replicated in different studies. This study demonstrated that there was no difference in dream recall of frequent cannabis users, even though these users did report bizarre dreaming experiences6. Other substances that decrease the amount of REM sleep include MAOIs, selective norepinephrine uptake inhibitors and non-specific monoamine reuptake inhibitors8. However, the difference in settings, genetics, etc in different individuals require more research for these results to be consistent.
“Honestly my dream recall at the time was terrible, which I think had much to do with my THC and nicotine use at the time. But my recall got better when I got clean.” – Ratheka, an adapted E2 sleeper, on her dream recall experience with substance use.
Repression is a hypothetical model for dreaming that was initiated by Sigmund Freud, which indicates that the forgetting of dreams in humans is largely a product of resistance and censorship9. More specifically, the theory reflects the propensity for humans to deny and avoid negative, threatening or painful experiences to forget their dreams; as such, Freud believed that dreams are representations of fulfilments of repressed wishes and desires. Freud was also believed to state that the process of forgetting dreams was attributed to the mental resistance to the dream that exhibits its peak power upon awakening, leading to no traces of the dream(s) being recalled9. Since the contents of the dreams are alien to the ego of the dreamers, they are expected to forget the dreams in face of reality, where those desires remain unfulfilled. In addition, in the case that only some partial or blurry details of a dream can be recalled, these suggest signs of resistance to the dream itself10. However, currently the psychoanalytic functions of dream interpretations have developed and may vary from Freud’s original and controversial theories, so the dream theory regarding repression may not be clearly applied in all cases.
It’s worth mentioning that one psychoanalytic study supported the theory of repression using free association (a technique used to help patients resolve their inner conflicts by gauging their thoughts and feelings in a relaxed mental state). In an experiment where 25 participants with dream notes were asked to freely associate with 5 elements from their dreams and 5 elements from other participants’ dreams, skin conductance response was greatly activated and more unpleasant feelings were elicited against unrecognized dream elements (repressed contents)11. However, in another study of home-recall dream theory experiment, repression did not account for significant reliability12. Thus, it is reasonable to look at repression as only partially applicable to dream forgetting experiences in polyphasic sleep.
The interference theory stems from Cohen (1974) which states that dream forgetting is attributed to a distraction process via presleep anxiety and in return can distract sleepers from recalling their dreams upon awakening12. This study also showed the correlation between reduced dream recall and increased dream unpleasantness caused by interference12. Another study showed similar results in that field-dependent male subjects reported less frequent dream recalls under the effect of stress (although the most effectful dreams were still recalled) with interference while field-independent male subjects did not seem to be affected by interference13.
The process of dream recalling was suggested to be in most ideal condition if recalled right upon awakening – delaying the process of recalling dreams result in a less likelihood of recalling them12. This notion also does seem to apply to the majority of polyphasic sleepers who are vivid dreamers, especially those who have formed the habit of logging dreams upon awakening from their sleep blocks. Over the years, it is observed that few of them did admit to forgetting a lot of dreams if they did not report them immediately. Only a couple of them claimed that being anxious before a sleep block would prevent them from recalling dreams. However, the data sampled is not expansive enough to draw a concrete conclusion.
The difference in the settings in certain dream report study has been recognized as a possibility to cause changes in dream recall patterns. It is generally remarked that most dream studies have been laboratory-based6, while there are only few studies using home settings. Some of the reasons have been postulated in a study with one male subject who spent 45 nights in a laboratory and was awakened at the end of REM sleep every night14:
- Dreams reported at the laboratory are often more banal than home dreams.
- Some unremembered dreams were caused partially by repression, although how much extent was not clear.
- Unremembered dreams were likely because of short, prosaic dream details and occurred some time before the sleeper awakened. Long, intense and impactful dreams were usually recalled shortly upon awakening.
- Dream recall potentially faded very quickly when the gap between the end of a REM period and the awakening time increased. This observation is in line with how certain polyphasic sleepers have trouble recalling dreams if they wake up in NREM2.
6. Acetylcholine & Norepinephrine in wakefulness & REM sleep:
This is a rather new correlation among two neurotransmitters, their role in the neocortical circuits and REM sleep, which dictates certain aspects of dream recalling. It was observed in the study that acetylcholine (ACh) release and norepinephrine (NE) release pattern during wakefulness and different sleep stages are important factors to be considered15. Specifically, NE and ACh release wanes and remains low as an individual drifts into sleep (entering NREM sleep). However, while ACh release increases during REM sleep, NE release remains low during REM sleep. It was concluded that low/moderate ACh release maintains global cortical arousal during REM sleep and wakefulness; on the other hand, absence of NE activity during REM sleep is a possible explanation why long-term synaptic changes are difficult to sustain (e.g, memory retention). This in return facilitates dream forgetting upon awakening. However, more mechanisms of these two neurotransmitters’ roles in memory sustenance and functions in the sleep-wake cycle need further studies, especially when combined with polyphasic sleeping.
7. Short Sleeper:
It is stated that short sleepers (those who require less sleep than average to be fully functional) have similar amounts of SWS to normal individuals; however, their NREM1, NREM2 and REM sleep duration are shortened16. Their monophasic baseline is usually quite shorter than that of average individuals (6h or less to feel fully rested each day). They are deemed normal, healthy and do not usually require any health or psychological interventions. It is reasonable to predict that shortened REM duration means more difficulty to recall dreams (or easier to forget dreams). Although not absolutely conclusive, dreaming experiences from certain short sleepers in the community do reflect their lower dream recall or unchanged dream recall in comparison with that on their monophasic schedule. Some on the other hand have positive feedback on adapted polyphasic experiences (e.g, enhanced dream recall), so this varies between sleepers (e.g, low and high dream recallers).
Does Polyphasic Sleeping Help Recall More Dreams or Slow the Forgetting Rate?
Similar to dream forgetting analyzed in the previous section, eventually dreams are forgotten whether they were successfully recalled after awakening. However, adapted polyphasic sleepers who pay enough attention to their dreaming experiences generally reported increased dream recall compared to monophasic sleep. This section will list some dreaming experiences as comparison between during and after the adaptation phase is completed.
Of the 42 surveyed adapted polyphasic sleepers from the community, 28 reported increased dream recall after the adaptation phase. 10 reported either decreased or unchanged dream recall rate after adaptation; the remaining 4 were uncertain. 30 reported increased dream recall while on an adapted polyphasic pattern compared to their monophasic pattern; there were 7 cases with unchanged and decreased dream recall while being adapted to a polyphasic schedule; the remaining 5 did not remember their dreaming experiences due to past adaptations long time ago or that they did not run into strong or bizarre dream contents to remember them. Dream contents were also diverse, ranging from reflections of real life to surreal types (fictions). All adapted schedules resemble standard variants to a large extent as displayed on the website unless specified otherwise.
Analysis of Some Dreaming Experiences
“During the adaptation to E3, I stably recalled one dream a day (after nap 1). Most often they were quite bright and long. Closer to the fifth week of the adaptation (stage 4), my dream recall was getting poorer and poorer. Among the dreams that I occasionally managed to recall there were almost no bright ones. I was disappointed, but two days before the end of the adaptation I first got a lucid dream, bright and long (caused by the reality check technique). After that there were no vivid dreams at all. There were only a few similar to NREM1/2 dreams (more like hallucinations) (e.g. a dream where I’m sitting between palms). I also almost never recall any dreams on monophasic”. – Sekvanto, an E3 sleeper.
NOTE: Sekvanto is also a short sleeper with 6h monophasic baseline to be fully functional each day, and has strong sleep propensity during mid-late afternoon hours (~5-6 PM).
“I feel as if my dream recall after adapting is better than it was during adaptation. At the start of my adaptation it was shitty like it was on mono, but after a few days it started to get better and it kept improving gradually until around day 30. since then it hasn’t really changed. sorry that this part isn’t in a lot of detail, I don’t really remember when everything happened. It’s definitely the core that gives me the most recall, I never have any dreams in my nap if it’s short. If it’s a longer nap, sometimes I recall a dream but it’s not very vivid and I can only remember foggy details. I’d say that when i was on mono, I’d rate my dream recall at around 4/10. I recalled some details from dreams about once every three nights, but most of the time they weren’t at all vivid. Never had any lucids either. Nowadays, I’d rate my dream recall about 8/10. I remember a lot more from my dreams every night and they’re a lot more vivid, so i’d say my dream recall has improved a lot. Also, I’ve had maybe 6 lucids, which is pretty cool and a big improvement from mono”. – Weaver, a 2-month non-reduced biphasic sleeper.
NOTE: It is worth noting in this case that even biphasic sleeping (with one added nap and without reducing total sleep compared to monophasic sleep) can make a difference in sleep architecture and change dream recall rate, although this is possibly highly individualistic.
“My dream recall on E2 is overall not that great. After both 20 minute naps I forget about 50% in the first few minutes. The most I can recall is from the 4h30m core. I would rate my DC1 experience to be better than E2 in terms of dream recall. For me monophasic has better dream recall than DC1 but I forget my dreams pretty quickly overall.” – Erthiros, a DC1 & E2 sleeper.
NOTE: Different sleep patterns can yield different dream recall experiences. In this case, DC1 is more favorable for dream recalling, mostly because of the longer REM sleep block in the morning hours that contains a higher percentage of REM sleep than a mere 20 minute nap of E2.
“I have always had good dream recall but I think it is slightly improved with poly. I would say nap 2 (noon) is the strongest but I have a lot of dreams I recall during the core as well.” – Allyz0r, a 3-year (and counting) E3-extended sleeper.
“I literally never recall any dreams, sometimes one in a few months – but being adapted to segmented didn’t change anything in terms of that. I would say my dream recall is low even after adapting to Segmented.” – ModoX, a Segmented sleeper.
NOTE: This case shows no difference in dream recalling in a monophasic sleep and a segmented sleep pattern. Results were equally poor, but this is possibly due to missing out on REM peak, as shown below.
Figure 2. ModoX’s unorthodox Segmented sleep
“I remember pretty much all of my dreams and I retained a high level of consciousness every time. All cores and naps. Naps felt really long, but actually they were just 20 minutes. I remember dreaming and doing lucid a lot.” – Tomorrow, a TC1 sleeper.
“After adapting and even during Stage 4, I didn’t dream at all, at least I couldn’t recall any. Maybe one small core dream, but that’s it. I do believe that my core covers the basic sleep need, with the naps acting as NREM2 wakefulness sustainers. I’ll check that hypothesis next month, when I can afford an EEG. As for recall, I remembered pretty much everything about the dream at ~0620, that I also remembered directly after wake (and realizing Isa Briones was not in my house) at 0530. So 50+min recall, though I took care to remember it by thinking about it until I got the chance to log it. On mono, my dreams were pretty mundane and I usually didn’t remember them for more than a few moments or they just became jumbled with memories of reality, as my dreams were not exactly outlandish, but mostly situations which could easily happen in reality. Just me talking to people I saw every day in places I was every day. of course, there are exceptions, but I only recall one.” – Hackerman, an E3-extended sleeper.
NOTE: Hackerman is one typical case for seemingly subpar dream recall rate, but intensely vivid dreams if recalled successfully when a polyphasic sleep regime is endorsed.
“During adaptation I definitely recalled less dreams. Nap gives me the most dream recall. After adaptation I recalled even more dreams. More from the nap and less so from the core. I think E1 gives a better dream recall rate because it doubles the dream recall opportunity (2 sleep blocks compared to 1 from monophasic)” – Soulless, a 1-year (and counting) E1 sleeper.
NOTE: From the data gathered in the community, the usual adapted E1 experience shows that 50% of the adapted E1 sleepers have their naps contain only NREM2. In the case of Soulless, it is more likely that he did manage to get some REM sleep in the nap, or potentially an excellent dream recaller.
“I’d say dream recall is pretty much the same for both during and after adaptation, but I get slightly more dreams after adaptation in comparison. And I get most dreams in the first nap, but dream recall is best for the second one, but generally I do dream in most of my naps. Also to be fair I have vivid surreal dreams more so than I do normal ones. I’d say I recall more dreams on E3 than on my 48h mono, but my regular mono probably gives more dream recall than E3.” – UncertainBeing, an E3 sleeper.
NOTE: Similar to Sekvanto, this is a case of a short sleeper, but with a high dream recall rate after adaptation.
“Overall recall was lower during adaptation, partly because I had to learn how to REM nap in the first place, and also because by the time inward adaptation I have practiced it a bit to have a somewhat higher recall rate. Note that the overall recall rate was still sh*t and I forgot about 2/3 of my naps, and in the end it was okay, but without practice I forgot everything except maybe one single pic. I don’t feel like I’m getting that, at least I don’t notice it. I mean during REM peak they are more likely to be of more lewd nature, I otherwise can’t see another pattern in my dreams. But even the lewd ones are of completely random context. My dream recall on mono was about a solid minus five. I didn’t dream at all for at least several years before poly, 99,99% of sleep I didn’t dream, and if I did, I forgot the content within an instant. So poly is a major improvement.” – Feili, an E2-extended sleeper.
NOTE: Feili is a prime example of very poor dream recall ability that can drastically improve upon switching to a polyphasic regime.
“Adapted E3-extended strict vs adapted SEVAMAYL? Definitely more in SEVAMAYL because it’s a lot freer with the natural wakes. I can get up from a nap after 12-15m if I want to, knowing I can just nap again when I get tired enough. Alarms are the main thing that distract me from mulling on my dreams as I awaken. Just by sheer number of wakes. Mono without needing alarm is the best easy dream recall, because I’m waking from vivid heavy REM closest to REM peak without any pressure to get up and do something else.” – Aethermind, a long-term polyphasic sleeper with successful adaptations in both E3-extended and SEVAMAYL.
NOTE: This can be considered a good example of how certain post-awakening procedures can make dreams easier to forget. Similar to certain repression and interference methods, dreams can be forgotten quickly if the individual in question is more focused on other things at the time.
“After being adapted, I wake up every other time (core) with dream recall, but I forget them quickly. The dreams did not stay in my mind for long after awakening. My dreams definitely lasted longer on monophasic than this and they were also much more common.” – Timothy, a Triphasic sleeper.
“However, by the end of 20-25 days, I eventually succeeded in adapting to the schedule and achieved my goals. I equipped myself with an alarm clock that I regularly reset every 4 hr. My excitement Iasted for about 5-6 months, at which time I started to have a few doubts.I also experienced a Strange Sensation that I only understood Iater: I missed dreams. I am a dreamer; I don’t remember a single night in my life without the recollection of dreams; I have always dreamt. Sleeping without dreams was totally unknown to me. Lack of dreams– not lack of sleep restricted me, restricted my imagination. It was evident to me that I needed the subconscious input and production represented by dreams. As this nourishment was missing, my imagination and my artistic activity started to suffer. I felt like I was using the power of a battery without ever recharging it (not a physical battery, but a sort of creative one). I was suffering a kind of imaginative damage, due primarily to lack of dreams. My oneiric self was totally eliminated. I therefore decided to interrupt my experiment.” – an insomniac/non-mutant eclectic artist who adapted to Uberman in the 1950s (~30 years of age)17.
Figure 3. The artist’s “Leonardo-Da-Vinci” Uberman version
NOTE: Despite being adapted to such an extreme version of Uberman, the artist reflected on the disappearance of dream recall. Theoretically, it is possible that the Uberman schedule does not retain the usual amount of REM sleep, leading to reduced dream recall. It is also worth noting that the artist himself was not a sleep mutant and was able to sleep through 8 hours monophasically after this Uberman experiment17. As soon as he returned to monophasic sleep, his dream recall ability recovered. In addition, it is not confirmed if Leonardo Da Vinci actually followed the Uberman sleep pattern. This Uberman dreaming experience seems to be in line with what a 2-year adapted Uberman short sleeper Yin Yang reported from the Discord – she did not experience vivid/lucid/intense dreaming which is contrary to what extreme polyphasic sleep schedules originally promise. However, despite these negative dreaming experiences, Steve Pavlina (~6.5h monophasic baseline post-Uberman) reported more lucid and overall vivid dreaming instances during his adapted Uberman experience18.
The size of the data pool may not be sufficient to draw stronger conclusions regarding polyphasic sleeping and enhanced dream recalling in each particular case. However, polyphasic sleepers who were able to recall dreams frequently are overall satisfied with their dream recall ability, whether they develop it after exposure to polyphasic sleeping or not. The forgetting of dreams which occurs sooner or later upon awakening did not seem to bother these sleepers, as with increased dream recalling and multiple sleep blocks each day that polyphasic sleep offers, this means more chance to recall dreams from each sleep block, whether each sleep block has predominantly NREM sleep or REM sleep. Most notably, sleep blocks located around sunrise hours seem to provide vivid dream recall for the majority of cases, which fits the natural circadian of REM sleep distribution (which is primarily during daytime hours). And as such, polyphasic sleepers often run into either new or repeated dream contents on a regular basis, forgotten dreams upon awakening are replaced by dreams in the next sleep blocks and this forms a cycle of stably frequent dream recalling.
More mechanisms of REM sleep distribution as well as neural activations during each polyphasic sleep pattern need more future research to understand a full picture of how polyphasic sleeping aids in dream recall. However, based on the survey conducted, polyphasic sleeping is worth an attempt for the pursuit of lucid dreaming or vivid dreaming experience. It is also wise to acknowledge that polyphasic sleep in general and extreme polyphasic schedules in particular do not automatically guarantee increased dream recalling or slow down the dream forgetting rate over monophasic sleep, when all individualistic and genetic factors are taken into account.
In sum, forgetting dreams is a common phenomenon of human existence. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the forgetting of dreams and inhibiting dream recall (e.g, old Freudian theories to newer explanations on neuron functions during sleep-wake cycles). The diverse dreaming content in polyphasic sleeping seems to at least secure dream recall ability regardless of how quickly dreams are forgotten upon awakening – multiple sleep blocks each day increase the chance to recall dream(s) from each block. Polyphasic sleep likely changes waking habits and time of awakenings, which affects dream recall. However, despite the surveyed dreaming experiences, it remains unclear how each polyphasic pattern may affect dream recall capability or underlying processes that contribute to suppressing dreams. There are also some possible individualistic factors that dictate how certain polyphasic sleepers do not report enhanced dream recall even after completing adaptation, which can be an interesting idea for future exploration.
If you are interested how meditation and autogenic training may help you recalling dreams and how it works with your polyphasic life in general, you may also like our post “Autogenic Training: A Potentially Visionary Relaxation Method for Polyphasic Lifestyle”.
Main author: GeneralNguyen
Page last updated: 23. June 2020
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