Using herbal supplements to increase vivid dreams and make it easier to achieve lucid dreams is a well-known practice in the dream work community. Although dream herbs can be powerful aids to enhanced dreaming, dream supplements offer an overlooked route to better dreaming. Some of the advantages of dream supplements are that they tend to be common, widely available vitamins and other compounds that also deliver overall health benefits, with enhanced dreaming as a supplementary effect. While they are definitely effective dream aids, potent dream herbs such as Calea zacatechichi and Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort) often result in a lighter, less restful quality of sleep. This is fine if you’re just planning on lucid dreaming on weekends. But for those of you who want to lucid dream while maintaining a normal sleep schedule, dream supplements are worth a try.
The supplements below are not marketed for dreaming per se but rather for maintaining healthy brain function and circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the sleep-wake cycle. Luckily for you lucid dreaming practitioners out there, when used as a tonic over time, many of these supplements have the side effect of vivid dreams and enhanced dream recall.
We’ll begin our survey with melatonin, a very old hormone that is found in almost all living organisms, from humans to plants and even microbes. Melatonin is produced by our pineal glands and regulates the sleep-wake cycle, making us more alert in the daytime when we’re exposed to sunlight, and causing drowsiness after the sun goes down in preparation for sleep. Melatonin is often taken by people who have trouble falling asleep, and can be obtained over the counter in the U.S. Along with its propensity for inducing vivid and lucid dreams, melatonin may also deliver a raft of health benefits: as an anti-oxidant, melatonin helps protect DNA and other nuclear structures inside the cell from degradation caused by oxidizing free-radicals. If you do try melatonin, be sure use it in moderation: though it has been shown to be safe to use for a period of up to three months, some side effects at higher doses (3 mg or more) include sleepiness, nausea, headache, irritability, and next-day drowsiness.
Vitamins and supplements that support brain function can also be effective dream supplements. The most widely available of these is vitamin B6 (pyroxidine), an amino acid precursor essential for preserving brain and nerve health. A well-balanced diet will usually give you all the B6 you need for good health: B6 occurs in common foods like eggs, nuts, meat, fish, spinach, and legumes; plus the average adult only needs about 1.3 mg of B6 per day to be healthy. However, for those interested in augmenting their dreams using vitamin B6, a supplement dose of about 100 mg should do the trick.
Amino acid supplements that support cognition and memory also have a beneficial effect on dream recall and intensity. Three I’d like to mention here are galantamine, choline, and 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan). Galantamine is the closest thing to a traditional dream herb in our list of dreaming supplements: an alkaloid derived from the red spider lily or common daffodil, galantamine promotes better cognition, with a side serving of noticeably vivid dreams. The red spider lily’s properties were recognized in ancient China, where it was used as a memory herb; it also gets a mention in Homer’s Odyssey as a dream herb. As a modern testament to galantamine’s effectiveness, dream researcher Stephen LaBerge has recently been testing galantamine on experienced lucid dreamers with positive results.
Many lucid dreamers combine galantamine with a choline supplement for even more memorable dreams. Choline is an amino acid precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and is found in bananas, potatoes and other common vegetables and fruits. Choline may enhance dream recall by increasing your brain’s supply of acetylcholine: a healthy supply of this neurotransmitter is essential in memory and learning, so a choline supplement can really go a long way to helping you recall your dreams more frequently and in greater detail.
Dream workers have attested that galantamine and choline taken together give one greater control over dreams (lucid or not), better dream recall, and a higher incidence of lucid dreams. This combination is reportedly quite effective for achieving a wake-induced lucid dream using LaBerge’s “wake back to bed” technique. If you decide to try these supplements, be sure to limit them to occasional, rather than habitual use: both choline and galantamine can build up in the bloodstream over time and sometimes cause unpleasantly vivid dreams. Some people also experience side effects such as sweating, nausea, and vomiting. In higher doses, diarrhea and weight loss can occur, in which case you should discontinue use.
Our final dream supplement is 5-HTP, a byproduct of the amino acid L-tryptophan. Taken before you go to sleep, 5-HTP is thought to work by suppressing the REM cycle in the early stages of sleep, resulting in a rebound effect of more intense REM after about 5-6 hours of sleep. Especially in combination with galantamine, 5-HTP is becoming well known as an effective inducer of vivid and lucid dreams for this reason. Note that 5-HTP works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, so if you are taking any medication that increases your serotonin (such as an SSRI for depression, or a medication classified as an MAOI), you should definitely consult a physician before using 5-HTP to avoid the possibility of experiencing an unpleasant interaction.
When using dream supplements, set an alarm to wake yourself after you’ve had a solid 4 to 6 hours of restful sleep: this will ensure that you awake when your brain is on the brink of its most active REM cycle and will synergize with these supplements’ effects. Timing your dream supplementation in the early morning will also ensure that you wake the next day relatively refreshed, rested, and hopefully with an interesting dream to record in your journal!