Dream Recall Frequency: Differences Between Low and High Dream Recallers and Personality Attributes

Introduction

There are individuals who can recall dreams at least almost everyday. On the other hand, there are also individuals who can recall only a couple dreams per month. Dream recall frequency is a rather intriguing question that many seek to answer about their inability to recall dreams often. In the realm of polyphasic sleeping, it is extremely common that sleepers report much higher dream recall frequency.

Polyphasic dream vividness ranges from purely murky details to highly detailed descriptions. However, there are still certain outliers; there are those who still have trouble recalling dreams from power naps or a decently long core sleep. Yet, this number is small and typically suggests an in-progress adaptation to polyphasic sleeping.

Regardless of whether you are a vivid dreamer, various research articles about dreaming have documented certain relevant personality attributes. It is important to note that the results have limitations, so generalizing an entire spectrum of dreamers is not smart. These personality traits may or may not be applicable to the current polyphasic sleepers in the community. To how much extent is unknown.

Low and high dream recallers

Although a lot of questions about brain mechanics up to date are for the future to answer, people who only recall dreams once in a while (low recallers, LR) do show some astounding differences in brain activity during sleep compared to people who often recall dreams (high recallers, HR).

In one study, it was posited that neurological differences between these 2 groups are a result of intra-sleep wakefulness, brain reactivity during sleep. However, EEG did not detect any differences in sleep architecture of either groups1.

  • Intra-sleep wakefulness is a contributing factor to increasing dream recall rate. This is because certain forebrain regions become active during sleep. This in return helps with memorizing dreams to great details in vivid dreamers and HR.
  • HR also showed almost double the amount of intra-sleep wakefulness compared to LR1.
  • Brain reactivity was measured after researchers created a stimulus to detect brain wave activity. This came in the form of tones and other auditory versions.
  • HR once again demonstrated higher brain reactivity than LR1.

Thus, the cerebral structure of HR is different from that of LR. Furthermore, late brain responses to random auditory stimuli (200ms post-stimuli) are also vastly different between 2 groups in all sleep stages (NREM2, SWS and REM)1. However, interestingly, intra-sleep wakefulness was also attributed to alpha reactivity, a measurement of eye movement.

Alpha power therefore increases in HR, which hypothetically resulted in awakenings2. This phenomenon bears resemblance to sudden awakenings whether during a core sleep or a nap. Sleepers would “sudden snapping out of their dream(s)”, for example. Upon awakening, the polyphasic community did report dreams to great details. 

From monophasic sleep to polyphasic sleep

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Strong dream recall in a REM-filled morning sleep

The transition to monophasic sleep to polyphasic sleep poses different changes in sleep architecture that the body has to account for. This is especially when there is sleep reduction. Due to sleep repartitioning, polyphasic sleepers spend a higher percentage of sleep in REM sleep (except possibly non-reducing schedules). Given that most dreams often occur during REM sleep, it becomes easier for polyphasic sleepers to recall more vivid dreams during short naps or even core sleeps.

It is almost a miracle how a polyphasic sleep regime dramatically increases the chance of vivid dreaming for the majority of polyphasic sleepers. This includes those who did not have this ability during monophasic sleep. The redistribution of REM sleep into each corresponding sleep seems to almost cause an immediate effect on dream recalling rate.

However, certain mechanics are unclear as to how the human body has to change to adapt to a polyphasic sleep regime that sharply increases the amount of dreams. More research on this area is necessary.

Personality traits of polyphasic sleepers

It is currently still unclear how certain personality traits are associated with high dream recall frequency. Some are fantasy-proneness, or delusion in severe cases of daydreaming disorder. Given that these cases do not apply to normal, average humans, it is a stretch to associate similar traits with polyphasic sleepers.

From the get-go, most sleepers who express their desire to attempt polyphasic sleep want to improve their sleep, energy level and additionally, dream recalling.

  • This starting point is sufficient to conclude that polyphasic sleepers are open to new experiences and have a positive attitude toward dreaming.
  • In fact, positive attitudes toward dreaming, motivation to recall and openness to different experiences have been predominant in HR4,5,6.
  • In a sense, dreams are reflections of human nature, wishes as well as certain other drastic events. Polyphasic sleeping is the practice of sleeping at consistent hours to form stable routines, and practice makes perfect.
  • Once SOREM begins, dreams start occurring more often, including vivid ones whose details even linger after awakening.

However, other possible negative connotations about personality of polyphasic sleepers include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Depressed
  • Delusional
  • Introverted
  • Anti-social
  • Fanatic
  • Demented 
  • Neurotic

These assessments are based on anecdotal evidence from polyphasic sleepers in the community that we collect throughout the years.

What does research say?

  • One study claimed that attributes such as introversion, repression, anxiety, maladjustment, introspectiveness and suggestibility have no linear correlation to dreamers5.
  • Another study claimed that recalling flying dreams has a strong correlation with low neuroticism scores.
  1. Low neuroticism suggests strong stability of daily emotions6.
  2. High neuroticism scores, on the other hand, denote negative qualities such as anxiety, stress, etc.  
  3. Flying dreams, which are very popular, are also related to dream recall frequency. Higher dream recall frequency also increases the chances of encountering flying dreams.

Consequently, to fully assess the personality traits, it is necessary to look at each dreamer’s life comprehensively, not just their current emotional state.

Negative findings between dream recall frequency and personality traits

Aside from the aforementioned studies that showed no concrete relationship between most of the personality traits with HR, there are studies with negative findings on HR.

  • One did bring up the link between fantasy-proneness (fantasized dreams) and absorption and how they can cause dissociative tendencies8. This dissociation can be a precursor for some disorders like multiple personality disorders, excessive daydreaming and mixing up between reality and dream (hypnotizability) in extreme cases.
  • However, upon investigating the matter, the question still remains as to whether such personality traits can fully associate with dream recall frequency. Future studies will need to explore this aspect.

A study one year prior to the previously mentioned study displayed similar findings:

  • Hypnotic susceptibility and fantasy are present in some HR cases9.
  • However, openness to experiences, extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness did not show a strong relationship with dream recall frequency.
  • It is likely that HR and high dream recall frequency do not suggest any qualities that detract from the core personality traits of dreamers. Core personality traits refer to the regular, generic traits of the dreamers themselves and people around them. These are usually harmless qualities (e.g, helpfulness, sympathy, diligence, passion and audacity to name a few).

Other notes

Although these studies only experiment with dream recall frequency in normal monophasic sleepers, it is safe to apply the same principles and findings of these studies to dreaming polyphasic sleepers. Unfortunately, it will remain that way until there is more conclusive research.

Even though polyphasic sleeping likely generates more dreams, the only difference is that polyphasic sleepers sleep more than once per day on a daily basis. Anecdotal evidence of thousands of polyphasic sleepers in the community has reported that polyphasic sleeping does not change their core personality traits in any way. This is the case except temporary mood swings during adaptation period. Otherwise, regardless of whether they have successfully adapted to any polyphasic schedules or not does not matter.

No research in history has shown any negative correlation between personality traits and vivid dreaming as a result of polyphasic sleeping.

Conclusions

Personality traits and dream recall frequency remain debatable, as the studies mentioned in this blog post have limitations. Even though more research on the matter would help, most of the correlations are related to positive attitudes toward dreaming and creativity-related traits. These assessments are also common in HR in a way or another.

HR and LR also have different brain structures, which enable the former to dream more than the latter. Polyphasic sleepers often have more vivid dreams than when they are monophasic; there has been no established research on how this is bad or in what way polyphasic sleepers are especially regarded as such.

Main author: GeneralNguyen

Page last updated: 28 December 2020

  1. Eichenlaub, Jean-Baptiste, et al. “Brain Reactivity Differentiates Subjects with High and Low Dream Recall Frequencies during Both Sleep and Wakefulness.” Cerebral Cortex (New York, N.Y.: 1991). 1991;24(5):1206–1215. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhs388. [PMC]
  2. Ruby, Perrine, et al. “Alpha Reactivity to First Names Differs in Subjects with High and Low Dream Recall Frequency.” Frontiers in Psychology. 2013;4(13). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00419. [PMC]
  3. Stampi, Claudio. Why We Nap : Evolution, Chronobiology, and Functions of Polyphasic and Ultrashort Sleep. Birkhauser, 2014.
  4. Schredl, M., Nürnberg, C., & Weiler, S. (1996). Dream recall, attitude toward dreams, and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 20(5): 613–618. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(95)00216-2.
  5. Tonay, V. K. (1993). Personality correlates of dream recall: Who remembers? Dreaming, 3(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0094367.
  6. Schredl, M. (2007). Personality Correlates of Flying Dreams. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 27(2), 129–137. doi:10.2190/ic.27.2.
  7. “21 Highly Successful, Inspiring People with Mental Health Challenges.” HealthyPsych.Com, 2017, healthypsych.com/21-highly-successful-inspiring-people-with-mental-health-challenges/. Accessed 27. Feb. 2020.
  8. Levin, R., Fireman, G., & Rackley, C. (2003). Personality and dream recall frequency: Still further negative findings. Dreaming, 13(3), 155–162. doi:10.1023/a:1025321428651
  9. Schredl, M. (2002). Dream recall frequency and openness to experience: a negative finding. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(8), 1285–1289. doi:10.1016/s0191-8869(02)00013-2.

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