5 Unexpected Things That Can Affect Dreams, According to an Expert Who Analyzes Them

Photo: Getty Images/Patiwat Sariya
Should sweet dreams be a goal when getting a good night's sleep, knowing what affects them positively or negatively can be a powerful, powerful thing. There are a few—five to be exact—unexpected things that can encourage or extinguish the most high fructose fantasies, the most saccharine of sleepy time visions, according to Lauri Loewenberg, dream analyst and author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life.

Luckily, she's willing to spill the tea so that you can drift off to sleep with the satisfaction of know you've done everything you can to promote the types of nocturnal reveries you're looking to experience. Curious about the cause of your nightmares? Want to get a little sultry under the sheets? Or hell, are you just afraid you might not be dreaming in the first place? We got you covered. Oh, and P.S., sweet dreams ain’t literal—achieving them might involve cutting back on your sugar intake so prepare to tweak your bedtime snack if need be.

Experts In This Article

What affects your dreams? Here are five things that can impact them

1. Sleeping on your stomach

Are you experiencing unwanted sex dreams where you're having a lustful affair with your high school principal? You might what to check your sleep position, because those who prefer snoozing face down are more prone to erotic nights. "The theory is that having your breasts and pelvic area pressed against the bed causes stimulation that can often result in sex dreams," says Loewenberg.

On the flip side, if you're attempting to control your dream's narrative with lucid dreaming, this can be an awesome trick to keep in your back pocket. Suddenly, becoming part of a threesome with Harry Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge got so much easier. (Psst: These lucid dream techniques can get you there.)

2. Taking vitamin B6

If you have trouble remembering your dreams after you wake up, why not pop a B6 before you go to bed? Loewenberg relays that the vitamin can help you recall your nocturnal fantasies.

In fact, people who took B6 had a clearer memory of their dreams, even if the vitamin itself had no impact on "vividness, bizarreness or color" specifically, according to a study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills. Researchers looked at dream recall in 100 healthy Australians, with different group taking either 240 milligrams of vitamin B6, a placebo, or a mix of B vitamins before conking out.

3. Quitting smoking (cigarettes or cannabis)

"Cannabinoids suppress REM and dream sleep and nicotine suppresses serotonin, the neurotransmitter most associated with dream activity," says Loewenberg. "So when you quit introducing either of these substances into your body, you get the rebound effect and start dreaming like crazy."

4. Progesterone

Progesterone is a hormone that's often related to reproductive health; it's released after ovulation in the second half of someone's menstrual cycle. It also, weirdly, can dial your dreams up to 11. One 2019 study published in Medical Sciences investigated the dreams of 944 women, and those who were in the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle (where progesterone levels were higher) had better luck remembering their dreams.

Unsurprisingly, your dreams can become incredibly vivid and memorable during times when your body's experiencing higher-than-normal levels of progesterone. This includes during pregnancy but also while taking the hormone in order to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. "I can attest to this," Loewenberg says."When I was taking progesterone, I would wake up every morning laughing my butt off at the dreams I was having"

5. Spicy foods

I know, I know, this is devastating news to anyone who loves a good chicken tikka masala. I hate to ruin midnight munchies as well, but really any rich, sugary or spicy food too close to bedtime can result in upsetting dreams, says Loewenberg.

"They can cause a dramatic rise in your blood sugar level and then a dramatic drop right around the time you may be entering REM or dream sleep," Loewenberg says. "These foods are also more likely to cause heartburn, especially because you are horizontal, and they are a bit more difficult to digest. So with all of these things going on in your body, it will compete with your REM time and turn what would have normally been a pleasant dream into a nightmare."

Ugh, fine. But if I'm having a rough night that calls for Ben & Jerry's, I'll risk the interruption.


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