The real reason we don’t remember our dreams

There are nighttimes and naptimes when we are in the middle of vivid, colorful dreams, and they feel so significant at the time that we tell ourselves that our dreams are worth remembering and reliving in our minds as soon as we get up. And then… nothing.

Before you kick yourself for having the memory of a goldfish, you might consider that our brains are naturally wired to forget our dreams. Researchers have found that when our body quiets down in preparation for sleep mode, one part of that brain, the hippocampus, actually keeps going, and that part of the brain works by sending information from our short-term memory bank into the long-term one. And if the hippocampus is the last part of our brains to go into sleep mode, it could also be the last one to wake up. 

“So, you could have this window where you wake up with a dream in your short-term memory, but since the hippocampus is not fully awake yet, your brain is not able to keep that memory,” Australian neuroscientist Thomas Andrillon tells LiveScience.

Our brains may be hot wired to forget dreams

But having a sluggish hippocampus is just one possible reason why our brains might unilaterally decide that dreams are, for the most part, worth forgetting. Scientific American says that during REM sleep (which is when our dreams start playing out in our sleep), our cerebral cortex, which regulates functions like memory, language, and consciousness, registers a lack of the hormone norepinephrine, which scientists think helps give memory a boost in humans.

Then there is the theory that our brains are good at letting go of things that aren’t important to us, because thinking about important things tends to fire up our dorsolateral prefrontal complex or DLPFC, or the part of our brain that takes care of our memory function. For the most part, the DLPFC doesn’t kick in unless a dream or thought needs to be remembered, so for a dream to fire up this part of the brain it would have to be exceptional. 

So don’t sweat it if you happen to forget your dreams. It may be your brain’s way of telling you that those dreams may not be worth remembering after all.

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