According to Freud's theory of dreams, day's residues are memory traces left by the events and psychic processes of the waking state; they are used as raw material by the dream-work that serves the wishes of the dreamer.
This idea is much in evidence in Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), and is consonant with his basic thesis that all dreams are wish-fulfillments. With the help of the relaxation of the defenses that sleep allows, unsatisfied wishes of waking life work their way to a fulfillment that is described as "hallucinatory," because though invested with an illusory reality, it is cut off from both perception and motricity.
This permeability of the censorship permits explicit daytime wishes to be represented in dreams. It may still oppose their expression in an overly crude form. However, the distorting mechanisms characteristic of the primary processes then come into play: condensation, displacement, and putting into images, or "representability." The mechanism of displacement lets the dream-work use the day's residues for the purpose of wish-fulfillment by producing innocent-seeming representations: whence the dreamer's impression, upon awakening, of details that are trivial, if not meaningless. An acceptable meaning may emerge, however, when secondary revision comes into play, giving the dream an intelligible "facade" and thus in fact perfecting the distortion.
The day's residues, perhaps in combination with sensory impressions occurring during sleep, constitute the "raw material" that will be reworked by the dream. Here Freud used the metaphor of work performed in the construction industry: daytime thoughts and the work to which they were subjected played the role of the contractor, while the unconscious wish was comparable to the capitalist who finances the operation (furnishing its plan and the power for it).
Freud extended and rounded out this account in "A Metaphysical Supplement to the Theory of Dreams" (1916-1917f ), notably from a topographical angle. He argued that the day's residues are part of the preconscious, but receive the full cathexis necessary for the dream-work from the unconscious. He returned to this group of hypotheses in the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1916-1917 [1915-1917]).
Thereafter, the question of day's residues was paid scant attention by Freud, but inasmuch as the notion has a bearing on perception, memory, reality testing, hallucination, and other issues, it remains central. Meanwhile, psychoanalytic technique and practice continue to make use of it on a daily basis.
See also: Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" ; Dream; Irma's injection, dream of; Latent; Manifest; Secondary revision.
Freud, Sigmund. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5: 1-625.
——. (1916-1917f ). A metaphysical supplement to the theory of dreams. SE, 14: 217-235.
——. (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. SE : 15-16.
Langs, Robert J. (1971). Day residues, recall residues, dreams: reality and the psyche. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19, 499-523.
Luborsky, Lester, and Shevrin, Howard. (1956). Dreams and day-residues: a study of the Poetzl observation. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 20, 135-148.