Monday, 9 January 2012

Lucid dream supplements (2) - 5-HTP

 * Serotonin
The first neurotransmitter I wish to discuss is serotonin (5-HT). Serotonin plays the most complex role in our daily lives and has an indirect effect on lucid dream enhancement. It is the only neurotransmitter of the four main types (including dopamine; neuropinephrine; and acetylcholine) which can act as both an excitatory and inhibitory transmitter. It is linked to the regulation of pain, mood, appetite and deep regenerative sleep and deficiencies can be the cause of depression; bipolar disorder; several forms of migraine; lack of appetite control; insomnia and anxiety.
Neurotransmitter pathways in the brain
Increased serotonin levels may lead to a decrease in depression/anxiety; increased relaxation and drowsiness; decreased libido; and an increase of non-REM sleep with compensatory decrease of REM cycles. An over-increase in serotonin, however, can result in a condition known as ‘serotonin syndrome’, a serious and potentially fatal medical condition, typically brought on by the combining of combining drugs which affect the serotonergenic system (i.e. St John’s Wart (non-prescription) or SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors – prescription only). At this juncture, I would like to point out that whilst I have been experimenting with LDS, and specifically for the purposes of this discussion, a serotonin enhancer – which I shall be analysing further below), I have previously been prescribed medication for the rebalance of serotonin levels (SSRIs) which I no longer use (due to unpleasant side-effects which tended to outweigh the symptoms of low serotonin). I notice that without medication, symptoms appear worse in winter months, leading me to self-diagnose a ‘seasonal affective’ disorder type, although I do experience less severe and unpredictable chemical imbalance at other times of the year. Therefore I have experienced the effects of both a lower than ‘normal’ serotonin levels (characterised by bi-polar symptoms, with extended periods of chronic depression and shorter periods at the low-level of the other end of the spectrum – worse in winter); anxiety and panic attacks; insomnia and loss of appetite; aggressive mood-swings and psychosomatic symptoms etc) and increased levels through medication (characterised by paranoia; complete loss of libido; confusion; agitation; muscle tension (especially in legs and jaw); involuntary and persistent yawning; nausea and feeling faint; continued and heightened psychosomatic illness; increased loss of appetite; feelings of being disassociated from my environment and being ‘outside’ my own body etc...) which has actually been helpful in guiding my experimentation using serotonin stimulators as a LDS – as, to a certain extent (given I’m studying to be a doctor of law as opposed to medicine) I already know what to expect. Knowing that my serotonin levels are lower than ‘average’ and following my discontinuance of serotonin medication, I feel the herbal alternative I self-administer is perfectly safe for me, given the fact I am unlikely to over-increase my natural levels with an over-the-counter supplement which recommends a reasonable dosage of 50 – 300 mg.

Serotonin plays an essential role in regulating sleep. As we fall asleep, serotonin levels begin to rise and continue to do so as we move into the deep stages on non-REM sleep. As we move towards the lighter stages of sleep, serotonin levels start to decrease and diminish entirely at the onset of REM sleep. Therefore, we can conclude that serotonin levels affect the stages of sleep. It is for this reason that serotonin-boosting drugs are often prescribed to counteract the symptoms of insomnia.

Various foods, herbs and medicines which are known to increase serotonin levels in the brain have been shown to increase the vividness of dreams. This seems counter-intuitive, given that we know serotonin levels are at their lowest during REM sleep cycles – the stage of sleep when the most vivid dreams are known to occur. The most common explanation proffered, is that serotonin-based dreams occur due to the REM rebound effect. Serotonin dreams tend to occur in the morning, when the medication is wearing off and serotonin levels decrease. This suggests that REM sleep is suppressed by the presence of elevated serotonin levels, but compensated for in the latter stages of sleep when this correlative effect is reversed, leading to extended REM sleep and non-presence of serotonin activity. Despite the sleep patterns being ‘manipulated’, the net effect overall, is a balanced sleep cycle. Some scientists claim that serotonin dreams are often markedly more calming and relaxed with enhanced vividness. However, one negative aspect of serotonin dreams is that they appear to be subject to poorer waking recall than those induced by the functioning of alternative neurotransmitters. This allows us to conclude that, surprisingly, increased dream vividness does not imply positive correlation with increased dream recall/vividness of memory.

Serotonin can affect lucid dreaming in a number of very interesting ways. Firstly, serotonin supplements can cause the REM rebound effect discussed above, leading to extended periods of REM sleep/dreaming in the latter stages of sleep – for longer periods also. Secondly, serotonin can greatly enhance the overall quality of sleep in some individuals, which is not true of other LDS which increase the length of time spent in REM sleep without the compensatory REM suppression, earlier on. If such (non-serotonin) supplements are taken too early in the night, the lack of deep sleep/increase in REM sleep will have a detrimental effect on the regenerative quality overall. This effect can be minimised by taking non-serotonin supplements after some deep sleep (which typically occurs in the earlier part of the night) – i.e. after some 4 – 5 hours of sleep. Thus, after approximately 5 hours of (serotonin-supplemented) deep, REM-suppressed sleep, not only will the regenerative and relaxing functions of sleep been sufficiently catered to, but also, the effects of the serotonin increase should be naturally lessening, in preparation for an REM rebound, which can be complimented with a further LDS chosen for its REM-promoting effect. Therefore, one effective method of ensuring best-quality sleep and enhanced likelihood of lucid dreams is to take a serotonin boosting supplement just before sleep, to suppress REM sleep for the suggested 4 – 5 hours; then waking for a minimal period to take the non-serotonin supplement to trigger REM cycles and hopefully, vivid or lucid dreaming. The negative aspect of serotonin supplements is that they tend to limit the frequency and quality of lucid dreams if they remain in the sleeper’s system when attempting to induce lucidity.

 * 5-HTP
Taken orally, serotonin does not pass into the serotonergic pathways of the central nervous system because it does not cross the blood-brain barrier. 
However, the amino acid tryptophan and its metabolite 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), from which serotonin is synthesised, can and do cross the blood-brain barrier. It is believed that 5-HTP is more effective than tryptophan at increasing levels of serotonin inside the brain because it more readily crosses the blood brain barrier and because it is the direct precursor to serotonin. Another interesting supplement that acts via the serotonergic pathway is melatonin. Melatonin is the neurochemical substance that serotonin is metabolised into: serotonin --> melatonin. There are some studies that suggest that melatonin does not suppress REM sleep, although this has not been universally accepted by all dream scientists and there is no conclusive empirical evidence to support the hypothesis. All three of these substances are available as a dietary supplement and all have been cited as causing vivid dreams. 

Personally, I have not experimented with tryptophan or melatonin, but I am currently using 5-HTP (Serotone 5-HTP + co-factors – 100mg capsules, although admittedly I exceed the stated dosage and take 200mg). I have experienced no adverse effects from usage, other than nausea and vomiting of the pills when taken on an empty stomach (you must take them with a carbohydrate snack or meal, so this was completely avoidable on my part); and slight drowsiness, which was actually desirable given I taken them prior to sleep. In terms of increased recall, at this stage it is very hard to isolate the effect of the 5-HTP alone, as I have also been practicing mental techniques and use of binaural beats alongside my supplement intake and, in addition, also take other vitamins and supplements known to affect dream patterns. Typically, my dream recall is pretty good – at least one per night - and failure to recall dreams is closely associated with disturbed/interrupted sleep (i.e. a phone call/someone/the dog waking me up suddenly) and consequent failure to meditate on the dream memory immediately upon regaining consciousness. It is this which accounts for gaps in my dream records – a night where no dream is recorded is explained by problems with recall, rather than absence of vivid dreams – although it is interesting to note that serotonin may have the effect of a decrease in dream memory vividness, which may also be a significant factor. Hopefully this can be accommodated by further strengthening my dream recall techniques and researching additional supplements which enhance dream memory formation.
The current brand of 5-HTP I am using
The full name of the amino acid, 5-HTP, is 5-hydroxytryptophan – it has been available for therapeutic use in Europe for decades and in America since 1994. It is derived from the seeds of an African tree known as the Griffonia simplicifolia. 
Griffonia simplicifolia - tree (above) & seeds (below)
It is also sometimes referred to as oxitriptan (INN). 5-HTP is marketed as an anti-depressant under trade-names such as Cincofarm; Levothym; Levotonine; Oxyfan; Telesol; Tript-OH; and Triptum. Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of depressive illness with 5-HTP, although a lack of high-quality research has been noted.

5-HTP can accomplish the following:
  1. Provide a better overall quality of sleep on nights you attempt lucid dreaming
  2. Increase chances of having a lucid dream by taking advantage of the REM rebound effect
  3. Increase the likely length of a lucid dream with reference to REM rebound
  4. Increase the ability to fall asleep after taking stimulating LDS such as galantamine or yohimbine
As 5-HTP is the direct precursor to serotonin and is characterised by a quick absorption and short elimination half-life – these properties making it ideal for intake before sleep. It reaches its peak plasma levels just 90 minutes after ingestion and is reduced to 12% concentration after 6 hours of sleep (or 4 sleep cycles).

5-HTP has a positive effect on dream length and quality and 5-HTP also has an important role in lucid dream development – most likely as a result of the REM rebound effect, which as discussed, encourages vivid dreaming in the latter stages of sleep, due to the earlier REM suppression and short half-life of approximately 6 hours. Some users report increased visual vividness; an increase in calming/relaxing dream experiences; dreamer ‘observing/witnessing’ rather than actively participating in dreams; and fuzzy recall. There is some suggestion that 5-HTP (and other forms of serotonin-boosting substances) leads to increased oddity and bizarreness in dream content. This theory was supported by the research psychiatrist and neuroscientist Edward Pace-Schott (of the Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School) who reported that subjects using SSRIs reported lengthier dreams with bizarre content (Pace-Schott et al. SSRI Treatment suppresses dream frequency recall but increases subjective dream intensity in normal subjects (2001) Journal of Sleep Research 10).

The most common side-effects of 5-HTP are nausea or gastrointestinal discomfort, which may be resolved by starting with a low dosage and building up to larger quantities; and always taking with a substantial snack which will line the stomach. 5-HTP should not be taken alongside anti-depressant medication or other substances which increase serotonin production, such as St John’s Wort. There is no recommended dosage, although a reasonable daily dose is estimated at 50 – 300 mg, with doses of 500mg often administered in the treatment of depressive illness. Side effects are uncommon at the lower dosage of 50mg. There is some argument that you should not take 5-HTP with vitamin B6, despite this being a ‘co-factor’ in many of the European brands (including Serotone 5HTP, the particular variety of 5-HTP supplement I take). This is because vitamin B6 may catalyse the reaction to serotonin in the gut as opposed to the brain – and as serotonin cannot pass through the blood brain barrier, it is essential that the 5-HTP remains intact until it reaches the brain. There is speculation – although no concrete or conclusive research – which suggests a build up of serotonin in the blood (as opposed to the brain) may be a causal factor in heart disease, although any (unconfirmed) risk of this may be eliminated by avoiding high doses of vitamin B6 alongside use of 5-HTP. I would state however, that other authors on the topic of LDS state that it is only Yuschak (2006) – whose research informed much of this article – who warns against the risk of combining 5-HTP and vitamin B6 and the majority of 5-HTP formulations available from high-street retailers or familiar brands contain vitamin B6 as standard. In any event, it would be virtually impossible (and unwise, unless medically advised) to maintain a healthy and varied diet devoid of vitamin B6, which is an essential nutrient and naturally present in many different foods.

There is currently no research into the long-term effects of 5-HTP use, largely due to the fact it was not widely available to purchase over-the-counter in the USA until 1994.
I will update this post on 5-HTP, by addendum or new linked post, as I progress with my experimentation and in the meantime please continue to check for future posts on other lucid dream supplements which I shall be adding regularly to this Blog.


  1. hey there Tallulah La Ghash , thanks for taking the time to post this stuff . I just started taking 5-htp and melatonin together for dreaming purposes . I used to take the 5htp back in my party days to boost the fx of my xtc . I was just taking 100mg a day of the htp but im bumping it to 200 tonight . From your exp. do you seem to need more sleep when you recall a long vivid dream(s) ? And have you found any other supplements that help your lucid dreaming ? I had alot of success when I first learned about lucid dreaming and actually did it on the first try back in the day . Now however I'm plagued with phone calls n my 2 dogs who I cant get rid of till they learn to talk and ask to move out which they wouldn't if they could . Anyway thanks again for taking the time to write all this . Wow your cute ,into Ldreaming , can write . If I weren't gay you would so be my type .

    1. Hi, thanks so much for your kind comments, I love it when people take time to let me know what they think of my Blog. In answer to your question about length of sleep required to recall dreams, it really depends. My best advice is - if you have not had much rest and are very tired, you should make sure you get a longer sleep - the deep dreamless sleep states are restorative and I find I rarely ever recall vivid dreams if I am tired and have not have enough of this type of sleep. If you are already well-rested and just taking a nap or short sleep, you need far less time asleep to recall dreams as the REM state necessary for dreaming occurs a lot quicker. When I doze/nap (i.e. I don't actually need to sleep due to tiredness)I can go into a dream state and recall that dream vividly with only an hour or so sleep. So when tired - get at least 6 hours of sleep and then wake yourself (see my Wake Back to Bed technique article for full explanation) and then fall asleep for another hour or so, during which time REM sleep/dreaming will occur. If not tired and just resting/experimenting with dreaming - a hour or two is all it takes. In terms of other supplements I take Omega fish oils in capsule form, Ginkgo Biloba and a vitamin B complex, in additon to a multivitamin supplement which I take for general health, but may have some effect on dreaming. I hope this answers your queries :) oh yes, my dog manages to interrupt quite a few dreams too!! x

  2. I have personally had hit and miss luck with 5-HTP. Some nights intense results and some nights nothing. Has anyone had any luck with the 5-HTP blend at ? Was wanting to hear a positive review before putting out money.