Every dream reveals itself as a psychical structure which has a meaning and which can be inserted at an assignable point in the mental activities of waking life.
–SIGMUND FREUD, The Interpretation of Dreams
Do you put much stock in dreaming?
It’s not exactly lights out when your head hits the pillow. Your sleeping mind is filled with images, sensations, emotions, and even ideas. We still don’t fully understand the content or purpose of all this brain activity, but we’ve been speculating forever.
You probably have around 5 dreams every night, each lasting from a few seconds to 20 or so minutes. They can be silly and far-fetched, epic and prophetic, or just a tedious retweeting of workaday events. Dreams are commonly considered to be a connection to the unconscious mind; that no matter how surreal and bizarre, there is always a fundamental continuity between the ways you experience the world in your sleep and when you’re awake.
Do you wish you could remember your dreams?
Many people believe that dreams are worth recalling because the dreaming mind has access to potentially vital information that’s not readily available to the conscious mind. They look to dreams to tap into buried emotions and secret desires, and then use the insights to gain self-knowledge, guidance, and creative inspiration in their waking lives. They endow their dreams with the power to be cathartic, cleansing, predictive, and healing. But first, they have to remember them.
Some people are better than others at recalling their dreams, but at 5 a night, 1,825 a year, we’re all forgetting more than we’re remembering. Vivid dreams tend to make a strong impression, and some especially creative individuals claim to have less of a barrier between states of sleep and wakefulness than the rest of us (Mary Shelley saw Frankenstein in a dream, and Robert Louis Stevenson captured a dream memory for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; more recently, Stephenie Meyer said she met Twilight’s Bella and Edward in her sleep). Most of us need a little help.
Rx for dreams
Recent tests, especially a series reported by The Mayo Clinic from 2002, have linked Vitamin B6 with dream recall. It seems that B6 converts our natural stores of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, which wakes up the brain during REM sleep—not so much that sleep is interrupted, but enough that the brain is able to process dreams more fully. The boost in brain activity also produces more colorful and lively dream imagery, which helps to improve recall.
The Mayo experiment had its most convincing success with B6 doses as high as 100 mg., which is pushing into toxic range (the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance is less than 2mg.). Most dream enthusiasts achieve good results with no more than 75 mg. a night, and even a sight bump up from the RDA can make a difference.
You’ll probably want to get there with a B6 supplement, because you can’t easily take your brain into vivid dreaming territory through diet. The most B6-enriched product on the planet is Red Bull, and the caffeine level from the 2½ cans it takes to hit 75 mg. would pretty much guarantee that you wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. Next up is fortified breakfast cereals, but you’re looking at a bedtime snack of 12 bowls of Special K.
A cautionary note: maybe some things are best left buried.
Freud said that we only remember the dreams that we want to remember. In The Interpretation of Dreams, he theorized that a forgotten dream is the brain’s way of blocking out wishes or longings that we’re not emotionally equipped to handle.
Read on with Gigabiting’s How Food Influences Dreams.