Is there something more mysterious than a dream?
Scientists and psychologists have been trying to decipher them for decades to no avail. Some researchers say they genuinely make no sense apart from reorganizing our memories, while others say they have an essential role in keeping our emotional and mental health balance.
But why let someone tell you what dreams mean when you can do it yourself? And for that, there’s nothing like keeping a dream journal so you can give them some meaning.
If you want to start one, it would be a great idea to learn how to organize a dream journal first.
If you want to make the most out of your dream journal, it is VITAL to keep it easy to read, browse, and write over. And for that, nothing will help you more than our tips below:
RELATED: What Is a Dream Journal?
1. Separate It from Other Journals
The first tip of organization: have a single journal for dreaming ALONE.
You’ll want your dream journal to be separate from any other journal, especially diaries from your waking life or work.
As you’ll be writing things that may have a lot of resemblance with real life, you may end up confusing your thoughts awake vs. dreaming (did I really say that to my boss yesterday, or was that a dream…?).
Apart from that, dream journals may take a lot more space than typical journals. Especially if you want to use it as a source of creativity, there are endless ways you can write and draw on it. This may consume a significant part of the dream journal that you wouldn’t have available for potentially more “important” stuff.
ADVICE: Keep the dream journal digital if possible. Note-taking tools like Evernote, Roam Research, and Notion let you create pages/categories where you can store dreams separate from other notes. And more importantly, they allow you to tag notes effectively so you can make an index.
2. Use an Index (+Tags)
Indexes are the most helpful of all organization tips you can follow. In fact, doing this alone can save you most issues when organizing.
The index doesn’t have to be a complex one. A simple way to tag dreams like “Important,” “Non-Important,” “Weird,” and whatever else you feel comfortable with is enough.
Use your journaling app’s tagging or linking system (if you’re using a digital version). For physical journals, tabs with labels for different sections always come in handy.
And if you’re looking to make it even easier to browse through, consider adding an index page. This could be like a table of context where you direct yourself to different journal sections (separated by either dates or subjects).
EXTRA TIP: Bring new items to the index/table of contents as you write them. That means, once you write a new entry in the journal about a dream, you can then note it down in the index for later access. You DON’T HAVE to organize it all at once (it can actually be harmful to do so).
3. Add Titles, Dates, Lengths on Each Page
Titles are probably the second most helpful thing you can add to the journal. Adding titles to your dreams and the date they happened will help you come back to them later on and realize WHEN and for HOW LONG that dream happened.
As for the titles, a simple hint of what the dream was about can be enough. Just remember that titles are often the most memorable thing – so thinking about good titles can always help memorize them.
Dates are simple numbers, preferably the day, month, and year. If you wake up in the middle of the night to write your dreams down, noting the hour could also be helpful. Also, what if you dream during an afternoon nap? Note the time you went to bed and the time you woke up, like Dr. Eric H. Chudler’s Dream Journal page from the University of Washington.
And lastly, the length of the dream or how long you wrote about it. Time passes weirdly in dreams, but you will still need more words to describe longer ones (a good cue for the top of the entry). Things like “Short” or “Long” could be enough.
TO CONSIDER: A voice journal would be harder to add titles, dates, and lengths. Luckily, digital recorders will help you save them with specific names – follow the classic date/title format. The length of the voice note should be enough, so you can skip writing it down.
4. Identify the Type of Dream
Dreams are not always the same. You wouldn’t confuse a happy dream with a nightmare, right?
Well, you shouldn’t leave that out of your journal either. While having an index tab for the different types of dreams would help, you can also directly do it on top of the page.
Either way, always identify dreams for better recollection later on. You can do this by simply adding a small abbreviation like “N” for nightmare and “H” for happy, or even “W” for weird. Whatever you find more fitting could help.
DON’T FORGET: Using references like this will give you a clearer idea of how the dream was. As a result, you’ll have an easier time remembering it and recollecting what you felt.
5. Classify Common Themes
As you start writing down the dreams, you will eventually realize that many themes and subjects come back. Classifying these themes gives you an extra layer of organization (a truly useful one).
It is not a secret that many people dream things as a way of their subconscious to tell them something. This could be pretty much anything – like characters, an object, or a situation. Once themes in dreams start getting more and more similar, that’s probably something worth remembering.
These classifying themes can help compare different dreams as well. For example, one dream may have something that’s been repeating over time, but it also has a new factor. This could trigger a new thing in your life you may want to identify in the journal.
WORTH NOTING: Identifying dream themes this way may work as a practical way to categorize dreams as they happen. So, you won’t have to reorganize your journal later on, even as you fill up all the pages.
6. Keep a Section of Feelings
Every dream produces a specific feeling. More than that, they make you think of something, either related to real-life or about ideas you’ve been having.
As soon as you sit down to write about the dream you just had, write a short description of how that dream made you feel.
Even before you start breaking down the dream, this section will help you return to how it felt. As you start writing/reading, you’ll have a clearer idea of what happened in such a dream.
Apart from that, this section tends to be immensely helpful not only as an organization feature but also to give sense to your dreams. If you’ve been having nightmares or sad dreams, for example, writing down how they made you feel could give you a hint about something in real life that also does.
Overall, there’s no downside to this. It is an optional way to give your written dreams more power as you read them, something you may find useful later on.
REMEMBER: We remember things better when they have emotional weight. Writing down your dreams with an emotional cue will help you remember the details much more effectively.
7. Have a Breaking-Down Dreams Section
Each entry should have a section where you explain what happened in the dream and in what order.
This breaking down of different points in your dreams could help you separate themes, feelings, and ideas you may have had.
As a practical way to do it, you can separate dreams into different sections or pieces. These pieces may eventually have their own subject or focus, so you can identify and remember more easily.
If you’re one of those who has difficulty remembering dreams, you can separate these sections with initial cues. Tiny descriptions of your dreams in a few words should make it easy to remember the rest, or at least understand what happened.
It’s pretty much selective recollection, where you write down what you remember of every dream before you go and try to give anything a meaning.
CURIOUS DETAIL: Focus on breaking down details and specifics while breaking down your dreams. Things as seemingly irrelevant like colors, sizes, textures, sounds, and even smells could give you a fantastic hint of what you dreamed and how you felt.
8. Vary the Format Consistently
As you start filling the dream journal, regardless of the type you’re using, it is always helpful to experiment with the format.
This is mainly about the way you write. For example, sentences in bullet points tend to be more descriptive and easier to remember than paragraphs. Also, they end up being more digestible, so you can re-read your dreams later on with ease.
Don’t forget about highlighting and using italics. Adding questions here and there, mixing up titles and parenthesis, quotation marks, and other format changes will give your journal a better organization.
This is mostly about readability and making it fun. But it ultimately also helps with organization, especially after you experiment and find out what you really like.
WORTH CONSIDERING: Try to write small sentences and paragraphs. Focus on using keywords for important parts instead. They will make you think and remember instead of writing everything down unnecessarily.
9. Leave Space for Drawings and Images
Whether you’re using a physical or digital journal, leaving space within pages so you can add visual aids will always help.
While you may think this isn’t an organization tip, it totally is. The fact is, most people don’t think about adding visual representations to their dreams, so they rarely think about leaving a space for that.
When you do so on purpose, it eventually becomes easier to add more images, drawings, or any visual aid you may want. And sure enough, you can enjoy your writing and imagery without stuffing the page too much (which could make it harder to read/understand).
TO THINK: We also remember things better when we give them visual representations. As simple as trying to write how something looked in our dreams may help us bring new things by association.
10. Don’t Forget a Dream Summary
Every page or entry in your journal should have a brief section where you sum up the dream. This is a perfect way to recollect thoughts and feelings as well.
You could pretty much say this would be like a synopsis. Use as simple words as you can to summarize the dream in fewer than 20 words. You would see how it helps you remember more details while making you describe things more vividly.
INTERESTING PART: Penning down things in as few words as possible will force you to think harder about what happened in the dream. So, a summary helps both at keeping your journal organized while pushing you to remember things harder.
Organize Your Dream Journal Like an Expert!
You should now be well-ware of how to organize a dream journal with little to no effort.
Organizing your dream journal has little to no downside, especially if you’re a consistent lucid dreamer or someone who loves talking about them.
As you start going back to your well-organized dream journal, you’ll find it was always a great thing to do. In fact, you will think, “why didn’t I organize my dream journal like this before?”
So, what are you waiting to put these tips to work?