Thought Record

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This is a record of thoughts in your mind, generally from the night time and more particularly from whenever a person sleeps and for the period when they are falling asleep or waking up. It includes:

  • a detailed record of dreams
  • a detailed record of dream-like states from when falling asleep (hypnagogic phenomena) or from when waking up (hypnopompic phenomena)
  • disturbing thoughts from when you woke up at any point in the night
  • thoughts from when you were half-asleep
  • thoughts from thinking in your sleep (called ‘sleep mentation’)
  • thoughts, and especially chains for worries, from any period when frustrated and struggling to get to sleep as when tossing and turning
  • habitual list-making such as to-do lists for the next day, that keep you up, when you should be falling asleep
  • thoughts about body sensations in the night or during sleep such as pains or bladder discomfort
  • thoughts and sensations from just before or while waking up to sounds, especially to small sounds that a person should be able to sleep through.

The problem

Memory from the night, including dream memory is often very poor. Millions of people get up frequently or sleep poorly and do not know why. It is often impossible to know how to help without knowing what is going on.

One aspect of the problem of dream memory is what I, the author, (Mark Doidge) call “the dream eraser”. This is my theory that right after waking up from dreams an active process takes place in the brain of quickly removing most or all of the dream from memory. It seems to take a few seconds. Sometimes, it is almost as if you can “feel” it happening especially when you struggle at that time to recall the dream. When I was in my late teens I had been reading about dreams and Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. I made a determined effort one night to do everything possible to remember my dream. I think I wrote about 15 or 20 pages. I succeeded because I rushed to start writing right away. I wrote very quickly. What happened was that each time I wrote a detail, it helped me to remember another and another. It seemed like I was defeating the dream eraser.


The main purpose of keeping a thought record is to discover mental activity that may be interfering with your sleep including bad dreams, pains and sleep mentation. This can be used to suggest ideas on how to fix the problem.

Additional goals are to:

  • capture the small and big details of a dream immediately upon awakening while struggling not to forget them and before they disappear from your memory. This includes lucid dreams.
  • understand light sleep and the process of unwanted wake ups.
  • to explain mysterious repeated or sudden awakenings that are disturbing people from getting a good night of sleep

Sleep mentation

Sleep mentation is thinking in your sleep.

More research is needed in this field as not much has been written about it. It is clinically important. There are several known types: planning such as planning for the next day. Another may relate to danger.

One type of sleep mentation is a form of problem solving during your sleep. Sometimes the problem is solved. Based on anecdotes, this process may be exciting enough to interfere with sleep and make it less restful.

Technique requires discipline

You need to be ready and willing to struggle to remember what is in your mind before it disappears. For reasons that are not entirely clear, many people fail to bother with making a thought record, even after their therapist explains the usefulness.

On a positive note, it is usually not necessary to make a good thought record more than a few times.

Method and Instructions for keeping a thought diary

  • Dictate, don’t write, because dictation is much faster.
  • Use an app such as the “Notes” app which comes free with an iPhone. This is a voice to text tool that will type out your dreams for you. It is not perfect so you probably will have to edit it after. Make sure to dictate slowly and carefully, otherwise there will be more mistakes than necessary.
  • Keep your phone beside bed. then grab it as soon as you wake up.
  • Be ready to “fight” to remember the details right away before you forget them.
  • Get out of bed if you have a bed partner and go to a quiet room to dictate so that you do not disturb them.
  • Don’t be surprised if you are able to dictate many pages of details about some dreams.
  • Don’t be satisfied if you just record skimpy vague memories of dreams.

Some pointers

For light sleepers that wake to the slightest sound

Many people who wake up every morning feeling unrefreshed even with 8 hours of sleep, are suffering from light sleep. Very often they report waking to even the slightest sound and watching out for danger during their sleep. It is important to understand the mental processes that are happening. As soon as you wake up from a sound, start dictating everything you can remember about the sound that you heard and how it affected you.

For people in pain during the night

If pain is waking you up, use the thought record to help you understand the process. This could include pains from any cause including fibromyalgia or IBS.

For people with restless legs

If restless legs keep you from sleeping, use the thought record to capture the fine details about how the disturbing restless feelings are “playing” on your mind.

For people with sleep apnea who fight with they CPAP mask

If you are having a hard time adapting to your CPAP mask and it bothers you during the night, use the thought record to capture your mental battle with your mask.

For people with exhausting epic frustration dreams

If you suffer from long complicated frustration dreams (not nightmares) in which you get mentally exhausted from challenge after challenge, use the thought record to capture the details, then use them as clues to understand what needs to be fixed.

For people using lucid dreaming and imagery rehearsal therapy for nightmares

During lucid dreaming, dreamers describe a second consciousness of being in a waking-like state, at the same time as being in a dream state. Successful lucid dreamers describe being able to take control of their dreams as when trying to control the outcome of a nightmare in progress, or trying to wake oneself up because one realizes they are caught in a nightmare and they want to get themselves out of the situation. By keeping a thought record of lucid dreaming, one can help understand the process.