How can I have more nightmares?
February 25, 2013 5:35 AM   Subscribe

I would like to have more nightmares. Sure, they are disturbing, but only for the first 30 minutes or so after waking. After that, I find I can use their irrational flavor and sense of dread in my creative work. Hence I am looking to have more. Does anybody know what I can do to increase their frequency (short of committing or suffering atrocities)?

When I was a kid, my mom said not to combine sweet and sour before going to sleep (e.g., a pickle and ice cream), else you would bring on a nightmare. Serious investigation of this as an adult has indicated it is false. Perhaps somebody else knows a method I can try?

Nothing involving illegal chemicals, please.

Thanks for any help.
posted by gnossie to Health & Fitness (83 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Watching scary/disturbing movies/TV before bed does it for me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:36 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Purely anecdotal, but the two times I took melatonin as a sleep aid I had terrifyingly vivid nightmares.
posted by kinetic at 5:38 AM on February 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

Extremely stressful tests and deadlines might help, but only if you really care about them.
posted by steinwald at 5:39 AM on February 25, 2013

I've been banned from watching Game of Thrones less than one hour before bedtime by my partner who, whilst a tolerant man, draws the line at listening to me recount my nightmares at 3am in the morning.

So yes to TV, also reading. I read a couple of dystopian future sci-fi novels a while ago in close succession, and whammo, nightmares about futuristic genocide and imminent death by spaceship-mounted ray-gun!
posted by greenish at 5:40 AM on February 25, 2013

Put a couple of extra blankets on your bed and you'll overheat, give yourself a nightmare and wake up. At least that's what happens to me.
posted by dydecker at 5:40 AM on February 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Graduate school.
posted by goethean at 5:43 AM on February 25, 2013 [37 favorites]

I have nightmares if I eat chili or pizza within a couple of hours of going to bed, unless I take an antacid. Seems to be some combination of grease, spice and tomato that does it.

I just bought some melatonin, which I have not tried yet, but in gathering information on it I have come across warnings about the potential for vivid dreams/nightmares. I've heard similar warnings about valerian.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:44 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Junk food and robitussin.
posted by phunniemee at 5:49 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Give up a chemical "habit." Stop smoking or stop drinking or give up caffeine, etc. People going through withdrawal are prone to nightmares. (While coming off multiple prescription drugs, my insomnia was made worse by the fact that I was afraid to sleep because the nightmares were so bad.)

I will also second the possibility that melatonin might help. Withdrawal causes nightmares because sleep deprivation means dream deprivation. When you begin sleeping more deeply after a long period of dream suppression, you have vivid dreams, which most people interpret as nightmares.
posted by Michele in California at 5:51 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Turn up the thermostat before going to bed.
posted by smackfu at 5:51 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Valerian, cheese, and sleeping more than 8 hours (especially if it's in a hot room) work for me.

Sidenote: since quitting coffee, I've had regular intense dreams (at first, every night, now a couple of times a week) that I remember on waking. Not really nightmares per se, but they do lend an interesting flavor to my mornings.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2013

Forget about taking or eating anything particular. What you need, simply, is more high-quality REM sleep. Look up "sleep hygiene." Bonus: You'll look and feel better in general.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2013

Play creepy film scores or "dark ambient" music while you're sleeping. Maybe put some more calm/peaceful stuff at the beginning of the playlist to help you fall asleep, then it gets dark a half hour later. I've done this unintentionally and it works extremely well.
posted by pete_22 at 5:56 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Creepypasta. Preferably read alone, in the dark, late at night. Repeat as necessary.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:58 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think reading scary things before bed works better than watching scary things - one's brain is still sorting through the ideas and mental images and processing it while you're having your REM. I am a writer though, so your mileage may vary.
posted by tomboko at 5:58 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, just another data point: I have never gotten nightmares from melatonin. But I think sleep aids with diphenhydramine (like Benadryl or Tylenol PM) can also do it for some people.
posted by pete_22 at 5:59 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Melatonin gave me the worst nightmares of my life (as well as making me feel like absolute shit for days after my single dose.) I understand this may be an atypical response, but there it is.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the second worst nightmares of my life came as as result of jet lag. So I guess my answer boils down to "screw around with your circadian rhythm."
posted by ook at 5:59 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sugar before bedtime, or eating a large junky meal then going to sleep is guaranteed to give me bad dreams.
posted by katypickle at 6:01 AM on February 25, 2013

Repressing uncomfortable emotions and indulging in avoidance behavior does it for me.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:01 AM on February 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

This is not healthy, but I had tremendously vivid dreams every single time I forgot to remove my nicotine patch before falling asleep. And they were long, kind of coherent narratives that frequently took a nightmarish turn at some point. It became pretty obvious to me why tobacco has been used for vision quests and such.
posted by sively at 6:01 AM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Plan a trip to a country where malaria is endemic and where mefloquine is one of the possible drugs that can work in that area to prevent it. Then go to your doctor and get a prescription. Then take it (but I am really suggesting that you go on the trip---not to abuse pharmaceuticals). There is an excellent chance that you will experience "visually disturbing images" while sleeping since that is one of the common side effects. It really happened to me. The first few were somebody entering my bedroom to accost me. But after a week or so they mellowed into extra exciting dreams with dramatic much so that I actually started to look forward to the adventure of sleeping every night! There was one where I chased down a gun-totting robber and physically disarmed him in a struggle. I was so proud of myself.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:02 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sleeping position may help. I find I get nightmares more often when sleeping on my stomach, but maybe some other position does the same for you.

Also more nightmares if napping in the afternoon.
posted by shivohum at 6:03 AM on February 25, 2013

Getting too hot would be the easiest thing to try. I'm not normally susceptible to nightmares, unless I have a fever or have too much clothing on and too many covers and the heat is turned on. Being too hot is a reliable source of nightmares for me, though. My dad says the same thing. It's not at all uncommon. It would be pretty easy for you to arrange to be too hot at night.

Taking Buspar (buspirone) for anxiety gave me nightmares, along with feeling more anxious. Not very creative nightmares in your sense, though: what happened wasn't particularly horrible (being in the worst restaurant ever at 3 am and getting no service at all, for example), just impossible to extricate myself from. Horrible drug.

Otherwise, I don't have nightmares. In my dreams about perfectly horrible things, I can escape from them easily, so they don't really feel nightmarish.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 6:04 AM on February 25, 2013

Nightmares is a definite known side effect of melatonin. But really all of the answers are side effects, and people react differently and have different side effects. For me, melatonin helped me sleep without dreaming when I was having trouble sleeping, being too warm just makes me toss and turn, and scary movies are more potent than books.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:05 AM on February 25, 2013

You can google up on 'REM rebound' - it leads to lots of vivid dreams although not necessarily nightmares. Happens to me after drinking but any REM deprivation will cause the rebound.
posted by ftm at 6:15 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dali used to eat brie at bedtime to bring on nightmares.
Listen to creepy music while you sleep. Skinny Puppy is a particularly good choice.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:15 AM on February 25, 2013

True Crime novels on the bedside table. The serial killer that freaks me out the most when I'm home alone is definitely Richard Chase, "The Vampire of Sacramento."
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:19 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Learn about lucid dreaming, it might take awhile to do it but in the process you'll probably learn deep relaxation techniques. When you can make yourself almost fall asleep all the scary movie/sounds suggestions listed above will be more effective.

Also, you can try repeating "i will have nightmares" over and over again as you're going to sleep. The inverse helped me stop having terrible nightmares when I was a kid. These days I don't mind them and too find them fun or insightful.
posted by thylacine at 6:20 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing napping during the day or sleeping with lights on, as well as creepy music. I find this sort of disruption often brings on nightmares for me. Also, maybe reading some disturbing non-fiction, or watching creepy documentaries. Sometimes with fiction, if I know it's not real, it's not as scary to me. Non-fiction I'll dwell on much more. YMMV.

Also, what scares you in waking life? Some limited exposure, or even some concentrated thought on the subject right before bed, may trigger some nightmares.
posted by dysh at 6:20 AM on February 25, 2013

I find if I think about something really scary as I fall asleep I'm guaranteed to have nightmares. Ymmv
posted by Sweetmag at 6:23 AM on February 25, 2013

Vitamin B 12 supplements give many people nightmares.
posted by The Toad at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2013

Wearing nicotine patches while asleep definitely caused the most insane vivid dreaming I ever experienced. Mostly nightmares, some just scary because how realistic they were and I could not tell if I was dreaming. I was quitting smoking -- not sure how safe this is coming from zero nicotine intake.

Nowadays, caffeine too late at night can do it to me.

honestly as a somewhat frequent nightmare-haver I have no no no idea why this could be something you'd purposefully want to experience! :)
posted by NikitaNikita at 6:29 AM on February 25, 2013

Learn how to induce sleep paralysis with short timed naps.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:39 AM on February 25, 2013

Nthing abstaining from a substance you're used to using daily, especially if those substances are either nicotine or caffeine. Quitting any of those for a day should spur some more-intense-than-usual REM dreaming (although I'm not sure if they'll necessarily be nightmares). As someone who normally has no recollection of the previous night's dreams, in the past I could basically guarantee myself a night of vivid dreams were I to take a break from any notable substance being used daily.

Also, if you're a semi/regular weed smoker, taking a break may spur on some vivid dreaming.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 6:40 AM on February 25, 2013

Seconding the suggestion that you get your hands on some Lariam -- the once-a-week anti-malarial (mefloquine is the generic). US doctors still prescribe it, but some other nations have backed away from it because, very rarely, it seems to trigger psychotic breaks. The most common side effect, though, is incredibly vivid and supremely violent dreams. I can still remember one of my Lariam dreams from fifteen years ago like I had it last night - not only the sights, but also the smells and sounds of it. (Ugh, I'm shuddering as I recall it.)
posted by artemisia at 6:41 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Find a recording of scary film, screams, screeches, that rising violin sound (it's got a specific name, but I forget) - Japanese horror would be a good source. Make it your phone's default alarm sound (not loud enough so as to wake you) and then set it for 4.30am.

1, 2 Freddy's coming for you...
posted by guy72277 at 6:41 AM on February 25, 2013

Seconding nicotine patch.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:42 AM on February 25, 2013

Sleep deprivation.
posted by Dansaman at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

some people believe starting a meditation practice brings-on nightmares:
Meditation and Nightmares

posted by mrmarley at 6:47 AM on February 25, 2013

Eat cheese or other food with a lot of tyrosine in it right before bedtime. Cheese will get me every time. I almost never have dreams that I remember, but if I eat cheese before sleeping I almost always do.
posted by atrazine at 6:54 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always have nightmares when I'm sleeping such that my hands are going numb -- I figure the nightmare is a mental manifestation of the physical discomfort. So if I wanted to increase my nightmares, I would find ways to increase my physical discomfort without being so painful/uncomfortable that it would wake me up.
posted by spindrifter at 6:56 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing getting overheated while sleeping. It is a 100% guarantee that if I overheat while sleeping (leave the heat on with multiple comforters on the bed, for instance) I will have at least one nightmare.
posted by RogueTech at 7:09 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've heard that the longer you sleep the likelier you are to have nightmares. I've also noticed that taking a little too much ZzzQuil makes me sleep hard and have weirder dreams than I normally do, though not necessarily nightmares.
posted by kimota at 7:23 AM on February 25, 2013

3rding nicotine patches, almost makes me want to start smoking to quit again.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:27 AM on February 25, 2013

Leave the tv on while you're sleeping: movies with quiet scenes switching to loud screaming and stuff might be the best influence, but YMMV. Also, not recommended but what works for me: get yourself some hard to solve money problems so you're very worried about money every night and nightmares of drowning are a good result.
posted by Eicats at 7:46 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get nightmares when my head goes off the pillow or isn't held up by the pillow. Whenever I wake up from a nightmare I notice my head is at the same level as the rest of my body instead of elevated. Try sleeping without pillows.
posted by bleep at 7:51 AM on February 25, 2013

Sleeping too long frequently gives me really vivid dreams (though not always nightmares). For me, that requires upwards of ten hours--ymmv.
posted by tan_coul at 7:57 AM on February 25, 2013

If you smoke and want to quit Chantix may also give you crazy dreams. Any number of psych meds also, including Seroquel and some anti-depressants, and even Ambien can induce vivid dreams.

I find if I read or watch something that I actually find scary before bed - in my case serial killers - it will lead to dreams about it, though generic "scary" movies do nothing.

Focusing on what you want to dream about can definitely help. And yes, learn about lucid dreams. It's fascinating and may help you in directing your dreams.
posted by catatethebird at 7:58 AM on February 25, 2013

going to bed sore from a work out
posted by skrozidile at 7:58 AM on February 25, 2013

Nthing overheating, also having to pee will cause them for me (I think my mind is trying to wake my body up).

All the zombie/horror media can provide fodder for a 'scary dream' but a true nightmare is more about the feeling rather than the subject - I've had non-stressful dreams about zombies and terrifying nightmare about benign things like chocolate, so I think the subject doesn't matter as much. I'd think anything that puts your body into some kind of physical distress would work.
posted by pennypiper at 8:07 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nicotine patches (or smoking, but I do not suggest smoking), dark chocolate, creepy movies before bed all do it for me.
posted by jessamyn at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2013

Browse right before bed.
posted by lohmannn at 8:15 AM on February 25, 2013

Some people claim that keeping a dream journal helps them dream more often and more vividly. Perhaps you can try something similar. Also, experimenting with different sleeping patterns, for example setting an alarm at various times during the night only to go back to sleep, might make you dream more often.
posted by tykky at 8:19 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to melatonin, which gives me weird dreams as well, magnesium supplements have given me vivid, memorable dreams, some of them bad. Ditto on the nicotine patches above.

Falling asleep on my back gives me nightmares 100% of the time. Terrifying anxiety nightmares.
posted by peep at 8:26 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

check out the effects of ergotoxicity or ergot poisoning.
posted by effluvia at 8:35 AM on February 25, 2013

Mega B-vitamin complex supplements can give a lot of people bizarre dreams (and pee the color of Mountain Dew, so if you try this, don't be alarmed if you get this result!). Tolerance to the dream effect develops rapidly, though, so don't expect it to work multiple nights on end.

Also, ymmv, but the handful of times in my life I've had sleep paralysis (which may or may not be accompanied by nightmarish imagery, but which is ALWAYS weird and trippy), I've gone to sleep on my back, or rolled onto my back whilst semi-awake in the early AM.
posted by aecorwin at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2013

Screw around with your sleep schedule. I just started working night shifts, and I have nightmares three nights a week. Start setting your alarm clock at random times during the night. If you really want to experience hell, don't sleep at all for two to three days. Then you get to have nightmares while you're awake.
posted by empath at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some prescription medications have vivid dreams as a side effect. I had intense dreams and nightmares on Elavil, which is an anti-depressant but which I was taking for chronic headaches.
posted by not that girl at 9:10 AM on February 25, 2013

As mentioned above, keeping a dream journal will increase the number of dreams that you are able to recall. It will seem like you are having more dreams.
posted by orme at 9:13 AM on February 25, 2013

Seconding valerian. I used to take it for sleep. The nightmares were so intense that I preferred insomnia.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:24 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

pregnancy did this for me.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh god, the nicotine patch (only if you're planning on quitting smoking, just to clarify). I had the most vivid, insane, apocalyptic dreams ever if I forgot to take it off before bed.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2013

I once was having a terrible time getting to sleep and a friend suggested some herbal remedies. Another suggested melatonin. I decided to try both and took a cocktail of melatonin, valerian, and kava kava, and put myself to bed. My dreams were beyond technicolor. I've tried this cocktail again with similar results, once while sick and I added in Benadryl, which seemed to up the ante!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:43 AM on February 25, 2013

I used to suffer low blood sugar. It also promotes nightmares. A workout to muscle failure or eating the right junk food in the evening can trigger middle-of-the-night low blood sugar episodes for some people and these are frequently accompanied by nightmares.

Lovecraft had awful nightmares that fueled his horror stories. I have read some of his work. Most horror does not horrify me. At best, the gore grosses me out. But Lovecraft really freaked me out. Just thinking about it now, three decades later, is upping my pulse.

The Wolfen is another must read if you want to be afraid to sleep. Most werewolf or vampire stories are implausibly bad and I just cannot suspend disbelief. The Wolfen posits a version of werewolf legends which gave me serious pause as something plausible. I could not put the book down and then sat up with the lights on for two more hours, afraid to sleep. (Don't watch the movie. Read the book.)
posted by Michele in California at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2013

Watching Breaking Bad before bed definitely messes with my sleep! It's not scary like a horror movie, but it's very dark and there is a *lot* to think about after each episode.
posted by radioamy at 10:24 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh and the medication Viibryd gave me horrible, heart-pounding, wake-up-screaming nightmares. Worst I've ever had.
posted by radioamy at 10:27 AM on February 25, 2013

Overheating, especially in a pitch-dark room, does it for me.

Also, if you've got sleep disturbance normally and have a doctor who prescribes Trazodone for it, that gives a lot of people nightmares. When I was on it, I got extremely vivid dreams (that I still miss!) but not nightmares.
posted by telophase at 10:59 AM on February 25, 2013

I'm really not sure abusing Lariam (mefloquine) is worth the risk.
posted by cromagnon at 11:55 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

But I think sleep aids with diphenhydramine (like Benadryl or Tylenol PM) can also do it for some people.

...sleep deprivation means dream deprivation. When you begin sleeping more deeply after a long period of dream suppression, you have vivid dreams, which most people interpret as nightmares.

Sleep aids screw with the quality of your REM sleep, so a good candidate for nightmares. In my experience, if I take sleep aids for several days in a row I stop dreaming entirely (or at least stop remembering dreaming), and if I quit taking them at that point then I'll have very vivid dreams, which are sometimes nightmares.

Other things that seem to lead to me having nightmares:

Sleeping alone, especially at night.
Sleeping in a strange place.
Fears and worries about the present or future.
Guilt over the past.
Drugs and supplements in general (including melatonin), especially during the withdrawal stage.
Fear that I'll have a nightmare (If I'm worried that I'll have one, I'm more likely to have one).
posted by MrOlenCanter at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2013

It's always been spicy and/or crappy food, right before bed, for me.
posted by the foreground at 12:22 PM on February 25, 2013

Working in theater will do it for you. Your nightmares will be about a dusty set or missing props, though, so maybe that's not quite the kind of twisted alternate reality you're looking for.
posted by cmoj at 1:09 PM on February 25, 2013

Blue cheese and/or B vitamins right before bed, in my experience.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:32 PM on February 25, 2013

Oh, and the chronic sleep deprivation that accompanies the newborn stage of your child's life is great for nightmares. A regular night of missed sleep won't do it. It's got to be days upon weeks of two hour snatches of sleep here and there. THAT gave me not only nightmares, but seriously freaky sleep paralysis with sensations of movement that felt completely real (for example, a train rolling over the top of me, and I could swear that the shaking sensation was actually happening. I woke up thinking that we were having an earthquake.)
posted by peep at 1:35 PM on February 25, 2013

Dramamine (the anti-nausea medicine) gave me nightmares. I don't know if that's a common reaction, though. Have you tried Welsh rarebit?
posted by moonmilk at 2:01 PM on February 25, 2013

Sleep with your arm over your head.
posted by lovelygirl at 3:57 PM on February 25, 2013

The nutritional supplement 5-HTP gives both me and my husband long involved weird dreams.
posted by lizifer at 5:09 PM on February 25, 2013

Play Amnesia for an hour (or more) before bed every night.

That ought to do it.
posted by Tevin at 5:39 PM on February 25, 2013

Drink too much caffeine, stay up too late, and fall asleep reading in the wrong room if at possible.
posted by RainyJay at 5:45 PM on February 25, 2013

Yeah, Lariam's great if you want to be unable to determine whether your dreams actually happened or not.
posted by geneva uswazi at 6:35 PM on February 25, 2013

Marathon horror book/movie session for 48 hours, no sleep--you WILL have night terrors.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:24 PM on February 25, 2013

My spouse -- who never ever remembers dreams at all otherwise -- has forbidden me from using the slow cooker overnight because apparently the smell of slowly simmering meats contributed to terrible, terrible nightmares. Good luck!
posted by beanie at 8:54 PM on February 25, 2013

posted by Akeem at 2:49 AM on February 26, 2013

Nthing nicotine patches. Not necessarily nightmarish, but my patch dreams were like Oz compared to Kansas.
posted by Camofrog at 9:27 PM on February 26, 2013

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