Can huperzine A give you lucid dreams? A self-experiment.

There are lots of herbs and substances that have been said to enhance dreaming in some way. I’ve experimented with a few of these myself, like galantamine and mugwort. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been hearing more and more about huperzine A as a potential lucid dream enhancer, so I decided to experiment with this next.

Huperzine A is sold as a nootropic, i.e. to enhance cognition. It’s meant to enhance learning and memory. There are already a few good summaries of what huperzine A is all about out there, so if you want to know more about it, check out this page or this one.

Research with galantamine has found that if you take an 8mg dose of galantamine in the middle of the night, and then practice the MILD technique for lucid dream induction, there’s a good (42%) chance you’ll have a lucid dream. I have tried this in the past, and it worked for me too. So I decided to emulate this procedure for taking huperzine A.

I don’t like being woken up by alarms – well, who does – so I prefer to try and get my body to awaken naturally when I want it to. Before I went to bed I told myself “I will wake up in 4.5 hours”. I’ve done this before and it almost always works, with surprising accuracy. It worked this time too, although I was about an hour out – I went to bed around 11.30pm, and woke up around 4.30am.

The first thing I did was to take my huperzine A. I took two 100mcg tablets. Then I kept myself awake for about half an hour, which I spent reading online about other people’s experiences with huperzine A (in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done that, and you’ll see why in a minute). Then I went back to bed, practising MILD as I tried to fall asleep.

I reeeeeeally struggled to fall asleep again. I was tired enough, but I was also a bit excited and a bit anxious about my experiment. Plus, I kept trying to practice MILD, but it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do that and fall asleep, so I gave up on MILD and just let myself fall asleep. (Normally MILD works great for me, so I’m not sure what happened this time.) I slept only very lightly, and woke up again soon after, having dreamt the following.

I am very, very woozy and disoriented. I leave the house I’m in because I’ve taken two tablets of huperzine A and they’ve made me so woozy, disoriented, and confused that I leave the (?) party, manage to get in a cab, and end up in the city centre in what in the dream I named Norwich but didn’t look like it. I then take a phone call from someone, telling them what I’ve just done, kind of laughing about it but also still very woozy. I’m trying to tell her where I am by looking at the road name, which is something like Vine Hill, although it seems to shift and I can’t quite see it properly.

This was a very meta dream – I dreamt that I was taking huperzine A right after I took it! I think I had this dream because in the experiences of huperzine A I’d been reading online, I saw several reports of people who became very nauseous after taking far too high a dose, and although my dose wasn’t very high, I think this planted a seed in my head and led to this dream.

I went back to sleep again, and this time I slept deeper and longer. When I awoke in the morning a couple of hours later, I recorded an 800-word dream, which is much, much longer than what I normally record, so it did feel like the huperzine A hugely increased the vividness and the recallabilty of the dream. It was also very hyperassociative. However, it was not at all lucid.

From this experiment, huperzine A appears to be good for enhancing dream vividness and recallability. Of course, this is not a controlled scientific experiment: I knew exactly what I was taking and why, so the effect on my dreams could well be explained by the placebo effect. But I’m encouraged enough by this result to try again. Next time, I will make sure I’m not reading reports of other people’s huperzine A experiences in the middle of the night. I’m certain this affected my dreaming.

If you are interested in huperzine A yourself, make sure you do plenty of reading before you start. I’ve read quite a lot of warnings about it, so make yourself aware of these. I read them and decided to give it a go anyway, but that doesn’t mean everyone should… (Not exactly “don’t try this at home”; more “do what you want, but find out what you’re doing first” :P)

“The Psychology of Dreaming” – almost there!

After several years of being in the works, my book The Psychology of Dreaming is almost here! This website will accompany the book – as well as the “Glossary of Dreamy Terms”, this site contains some extra information about dream psychology for those who like a little extra info. The book will be available in hardcopy and as an ebook, so keep an eye out here for updates – it should be out in the second half of 2020 🙂

Where do banished thoughts go? Into your dreams, of course…

When we have thoughts that make us feel uncomfortable, a natural response is to try hard not to think about them. What happens to those banished thoughts – can they really just disappear? According to psychoanalytic theory, these thoughts come back and haunt us in our dreams, sometimes in symbolic ways. But in recent years, oneirologists have viewed Freud’s theory of dreams as having been completely debunked. What does research have to say about this?

In my recent study, I asked participants to record the most recent dream they could remember having, say how much it related to their positive and negative experiences from their waking lives, and fill in a questionnaire about how much they try to suppress their thoughts in general. I found that the more people tried to suppress unpleasant thoughts, the more likely they were to dream of their unpleasant experiences from life: things that made them feel angry, sad, scared, or anxious.

My study was correlational, which means it can’t show cause and effect: it’s not possible to state with any certainty that this means suppressed thoughts reappear in dreams. However, this result is very much in agreement with previous research evidencing what’s called the “dream rebound” effect. Laboratory experiments (such as this one) find that when you ask someone to suppress a thought, that thought does bounce back in dreams. The rebound effect is so strong that suppressing a thought has more effect on a dream that actively concentrating on the thought.

Together, the research is beginning to build up a picture illustrating that trying to ignore unpleasant thoughts leads to dreaming about those thoughts.

Does this mean Freud was right? Not exactly. Freud thought that dreams were picturing suppressed desires like as sexual fantasies or violent urges. Modern research suggests it’s not all about sex and violence – rather, any kind of unpleasant thought that we suppress will rebound in a dream, and it’s not necessarily something we secretly desire but simply something that causes us discomfort to think about. You can read my article in The Independent about this here.

This idea that dreams picture ignored thoughts has echoes in Jung as well. Jung believed that when we were inadequately focusing on something from waking life, our dreams step in and try to do this for us. He called this “compensation“.

These findings make me wonder whether one of the reasons dreamwork is so useful is that it helps us uncover these thoughts we’re hiding from ourselves, and actually deal with them. Again, this is what Freud was saying over 100 years ago, but while his theory was about secret desires, today we think it’s more about any thoughts that causes us discomfort.

I find it fascinating that current dream science is backing up some of the theories of Freud and Jung, albeit it with modifications!

Welcome to Oneirology.co.uk!

Welcome to oneirology.co.uk, a website dedicated to the research, study, experimentation, and exploration of dreams. This site will become a repository for all things dreaming – summaries of scientific experiments, historical accounts of dream research, pages dedicated to explaining what we know about various sleep and dream phenomena (such as lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis, nightmare treatment, etc.), a glossary of dreamy terms, and loads more. Over the coming months I’ll be filling the site with information, so keep an eye out for updates. I’ll also be blogging about new discoveries in the field of oneirology, with latest findings and what they can tell us about dreams, as well as my own oneironautical experiences.