Over the last few months I’ve been trying a little experiment: taking high doses of vitamin B6 to give myself nightmares. On purpose. Over and over, every night — nightmares, nightmares, nightmares.
In case you’ve never heard about this, taking vitamin B6 in higher doses than usual over a few days can make your dreams extremely vivid. Like, super uncomfortably vivid. For some people, this makes it easier to remember their dreams, but it doesn’t give them nightmares. In my case, of course, elevated doses of B6 almost immediately induce horrific nightmares and nothing else. In 2013 I tried supplementing with B6 in this way, but I just couldn’t take it.
(Note to potential idiots who will want to try this themselves: I am not talking about taking 3g of B6 every day. I’m fairly sure that that would kill you. But if you take 300 mg for three days in a row, that should be enough for you to see what I’m talking about. I am not taking 300 mg a day anymore, but I did for a couple of weeks, which is probably bad enough.)
Any given night, recently, I will wake up between two and four times in a cold sweat. My nightmares tend to be slow-building and mostly atmospheric. I don’t have dreams of terrifying monsters who appear out of nowhere and declare their intention to kill me. Typically, my nightmares involve a growing sense of dread, false accusations, someone I hate’s insane opinions being pushed by powerful people as obvious and inarguable, the possibility of societal collapse looming somewhere in the background. I also have a lot of dreams about school, where for some reason I have to defend myself from unknown dangers. It’s all terribly symbolic, as I’m sure Freud would have agreed.
Contrast this to how it’s been historically. I’m fairly sure that before the last two years or so, I had perhaps one nightmare a year, two at most, and the rest of my dreams I was unlikely to remember at all.
So, why put myself through this torture? Don’t I want a good night’s sleep?
Yes, of course I want a good night’s sleep. The problem is that ever since I quit my medication, a few years ago, my sleep has been pretty crappy. Making sure I went to sleep in a cool room, in total darkness, helped a bit. I don’t do caffeine at all. I was following all the obvious advice, but still feeling like shit in the morning.\
One remarkable consequence of my supplementing with B6 in this perhaps excessive and dangerous way (don’t try it at home! there, now I can’t be blamed for anything) is that even though I often wake up during the night, and sometimes can’t fall back asleep until after about twenty minutes of calming down, I feel much more rested and relaxed in the mornings now than I did before I started this project.
But that’s not why am doing this. I’ve got some pseudoscientific hypotheses that I want to test.
Assuming there is such a thing as the unconscious in the sense that psychoanalysis (broadly speaking) conceives of it, then being able to induce nightmares seems an excellent way to explore the unresolved bullshit that lurks beneath my daily consciousness, informing it in ways I can’t understand. Or, more simply, let’s say I want to see what my fears and anxieties actually look like. This is also a fun way to bring to life a concept I played with in my beautifully written and unforgettable short story “That Lombardi Thing” in my amazing and rewarding and life-affirming collection, What Precision, Such Restraint, which you should buy and read today.
This is all in the name of research. For my next book, of course. I won’t go into detail about that now. But that’s what this is all for: I’m putting myself through strange self-experiments for the next book, all of them involving trying to deal with my personal psychological shit. It’s a lot of fun! It also means I get to procrastinate a little longer, as far as actually writing goes.
I will mention now, however, that over time the nightmares have become quite a lot rarer, less intense, and far easier to recover from. I seem to be having more “vivid dreams “in general and fewer nightmares specifically. So that’s pretty interesting. Also, the quality of my sleep just keeps getting better, even though I’m sleeping fewer hours per night. As someone who, historically, has been extremely fussy and even obnoxious about needing to sleep a minimum of eight or nine hours a day, I find this really cool.