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, yet 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, from purely murky details of the dreams to highly vivid descriptions. There are still certain outliers – those who still have trouble recalling dreams from power naps or a decently long core sleep, but this number is small and typically suggests an in-progress adaptation to polyphasic sleeping.

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

Low and high dream recallers

Although a lot of questions about brain mechanics up to date are left unanswered, 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, while EEG did not detect any differences in sleep architecture of either groups1.

  • Intra-sleep wakefulness is considered a contributing factor to increasing dream recall rate due to certain forebrain regions that 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 a stimulus was created to detect brain wave activity, in the form of tones and other auditory forms. HR once again demonstrated higher brain reactivity than LR1.

It was concluded that the cerebral structure of HR is different from that of LR and 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 is therefore increased in HR, which was also hypothesized to result in awakenings2. This phenomenon bears resemblance to sudden awakenings (whether during a core sleep or a nap) that are caused by sleepers’ “sudden snapping out of their dream(s)”. Upon awakening, it is commonly reported in the polyphasic community that dreams are recalled to specific details.

From monophasic sleep to polyphasic sleep

The transition to monophasic sleep to polyphasic sleep poses different changes in sleep architecture that the body has to account for, especially when total sleep is reduced. Due to sleep repartitioning, in which sleep stages are rearranged during adaptation to reduce the amount of light sleep to preserve vital sleep stages, polyphasic sleepers spend a higher percentage of sleep in REM sleep (except possibly non-reduced 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 switching from monophasic sleep to a polyphasic sleep regime dramatically increases the chance of vivid dreaming for the majority of polyphasic sleepers, 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, it is important to note that certain mechanics are unclear as to how the human body has to change to adapt to a polyphasic sleep regime that is known to sharply increase the amount of dreams. More research on this area is needed.

Personality traits of polyphasic sleepers

It is currently still unclear how certain personality traits are associated with high dream recall frequency; proposed ones are fantasy-proneness, or delusion in severe cases of daydreaming disorder. Given that these cases are extreme and do not apply to normal, average humans, it is a stretch to associate similar traits to polyphasic sleepers. From the get-go, most sleepers who express their desire to attempt polyphasic sleep want to improve their sleep, energy level and dream recalling as a bonus. This starting point is sufficient to conclude that polyphasic sleepers are open to new experiences and have a positive attitude toward dreaming (hence the desire to dream more). In fact, positive attitudes toward dreaming, motivation to recall and openness to different experiences have been shown to correlate 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 for a while upon 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 and neurotic. These assessments are based on anecdotal evidence from polyphasic sleepers in the community that have been collected 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 individuals who dream5.
  • Another study claimed that recalling flying dreams is associated with low neuroticism scores (strong stability of daily emotions)6. High neuroticism scores, on the other hand, denote negative qualities such as anxiety, stress, etc. As suggested in the study, dream content is an area that needs more research, but some other interpretations can be made from the study. Flying dreams, which are very popular as documented, are also related to dream recall frequency. Higher dream recall frequency also increases the chances of encountering flying dreams.

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

Studies with 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 inferred as 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 be fully associated with dream recall frequency. This leaves more to be explored in future studies.

A study one year prior to the previously mentioned study displayed similar findings – hypnotic susceptibility, fantasy can be seen in some HR cases9. However, openness to experiences, extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness did not show a strong relationship with dream recall frequency. Hence, it is likely that HR and high dream recall frequency do not suggest any qualities (at least so far) that detract from the core personality traits of dreamers. Core personality traits refer to the regular, generic traits assessed by the dreamers themselves and people around them. These are usually harmless qualities (e.g, helpfulness, sympathy, diligence, passion and audacity to name a few).

NOTE: 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 polyphasic sleeping when it comes to dreaming (until future research has more definitive conclusions). Even though polyphasic sleeping is much more likely to generate 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 (except temporary mood swings during adaptation period in some cases), regardless of whether they have successfully adapted to any polyphasic schedules or not. 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 are not clearly understood, as the studies mentioned in this blog post have limitations of their own. Even though more research on the matter is needed (due to some discrepancies across recent and past studies), most of the correlations are related to positive attitudes toward dreaming and creativity-related traits (e.g, fantasy). These assessments are also commonly seen 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 and there has been no established research on how this is a bad phenomenon or in what way polyphasic sleepers are especially regarded as such.

Main author: GeneralNguyen

Page last updated: 27 March 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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