Vitamin B6 can help people remember their dreams, a trial has found. Besides being a handy tip for people who wish to keep tabs on their night-time brain, the finding could be a stepping stone towards the treatment of nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Just this week scientists announced a dream-control machine. However, Dr Denholm Aspy of the University of Adelaide hopes something similar can be achieved with nothing more than an (entirely legal) pill and some brain training.
Aspy had 100 volunteers take either a 240-milligram vitamin B6 tablet, a vitamin B complex tablet, which contained a range of B vitamins, or a placebo before bed. In Perceptual and Motor Skills he reports that those who took B6 alone could remember significantly more dreams, and 64 percent more details, than the other groups. Those on the B complexes didn't get any enhanced dream recall, and also reported less restful sleep.
Two theories have previously been proposed to explain why B6 may increase dream recall. “One was that it might be causing increased alertness and more frequent waking,” Aspy told IFLScience. However, this was refuted when the B6-only group described sleep of equal quality to those taking placebos. The more likely alternative is that the part B6 plays in converting tryptophan to serotonin induces initially deep, dreamless sleep. Aspy proposes that this “causes a rebound so people dream intensively in the last few hours,” when they are most likely to remember.
Remembering dreams can certainly be fun, but Aspy sees this as a step towards something bigger. His main interest is techniques to encourage lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is aware they are dreaming and can partially control the dream. In a previous study Aspy conducted on methods to train yourself to lucid dream, the single best predictor of participants' success was how well they had remembered ordinary dreams previously. “The more you remember dreams, the more familiar you are with them, and therefore the more able you are to recognize the dream state when in a dream,” he told IFLScience.
Lucid dreaming, in turn, is greatly enjoyed by many who can do it, but again Aspy has larger goals. “It may be possible to use lucid dreaming for overcoming nightmares, treating phobias, creative problem solving, refining motor skills, and even helping with rehabilitation from physical trauma,” he said in a statement.
Aspy told IFLScience the work was inspired by anecdotal accounts of people dreaming more heavily after consuming B6-rich foods, or tablets, shortly before bed. Clinicians treating people with B6 deficiencies have also reported increased dream recall afterward. In 2002 a double-blind study found higher doses of B6 before bed produced more dream memories, but the sample size was so small it had little impact. Aspy is now seeking volunteers for further studies.