To Your Health

I very seldom remember my dreams; does this mean I'm missing some nutrients?

Q. I very seldom remember my dreams, even though I think I'm sleeping pretty soundly. Does this mean I'm missing some nutrients?

A. Dreams have fascinated us throughout history and are said to give us significant clues about our own issues, personality, and behavior. Recently some powerful research techniques have been used to separate fact from fiction. For instance, the notion that "everyone dreams, but not everyone remembers their dreams" turns out to be untrue. Roughly one in 300 people apparently never dreams and another one in 15 dreams as rarely as once in 10 years. Most people have several dreams each night, and almost all dreams occur while we are in the sleep stage known as REM (rapid eye movement), though some dreaming can occur in non-REM, or "long-wave," sleep.

Dream activity, usually indicating adequate REM sleep, is definitely good for us. Not only is dream activity associated with better mood, making us less irritable, but it also appears to aid in learning and memory. REM sleep restores certain neurotransmitters that are depleted in the course of our waking mental activity. Several nutrients are able to produce changes in the levels of these neurotransmitters, and these can be used to manipulate dream frequency and intensity.

There are dozens of neurotransmitters used by the brain, but serotonin is the neurotransmitter most notably associated with dream activity. Serotonin is a "calming" neurotransmitter made from the amino acid L-tryptophan using vitamin B6. The well-established effect of vitamin B6 supplementation is to increase REM sleep and thus increase dream activity. Vitamin B6 deficiency, especially when magnesium is also deficient, tends to lead to decreased intensity and frequency of dream activity. L-tryptophan is no longer available as a supplement, but 5-hydroxy tryptophan can substitute.

Vitamin B6 holds the high ground of history for helping with dream recall, but it is no longer alone. DMAE (di-methyl-amino-ethanol) is an important metabolite that flows easily into the brain, where it is converted into acetylcholine. During REM, more acetylcholine causes dreams to become more vivid and memorable. Vivid and memorable dreams are somehow associated with creativity. DMAE may be hard to find as a supplement but is available over the Internet.

Melatonin is a hormone produced, also from L-tryptophan, by the pineal gland. It is active only in the early sleep cycle. Melatonin increases non-REM sleep, but it has an interesting "rebound" effect that seems to give more frequent and more vivid dreams toward morning. It is easily available in health food stores but should not be used for extended periods.

Excessive use of coffee, tea, or alcohol may interfere with your ability to remember dreams, so cut back or eliminate these and see what happens. If a food is very hard for you to digest (such as red meat for some people), eat it earlier in the day to see if that will improve dream recall.

Some medications will affect dream activity. Medications that change serotonin levels, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, decrease dream frequency but may increase the more bizarre aspects of dreams.

A good night's rest, including some dreams, seems to go a long way toward good health.

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serotonin, Melatonin, dream recall, L-tryptophan

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