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4 Ways to Keep Dreaming Into Old Age

Vibrant dreaming can continue throughout the life cycle.

Key points

  • A slowdown in dreaming is not a fixed feature of aging; creative dreaming can continue throughout the life cycle.
  • Dream recall for older people can be increased by good sleep habits, keeping a dream journal, and sharing dreams with others.
  • Visitation dreams of deceased loved ones become especially frequent and meaningful in old age.
Kelly Bulkeley
Source: Kelly Bulkeley

Many adults dream less as they get older, and they miss it. They miss the pleasantly curious feeling of waking up with a strange new message from the unconscious in their minds.

A total loss of dreaming is not, however, an inevitable feature of aging. People can continue having vibrant, inspiring dreams all through their lives if they follow a few simple practices. The typical trajectory of dreaming through the life cycle starts with the highest levels of dream recall in childhood and adolescence and diminishes somewhat in the later stages of adulthood.

According to a 2018 survey of 5,255 American adults on their attitudes towards dreams (available in the Sleep and Dream Database), 57 percent of men between 18 and 34 years of age remember at least one dream a week. For men between 35 and 54, the figure is 50 percent, and for men 55 and older, it’s 45 percent.

For women, recall is even higher in early life, with 60 percent between 18 and 34 remembering at least one dream a week, then the drop-off is sharper, with a figure of 53 percent for women between 35 and 54 and 41 percent for women 55 and older.

But even with this relative decline over time, more than 40 percent of both men and women older than 55 remember their dreams once a week or more often. And at the farthest end of the recall scale, we still find 7 percent of men and 8 percent of women age 55 and older reporting that they remember a dream nearly every morning.

These survey findings indicate that age is not destiny with your powers of dreaming. If you follow the four simple practices below, you will be able to remember more of your dreams and discover new ways of bringing their creative energies into your waking life, no matter what your age.

  1. Wake up slowly. When we are asleep and dreaming, our brains operate in a distinctive mode different from normal waking consciousness. If you wake up too abruptly (for instance, to a loud alarm clock), your mind does not have enough time to transfer your experiences from dreaming mode into waking mode. So try this: when you wake up, either after a long night’s rest or an afternoon nap, give yourself a few calm moments to make the sleep-wake transition. Try not to jump out of bed, turn on the light, or check your phone for at least a minute or two, so the dreams you were just experiencing have a better chance of crossing the memory threshold into your waking awareness.
  2. Keep a dream journal. Even the most vivid dreams can fade soon after waking. If you place a pad of paper and a pen or pencil by your bedside, you can record your dreams quickly and conveniently. Voice-to-text apps can also work well for dream recording, but they have the downside of relying on a phone, with its many distracting features. Keeping a dream journal has at least two big benefits. One, it enables you to preserve your dreams over time so you can study them for meaningful patterns. Two, it invites new dreams by making it easier for them to enter the waking world.
  3. Share dreams with others. One of the most natural forms of human communication is dream-sharing. Throughout history, in cultures worldwide, people have made a regular practice of sharing and discussing their dreams with family, friends, and members of their community. Sharing dreams can provide unique opportunities for developing more empathetic understanding between different people, with more emotional honesty and authentic self-expression. Talking about dreams with people who are important to you will deepen your relationships with them and further stimulate your recall capacities.
  4. Welcome visitation dreams. The one exception to the age-related decline of dreaming is the experience of visitation dreams, in which someone who has died appears as if alive again in a dream. All other typical dreams (flying, falling, being chased, sexuality) tend to diminish through the life span, but visitation dreams become more frequent later in life. This makes sense because older people are more likely than younger people to have close friends and family members who have died and could thus appear in these kinds of dreams. Although strange and uncanny, visitation dreams often bring positive feelings of reassurance and consolation to the dreamers regarding the death of their loved ones. Even if it remains uncertain where these otherworldly dreams ultimately come from (Is it a ghost? A spirit? An image from the unconscious?), their emotional benefits make them among the most meaningful types of dreams people experience in the latter years of life.
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