How To Train Your Brain For Better Dreams

There's nothing quite like waking up after an incredibly lucid dream. Whether you were flying through the heavens, starring in your own action movie or making out with your secret crush, the lingering memory can put a spring in your step for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, most dreams are meandering, colourless and entirely forgettable -- which is why you need these hallucinatory dream hacks.

Dream picture from Shutterstock

Obligatory disclaimer: Some of these dream remedies have the potential to cause harm if frequently employed. Use at your own risk!

Ingest mugwort before bed

The mugwort plant has been used for centuries to assist with sleep and dreaming; particularly among women suffering from pre-menstrual strain. While toxic to humans in large quantities, the oils within its leaves contain a mild hallucinogenic that are thought to enhance dreams. This is due to the presence of wormwood oil and thujone; an active psychoactive compound that is also found in the alcoholic spirit absinthe. It can be inhaled orally, burned as incense or drunk in a tea.

One big believer in this folk remedy is US actress Shailene Woodley:

For really lucid dreams, you can burn a little mugwort before bed or sleep on a mugwort pillow. Anytime you see weeds growing through cracks in a parking lot, there's probably mugwort. You can harvest it yourself, dry it, bundle it, and burn it like sage. When I've tried it, I've used a technique where you fall asleep while knocking on a wall. Something about that keeps your brain awake while your body goes to sleep, inducing that great moment when you realize, 'Wow, I'm conscious of the fact that I'm dreaming'.

Despite what Woodley says, we'd strongly advise against uprooting and ingesting random footpath weeds. Thankfully, you can easily acquire dried mugwort from online suppliers as well as herbal supplement stores.

Up your vitamin B6 and tryptophan intake

According to at least one scientific study, B6 vitamins can increase dream vividness and recollection via the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin which promotes deep sleep. Researchers from the City College of New York enlisted college students to ingest either 100 milligrams of B6, 250 milligrams of B6 or a placebo prior to bedtime for a period of five consecutive days:

Morning self-reports indicated a significant difference in dream-salience scores (this is a composite score containing measures on vividness, bizarreness, emotionality, and color) between the 250-mg condition and placebo over the first three days of each treatment. The data for dream salience suggests that Vitamin B-6 may act by increasing cortical arousal during periods of rapid eve movement (REM) sleep.

The study concluded that the subjects' enhanced dreaming could be attributed to the role of B6 in the conversion of the essential amino acid tryptophan into serotonin. In other words, for best results you'll need to eat tryptophan-rich foods in addition to taking vitamin B6. Examples of tryptophan-rich foods include chicken, soybeans, tuna, salmon and lamb.

Smoke a spliff of Calea zacatechichi (AKA 'Dream herb')

Calea zacatechichi (sometimes shortened to 'Calea Z') is a species of flowering plant native to Mexico. It is apparently used by Tequistlatecan shamans to induce divinatory visions while sleeping. Now before you scoff, a large-scale scientific study conducted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico have concluded that zacatechichi administration does enhance the number and/or recollection of dreams:

Calea zacatechichi induces episodes of lively hypnagogic imagery during SWS stage I of sleep, a psychophysiological effect that would be the basis of the ethnobotanical use of the plant as an oneirogenic and oneiromantic agent. Such images are reported as brief dreams and are known to be enhanced by marihuana.

So while it might not help you to see the future, Calea Z can help to make your dreams awesome; especially if you add pot to the equation. Most Calea Z proponents recommend smoking one or two cigarettes of the leaves/flowers just before bed. It has a bitter taste, but apparently isn't too bad.

In some parts of the world, Calea Z has been banned due to its hallucinogenic properties, but it is not currently a controlled substance in Australia. You can pick it up in dried form on eBay for around $15 per 250g bag.

DreamOn App

If you're a bit leery of ingesting herbs and vitamins, this iOS sleeping app optimised for dreaming might be more your bag. As the creators explain:

Dream:ON allows you to select what you want to dream about before you go to bed, monitors your movement during the night, then plays a themed soundscape at the optimum moment in your sleep cycle.

It sounds like a gimmick, but the genesis of the app is impressively scientific: the experiment was launched at the 2012 Edinburgh Science Festival by Professor Richard Wiseman to investigate whether it's possible to use sounds to steer people's dreams. The app has also been independently endorsed by several psychologists.

"We still know relatively little about the science of dreaming and this app may provide a real breakthrough in changing how we dream, and record and track those dreams," Wiseman explains.

"Our data does show that peoples' dreams are indeed influenced by them choosing different soundscapes. If someone chooses a nature landscape (e.g. 'Peaceful Garden' or 'Relaxing Rainforest') they tend to experience dreams that involve greenery and flowers. In contrast, when they select a beach-type soundscape (e.g. 'Ocean View' or 'Pool Party') they are more likely to dream about the sun beating down on their skin."

You can download the free app here.

The 'REM rebound' method

Vivid dreams tend to occur during the rapid eye-movement (REM) cycle, which typically occupies 25 per cent of a full night's sleep. It's possible to prolong REM sleep by suppressing the amount you get the night before. You can reduce REM either through alcohol and marijuana, or by simply setting your alarm two of three hours earlier than normal.

When you receive insufficient REM, your brain will attempt to compensate the next time you fall asleep, which can potentially lead to longer and more vivid dreams. In addition, people are more likely to remember their dreams if they are awakened during the REM phase; so this method can also produce results during the forced wake-up stage. Naturally, it's not recommended that you do this regularly or you'll just end up feeling like crap.

Got any dream hacks of your own? Share your tips in the comments section below!


    There's also various methods for both realizing that you're dreaming and keeping that dream going. Once you realize you're dreaming, the dream becomes lucid and you can change it as you wish. You're also more likely to remember it.

    There's a few things (mostly retaining continuity) that you're mind does badly while dreaming; like reading or telling the time. The words and the time change from moment to moment. So when you are awake, get into the habit of checking the time, looking away, and then checking again, just to make sure it's the same each time. Get into this habit and you'll start doing it automatically in dreams as well, where it'll trigger lucidity.

    Once you realize that you're dreaming, you often wake up soon after, or else slip back into an un-lucid state. So what you need to do is stabilize the dream. Basically this just involves imposing your will upon the dream. Start spinning around, or turn a light-bulb on and off a few times. Just start doing something repetitive for a little bit, and it'll help reinforce continuity.

      That's a good idea with the time twice trick. I tried to start training myself for lucid dreaming a while ago. My trigger was going to be looking at my hand, a few times a day I would stare at my hand for a bit while thinking that I am conscious and looking at my hand; the idea being that if i happened to look at my hand in my dream it would hopefully trigger my consciousness. I never got it to work though but I didn't hold out for very long.

      I've only ever had one lucid dream before but I slipped back into an unlucid state fairly quickly before waking up. Was cool while it lasted. I'll give the time trick a try.

      I think, training is the key here, and to know how to realize you are dreaming. Keeping a dream journal helps too, as it helps your mind to keep track of what you dreamt, so next time same or similar situations occur, your brain will know, and you will be able to identify a dream as such. If you want to deepen your dreams, start interpreting them. It will grant you a very good insight of what you are actually dreaming about. Just because you are flying, doesn't mean you want to be Superman.

    So basically.... drugs. Everything suggested (except the iPhone app) involves dosing yourself, surely there's some non medicated techniques out there?


    One big believer in this folk remedy is US actress Shailene Woodley

    All the reason I need not to do it. Ever.

    Try having Narcolepsy. I dream all the time. Even before I'm asleep.

    Nicotine also increases the chances of lucid dreaming. Pop on a patch before going to sleep for slow release of nicotine throughout the night. Many musicians have credited this method for inspiration when song writing.

    Another good supplement to try is magnesium. Essentially magnesium allows for the production of melatonin and more melatonin equals more REM sleep and more REM sleep equals vivid dreams.

    I became too light a sleeper to enhance my dreams my remsleep always happens 30 mins before I wake up and have to go to work. I can recollect anything that happens in my dreams pretty well the next morning, but I wake up at the slightest noise or movement people make or even myself.
    Result: I rarely dream of anything good, I can still tell it's a dream but it's usually about every day stuff like going to work but something goes wrong. Or, having a holiday but something goes wrong. Come to think of it, every time I dream something always seems to go wrong. And trains. Lots and lots of trains. (I commute a lot)

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