A few days ago, I started taking melatonin. Many people take it because of insomnia, sometimes from jet lag. I sleep well enough. I just want to sleep more deeply.
What I noticed is that I do feel more rested. My cat’s been waking me up before the crack of dawn and I’m still good to go.
What surprised me though is my dreams.
My dreams are now intense, crazy, and downright bizarre. Thankfully, not in a scary way.
If you google “melatonin + weird dreams”, the internet brings up quite a trove of stories and articles. It turns out it is not just me.
Why do people take melatonin?
Melatonin is naturally produced by the pineal gland in the range of about 0.3mg per day when it gets dark. It controls our sleep-wake cycle. Peak levels of melatonin measure at the darkest of darkness. That’s when we dream.
Did you know that melatonin is also an antioxidant aka free-radical scavenger? According to a 2003 study, it enhances rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep as well as helping to boost growth-hormone secretion.1
At a dosage of usually 1 to 3mg, melatonin is a common supplement for sleep these days, which is not unsurprising given our light pollution. (Always start with a small amount like 0.25 and 0.5mg; too high a dosage promotes wakefulness. The effective amount is of course highly individual. Dr Norm Shealy (2005) has observed that some people require as much as 21mg.)
This internal 24-hour clock or circadian rhythms becomes disrupted for many reasons – too much blue light (from our mobile and electronic devices), too little light in the day, too much light in the night, too much artificial light, too much caffeine, tobacco or alcohol, travelling, too much wifi, poor vision or blindness…Dr Mercola shares that light in 460-480nm inhibits this natural process. A salt lamp is perfectly fine. That’s what I use. Try that as your night light.
Getting More “Natural” Light on Computers
As you can imagine, I work on the computer a lot, which is a lot of blue light known to suppress melatonin production. I have installed on my computer f.lux which adjusts the quality of the light from the monitor. The orange light changes through the day, getting more and more orange (and more and more difficult to work) closer to bedtime. This is highly recommended. You can download f.lux here.
Melatonin is not so much for insomnia as it is for regulating the sleep and body clock. It is also a hormone (but not a sleep hormone i.e. it does not induce sleep) so best check in with your physician. There does not seem to be strong consensus on effects of longterm use.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research (some preliminary) shows possible other uses for melatonin – improving pregnancy rates for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, epilepsy, IBS, and sun protection. 2
You will never dream as vividly as you do on melatonin.
Mark Joseph Stern
My 9-Year Love Affair with Melatonin
I dream and often remember my dreams. These melatonin dreams, as Mark Joseph Stern writes, “are not just normal dreams kicked up a few notches in intensity. There are a different type of dream – more akin (I am told) to a lysergic hallucination than a typical oneiric vision.” Like him, I wake up having gone down to a deeper understanding with better processed thoughts and emotions.
Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of teh psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
So why are these dreams different?
Some sleep doctors suggest that those taking melatonin are already sleep-challenged and so by taking the supplement, they may just be experiencing “normal” REM.3
Melatonin impacts how good and how long the Rapid Eye Moment cycle is. REM accounts for about 25% of our sleep and occurs in cycles so we get repeated REM to process, store memories, and balance moods. That is when we dream.
Some people report experiencing vivid dreams for a short time while some like Mark Stern still does after nine years of taking melatonin, which for him, has not lessened its beneficial effects all this time.
I am enjoying these dreams, these very strange and delicious dreams that make me go “hmmm” in the morning. They certainly make for fertile self inquiry and writing.
If you need the melatonin to regulate your sleep and do not enjoy bizarre dreams, reducing your dosage should do the trick.
If you have yet to look at other factors of low melatonin (such as those listed above), that is also a good idea. Foods that increase melatonin production include sweet potatoes, cherries, almonds, flax seeds, red radish, bananas, and broccoli.
What is Lucid Dreaming
According to Lucid Dreaming researcher Beverly D’Urso, “even though the term ‘lucid’ means clear, lucid dreaming is more than just having a clear dream. To have a lucid dream you must know that it’s a dream while you’re dreaming.4
In lucid dreaming, the brain switches to a waking state within a dream. It is an alternate state of consciousness, with self-awareness.
An important factor in lucid dreaming is our belief systems – do you believe you can be a lucid dreamer? Do you truly want lucid dreams? What do you want to do? Do you want to have dream recall?
In our sleep and in our dreams we pass through the whole thought of earlier humanity. I mean, in the same way that man reasons in his dreams, he reasoned when in the wing state many thousands of years…The dream carries us back into the earlier states of human culture, and affords us a means of understanding it better.
Good sleep is indispensable for our immunity and overall health. Good REM is also needed for us to process information. If a melatonin supplement is not right for you, there are other approaches.
Sources + Additional Reading #FoodForThought
1 Melatonin Effects on Bone: Experimental Facts and Clinical Perspectives by DP Carinali et al. J. Pineal Res 34, no2 (2003): 81 – 87, as quoted in Living Beyond 100 by C Normal Shealy.
2 Melatonin University of Maryland Medical Center
3 Is There Really A Connection Between Melatonin and Crazy Dreams? by Krithika Varagur for The Huffington Post
4 Lucid Dreaming and Self-Realization by Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D, Psychology Today
5Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, vol. 1, p. 13; cited by Jung, Psychology and Religion, par. 89, n17 and by Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p 13.
Melatonin Isn’t a Sleeping Pill by Empowered Sustenance
5 Surprising Foods That Make You Sleep by Melanie Haiken for Forbes News
Lucid Dreaming 7 Tricks You Didn’t Know in Social Consciousness
What is REM Sleep? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development