How do I get my weird dreams back?
July 9, 2009 6:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my weird dreams back?

I love sleeping and I love dreaming. For most of my life, I've had extremely vivid, highly symbolic, and often nonsense dreams, which I have enjoyed immensely, even the bad ones. I have a huge dream journal, and occasionally have had significant personal realizations from my dreams. I've even dreamt lucidly a few times.

Starting around the beginning of the year, my dreams have become more and more pedestrian. Now, instead of spending the night riding a giant seahorse to the potato moon of the dog star planet, I end up dreaming that I am about to go overdue on a bill, or that my passive-aggressive neighbor left a note on my door. That type of thing is pretty much all I dream about now.

How do I get the weirdness back into my dream-life? So far I've tried creative writing exercises, a spontaneous vacation, and even a dose of hallucinogenic drugs, none of which have had a noticeable effect on my dreams. I'm a perfectly healthy male in my late 20's, in climate zone 8b.
posted by aliasless to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not necessarily recommending this, but SSRIs often have the effect of giving people vivid dreams. I never talked in my sleep until I went on them. One night my partner woke me up because I was chewing on his nose in my sleep.

It seems like you have a lot of daytime stressors that are interfering with your sleep. Have you tried journaling or seeing a therapist?
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:58 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

ETA- By journaling I meant more of a diary thing than a dream journal, just somewhere to process your stressors so that you're not doing it in your sleep
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:59 AM on July 9, 2009

I usually have a "wtf, brain?" dream on nights when I take melatonin.
posted by logicpunk at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Vivid dreams are a oft-reported side-effect of some variants of NRT. You could try putting a patch on in the evening.
posted by K.P. at 7:05 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Put on a nicotine patch before bed and you will have unbelievably vivid, wild, memorable dreams. I never remember what I dream about, but if I go to bed with a nicotine patch, I'll remember, because I am in for either the best or worst eight hours of my life.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

You may or may not want to do this, but getting high on opiates and going to sleep will invariably give you crazy fucked up dreams. Morphine is named for Morpheus, the god of dreams, after all, and that's no accident. Natural poppy-derived opiates work better than synthetics for this, but either way it'll work to some degree.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:19 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have weird dreams when I study a lot or otherwise exhaust my brain.
posted by yesno at 7:22 AM on July 9, 2009

I've had awesome, weird dreams my entire life. I used to call melatonin "dream acid"because it would send the dreams into overdrive.

If you want to go all the way and push the borders of discombobulated dreamtime brainulations and psychosis, get your hands on some Chantix. (if you smoke, use it to quit! Guaranteed to rock your sleepworld unless you have a violent psychotic break first. Get it before it's banned!)
posted by zerokey at 7:22 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some previous posts on Ask people mention that vitamin B6 supplements cause weird dreams.
posted by phoenixy at 7:26 AM on July 9, 2009

I always got crazy dreams when I listened to tracks from a binaural beat generator during my sleep. Alwaysalways. I believe I used SBaGen, but I forget which wave caused the vivid crazy nonsense dreams. Thanks for reminding me of this!
posted by Bakuun at 7:27 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by elsietheeel at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2009

Eating cheese before you go to bed will give you batty dreams. Salvador Dali and Don Hertzfeldt were/are both fans.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:41 AM on July 9, 2009

Wikipedia has a list of ways to induce lucid dreaming. If you can induce lucid dreams, then you can choose how weird they are.
posted by lore at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Some people get vivid dreams when they take B6 supplements.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:44 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cymbalta gave me multiple crazy-ass dreams every single night for months on end, to the point where sleep was actually exhausting. (Wouldn't recommend it or any antidepressant unless you actually need one, though - Cymbalta is expensive, can kill your sex drive, and going off it is a nighmare.)

Other than that, I tend to naturally go through cycles where I have lots of cool dreams for a few weeks, then a few weeks of relatively dreamless sleep. Your dreams will probably come back around eventually.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:55 AM on July 9, 2009

Try chocolate before bed.
posted by mearls at 7:59 AM on July 9, 2009

posted by flabdablet at 8:03 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Instead of loading up on drugs, why not try to determine the root cause of why your dreams changed? It sounds like there is something deep down that is worrying you so much that your poor brain just wants to deal with it on THIS planet instead of going off on flights of fancy.

I second getting into a habit of journaling every day to figure out what is going on in your life that is making your unconscious want to stay home. Write about what happened, how you felt about it, and what you thought about, and maybe some patterns will emerge.

It might help to talk to someone else like a counselor, therapist, trusted friend, spiritual adviser, etc. This person will help you evaluate what's going on more objectively than you can do by yourself. Not that you NEED therapy or to be "fixed", but the point would be to tell this person what's going on in your life and let them work with you to tease out what might be troubling you.
posted by amethysts at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2009

I think the issue is more related to your mundane dreams, which sound somewhat stressful. If you have had increased stress, your subconscious may be going over these things repeatedly in your sleep.
posted by Saydur at 8:07 AM on July 9, 2009

When I've tried taking Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Nytol) as a sleep aid it's given me crazy and vivid dreams, but for me they were generally unpleasant.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:09 AM on July 9, 2009

Melatonin (available in pretty much any drug store as a vitamin supplement) has been reported to cause vivid dreams. It's typically used as a natural sleep aid. I use it occasionally but it doesnt seem to work very well for me. And I already have lucid dreams every night, many of them unpleasant, so I'm glad to report that melatonin doesnt help in that regard either. Your results may vary.
posted by elendil71 at 8:11 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also get a lot of mundane dreams when I'm just plain doing a lot of mundane stuff during the day. Though I find a small drink before bed tends to give me weird dreams.
posted by lucidium at 8:17 AM on July 9, 2009

Nicotine patches sure did the trick for me, although I found the sleep much less restful, too.
posted by kprincehouse at 8:20 AM on July 9, 2009

Try some eggplant. I buy the tiny ones from India and stew them for a long time, mash them up and make a meal. Dream city. The virtues of the Nightshade family.
posted by effluvia at 8:29 AM on July 9, 2009

Pizza before bed always did it for me. I always figured it was the spices that brought on the vivid dreams rather than the cheese as others have mentioned above, but a slice a half an hour or so before retiring might do the trick (I'm with you - I really love the vivid and seemingly symbolic dreams and miss them when they're not happening. Good luck!)
posted by metagnathous at 8:30 AM on July 9, 2009

Magnesium supplements give me pleasant, vivid dreams when I take if before bed. No, not melatonin, although I have tried it.

I tried some magnesium in a pathetic attempt to reduce my chocolate cravings. That didn't work, but it seemed to reduce my anxiety dreams (anything from "bad" dreams to "OMG I haven't shown up for this class all semester" dreams, etc.) and make them more pleasant, detailed, and easily remembered.

The magnesium for me rivaled nictotine patch dreams, but those are definitely more bizarre, lucid, and almost hallucinogenic.

On preview: like kprincehouse, I did not get restful sleep on the patch. The mag does give me very restful sleep.
posted by peep at 8:33 AM on July 9, 2009

This sounds counter-intuitive, but I'd recommend locking away the dream journal, and basically try to focus on your waking life as much as possible (i.e. try not to think about dreaming when you're awake at all if you can avoid it). Dreams are made up of a combination random ideas pulled from every nook in your psyche, and memories from your waking life (usually the events of the last few days I think). In my experience, the more you think about your dream life when you're awake, the more those thoughts of dreams in waking life are going to be recalled as memories of waking life in your dreams, and thus the more likely your dreams are to start resembling your everyday "mundane" waking life. Obviously if you have real anxiety in your everyday life, then those issues do tend to resurface in a dream context, but if you don't and want your dreams to take on a more fantastical form, then it makes sense to sever the connection between your waking life and dream one as much as possible in my opinion. If that makes sense.

Another thing that sounds slightly nonsensical is that I tend to find that the more tired I am, the more mundane my dreams. I mean, obviously you're tired, otherwise you wouldn't be asleep. But try taking a short refreshing nap mid-afternoon, as opposed to a full night's sleep, and you'll probably find that if you do dream, your dreams will be more vivid and generally more creative.

Feel free to MeFi Mail to chat about all this further, not that I'm an expert at all. That said, I did manage to train myself to consistently lucid dream if you'd like to know more about that side of things.
posted by iivix at 8:36 AM on July 9, 2009

Have you started taking any pills or meds with more frequency at all? I went through a period where I was taking Benadryl nightly and my normally extremely vivid dreams vanished completely. They came back when I stopped taking it.
posted by anderjen at 9:08 AM on July 9, 2009

nthing melatonin or benadryl. I always have crazy dreams on either.
posted by TheBones at 9:14 AM on July 9, 2009

Seconding melatonin...just watch out for the hag.

The hag, for the curious.

posted by kittyprecious at 9:18 AM on July 9, 2009

Don't know if this applies to you, and there are good suggestions here. However, something has not been mentioned: marijuana affects how well you retain the memory of dreams. If you regularly indulge, take a break for a few days. Just another datapoint, probably does not apply to you
posted by nameless.k at 9:27 AM on July 9, 2009

Response by poster: I am amazed at the responses so far - I can't mark a single favorite without marking them all. I'll try the non-scrip methods for sure: melatonin, B6, cheese (I love this suggestion), pizza, nightshade plants, binaural beats. I'd rather stay away from heavy pharmaceuticals for now although I will keep those options in mind for later if needed.

Although I feel quite at peace and lead a stable, happy life, I may try some journaling and possibly a therapist if things don't improve, as some of you have suggested.

Keep the ideas flowing if anyone has any additional thoughts. Thanks.
posted by aliasless at 9:40 AM on July 9, 2009

Valerian root capsules can also bring on the strange dreams.
posted by jquinby at 9:55 AM on July 9, 2009

Hmm. Let's try that link again: valerian root.
posted by jquinby at 9:59 AM on July 9, 2009

I had some reasonable results for a short time with Vitamin B6 supplements. Taking them directly before bed did not work for me, but about 4-6 hours before bed gave best results. Your own results may vary.

I have seen others suggest 5-HTP. I've only just started to take it so cannot comment on it yet - the benefit over SSRIs, however, is that you can buy it legally with no prescription.
posted by wackybrit at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2009

For several months, I kept a dream diary. As soon as I woke up I wrote down a detailed description of my dream that night. I don't know why, but after a couple of weeks of doing so my dreams became more and more exciting and vivid and much easier to remember. I'd give it a shot!
posted by emd3737 at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll toss in yet another recommendation for melatonin: the first time I tried it, I was actually shocked by the utter surreality and vividity of a dream I had that same night -- nothing before it had ever come close to such extremes on those levels. (And when I say 'shocked', I mean I was actually a little on edge throughout the next day, all for being unexpectedly exposed to the awe-inspiring power of my psyche.)
posted by astrochimp at 10:26 AM on July 9, 2009

Nthing the recommendation to pin down what changed in your waking life around the beginning of the year that seems to be affecting your dreaming life, whether that's through therapy, writing in a journal, meditation, or whatever. It might be something really small -- change in diet? Change in exercise habits? Change of address, even?

For what it's worth, if I drink coffee past 8 PM, I tend to have very vivid dreams, and usually not very nice ones. I think I'm so inured to the affects of caffeine that it doesn't keep me awake, but it does seem to cause these dreams.
posted by stennieville at 10:47 AM on July 9, 2009

Something to consider is that it might not be your dreams that are affected, but your recollection of them. Studies have shown that we only recollect a small fraction of our dreams. This has been demonstrated by waking subjects from sleep. Apart from a few hours of deep, dreamless sleep, the mind is invariably active, and you may be having thousands of "seahorse to the moon" caliber dreams every night.

So, I'd say that before you experiment with pizza, or melatonin, or opiates (probably not a good idea to follow that path), think about what might be affecting your recollection of the dreams. Could you be sleeping deeper due to stress? If all else fails, I think that the lucid dream technique might work, though I have yet to try it myself.
posted by Gordion Knott at 12:22 PM on July 9, 2009

There is a "dream herb" that I've read about and seen listed as an ingredient in herbal cigarettes. I have no idea if it works or does anything but I thought I should mention it.
posted by chairface at 1:37 PM on July 9, 2009

Fascinating responses!

Nthing pinpointing what in your life has changed. Even though you are happy and stable, are you experiencing greater stress?

For me, when I teach throughout the year my dreams are boring. I always look forward to summer and going to bed each night because of the most amazing dreams I know I will have. This has been the pattern for years--I attribute to the feeling of freedom in summer and stress over the year--although now, I think I'll try cheese!
posted by hollygirl at 1:54 PM on July 9, 2009

Hippie remedy: I hear that sleeping with mugwort under your pillow (in an herbal pillow or some such) brings on trippy dreams. Didn't work for me, but my dreams have always been dull and flat. You might have better luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2009

5-htp gave me crazy wild dreams
posted by belladonna at 5:46 PM on July 9, 2009

I too have very fantastic, wild and wonderful dreams. Mine also took a massive dive this year - extremely bland, same fucking people every night, the lamest storylines - complete utter bullshit!!

It was really starting to get me down and one morning I woke up and I'd had enough! I just snapped it and kind of (mentally) berated myself (like someone continuing to produce such substandard at time when they should really no better, beside the fact that is was frustratingly fucking boring!! kinda thing).

It worked. That night it was bizarre and fabulous as usual. It was actually better than I was hoping for, as a gesture of good will perhaps?? :) And I've had no problems with my dreams since. So maybe you could try giving your subconscious 'a piece of your mind'. It totally worked for me.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:50 PM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have crazy dreams if I make sure to be thinking about a lot of things when I fall asleep. The trick is being able to fall asleep while still thinking.
posted by Nattie at 6:49 AM on July 10, 2009

I've noticed in the past that every time I make a point of falling asleep while lying on my back I always have vivid dreams. Normally I sleep on my side or stomach, so perhaps the extra amount of time and discomfort it takes to fall asleep on my back, leading to more thinking, could be key as Nattie suggests above.
posted by wretched_rhapsody at 9:57 AM on July 10, 2009

I suggest trying to sleep longer or "sleep in" more.
posted by wam at 2:06 PM on July 10, 2009

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