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Psychology in the time of Freud was occupied with dreams. Relaying these to one's analyst was an important part of treatment.

Fast-forward to less than 100 years later, and we know so much about the importance of sleep in consolidating memories during REM [1][2] and slow-wave sleep [3] (among countless other references I have omitted).

Let us assume dreaming is largely relegated to REM (ignoring dreams experienced during stage 2 sleep). If we recall our dreams at a later time then is it detrimental to any subsequent process of memory consolidation?

If our dream represents a state through which our brain is passing to consolidate memory, what is the effect of recalling that intermediate state and potentially storing it back in long-term memory?


  1. Ishikawa A, Kanayama Y., et al (2006). Selective rapid eye movement sleep deprivation impairs the maintenance of long-term potentiation in the rat hippocampus. Eur J Neurosci.,24 (1),243-8.

  2. Louie K, Wilson MA. (2001). Temporally structured replay of awake hippocampal ensemble activity during rapid eye movement sleep. Neuron,29 (1),145-56. FREE PDF

  3. Ji D, Wilson MA (2007) Coordinated memory replay in the visual cortex and hippocampus during sleep. Nat Neurosci, 10(1),100-7. FREE PDF

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Do you mean "potentially storing it back in short-term memory?" – alan2here Feb 8 '12 at 16:45
Is the answer that the following night a duplicate entry gets added to long-term memory? – alan2here Feb 8 '12 at 16:47
@alan2here I don't think anyone knows for sure, but I'd like to find out about scientific evidence that supports that. – Chuck Sherrington Feb 8 '12 at 16:51
There has been this recent article that actually argues that dreaming and REM sleep are not the same, and implicates that dopaminergic activity is involved in dreaming:… – Alex Stone May 24 '13 at 17:19
Thanks, @AlexStone, I'll take a look at that. I know that there are definitely tonic vs. phasic REM (eye movements or not), and dreaming is associated with phasic. – Chuck Sherrington May 25 '13 at 2:00
up vote 12 down vote accepted

I am not aware of any study that specifically addresses dream recall, but there is a growing literature about "memory reconsolidation" or "post-reactivation plasticity", the idea that memory reactivation (recall) can temporarily return a memory to a state of high fragility and susceptibility to interference, after which a process similar to consolidation makes it more resistent again. Most memory reconsolidation work has been with animals, but there are a few studies with human subjects [1][2]. [3] is an interesting paper about (re)consolidation of motor memory during slow-wave sleep. [4] and [5] are good reviews of the field.

[1] Hupbach, A., Gomez, R., Hardt, O., & Nadel, L. (2007). Reconsolidation of episodic memories: A subtle reminder triggers integration of new information. Learning & Memory, 14(1-2), 47 -53. doi:10.1101/lm.365707

[2] Forcato, C., Burgos, V. L., Argibay, P. F., Molina, V. A., Pedreira, M. E., & Maldonado, H. (2007). Reconsolidation of declarative memory in humans. Learning & Memory, 14(4), 295-303. doi:10.1101/lm.486107

[3] Walker, M. P., Brakefield, T., Hobson, J. A., & Stickgold, R. (2003). Dissociable stages of human memory consolidation and reconsolidation. Nature, 425(6958), 616–620. doi:10.1038/nature01930

[4] Nader, K., & Hardt, O. (2009). A single standard for memory: the case for reconsolidation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 224–234. doi:10.1038/nrn2590

[5] Schiller, D., & Phelps, E. A. (2011). Does Reconsolidation Occur in Humans? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 5. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2011.00024

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