What are the Effects of 5-HTP on Dreams?

5-HTP has increasingly gained notoriety as a dream supplement in the last few years. Its primary use is as an appetite suppressant and for “natural” depression treatment. I haven’t personally tried this amino acid—even though it’s readily available as a dietary supplement pretty much in any suburban drug store—but I dug up the latest research on the effects of 5-HTP for dreams because it may have more ill effects than expected.

What is 5-HTP and what does it do?

5-Hydroxytryptophan is derived from the seeds of an African tree known as Griffonia simplicifolia. Chemically, it’s related to tryptophan of Turkey Dinner fame. Both trytophan and 5-HTP are precursors to serotonin. It’s brain food, and taking it increases the serotonin level on the brain, which regulates mood, sleep cycles and appetite.

Increases Dream Vividness and Bizarreness

Over the years, people have noticed that taking 5-HTP increases dream vividness. This really isn’t so surprising, as lots of research has correlated increased serotonin levels with dream vividness. A classic article comes from the early aughts, when psychiatrist Edward Pace-Schott and his merry crew reported that subjects on SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) reported much longer dream reports than normal, as well as more dream bizarreness in the content. Translation note: “dream bizarreness” does not just mean magical fluffy bunnies but also includes nightmarish creatures and unsettling imagery.

The effect is indirect. In the first part of the night, 5-HTP causes a REM suppression while promoting deep sleep. REM suppression leads to REM rebound in the second half the night. Cannabis and alcohol have a similar effect on dreams.

POW: here come the dreams like alien creatures hurtling through a ventilation shaft.

Increases Dream Recall

Due to the REM rebound, more dreams can be remembered in the mornings. So 5-HTP may be an effective dream supplement if you can’t remember any dreams at all. Michael Murray, ND, author of 5-HTP, suggests that dream recall is also increased by the improved sleep that 5-HTP provides. Dunno, maybe. Or maybe it’s because your dreams are now filled with the aforementioned alien creatures. Simply put, we need more research on this subject.

Increases Lucid Dreaming

Uh, you’re dreaming.

I know a lot of folks who say 5-HTP has increased ability to have lucid dreams too. Thomas Yuscak stands behind this claim in his book Advanced Lucid Dreaming. Interestingly enough, Yuscak also says 5-HTP gives his dreams a calming effect, akin to “witnessing.”

Yuscak’s method: Use the 5-HTP in the first part of the night to cause dream rebound, and after waking up after 5 hours or so, take galantamine or another lucid dreaming supplement.

5-HTP may also increase the chance of lucid dreaming by virtue of the increased dream bizarreness/three-headed dogs. If you use dream-signs, or train yourself to look for things-out-of-the-ordinary, 5-HTP could be a useful ally.

Warnings and Contra-indications

5-HTP fools with your brain chemistry, and everyone has a different brew. If you’re already taking SSRIs for depression or mood stabilization, 5-HTP could really interfere and possibly lead to a serious chemical imbalance known as serotonin syndrome.  Do not do this.

Also, 5-HTP can be rough on the belly.  The most common side-effect is gastrointestinal distress. The UC Berkeley Wellness Letter also notes nausea, vomiting difficulty breathing are possible. High doses can cause high blood pressure, agitation and an elevated heart rate.

Bottomline: 5-HTP is a powerful brain supplement and its long-term safety still is not determined. Be wary, and be prepared. This is no placebo.

Read about the top 5 supplements for increasing dream vividness and lucid dreaming here.

References:

“SSRI Treatment suppresses dream frequency recall but increases subjective dream intensity in normal subjects,” Journal of Sleep Research; Pace-Schott EF, et al.; 2001, 10, pp. 129-142.

5-HTP by Michael Murray, ND, 1998.

Advanced Lucid Dreaming by Thomas Yuscak, 2006.

5-HTP, UC Berkeley Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements, January 2005.

Comments

  1. Richard says

    Excellent advice! I have used prescribed SSRI medications the past few years with good results. It does seem to be a rather delicate balancing act to take enough to help, but not too much.

    Your cautionary comments seem right on the mark. Thanks!

  2. says

    5-HTP never made much of a difference in my dreams. However, the rest of Thomas Yuscak’s galantamine protocol did. Crazy vivid lucid dreams with galantamine and choline!

    Have you heard anything about him? Last I knew, he had stopped selling his book because he was working on a new version.

  3. says

    Hi Ryan,
    I came over from the A List Blogger’s Club to visit your site.

    I absolutely love the site. I knew I would when I read what you wrote about in the Forum. I’m huge advocate of recording, understanding and analyzing dreams. I’ve kept a dream journal since I was a teenager.

    Your post is fascinating. On occasion, I’ve taken HTTP and noticed that it did heighten my dreams.

    I’ve subscribed and look forward to more fascinating posts.
    Most Sincerely,
    Angela Artemis

  4. says

    Richard, thanks for the confirmation based on your experience.

    KMG — I don’t know what is up with Thomas Yuscak, although I like the idea of him working on a new book.

    Angela, thanks for coming by from the Blogger’s Club!

  5. Diego says

    In the past couple of months I have taken 5-HTP approximately once a week and have had vivid dreams literally every time I have used this supplement. The last time I took it was yesterday afternoon, and upon going to sleep last night I once again dreamt for what seemed to be the entire night. When I awoke this morning I decided to search online regarding whether or not there was a correlation between 5-HTP and dreaming and it seems that vivid dreams are indeed a side effect for many users. Anyway, I just wanted to document my experience in case anybody else was wondering about this phenomenon.

  6. says

    Hey Diego, that’s great that it’s working for you! What brand and dose are you taking? Do you take it right before bed?

  7. says

    hey Diego, yeah, you nailed it. I have started a controlled study of 5HTP using my home sleep lab device, but don’t have enough data yet for telling how it affects my sleep in terms of sleep stages. However, I can say that the week I did this, my sleeptalking increased and I woke several time with intense “feverish” thinking/dreaming: pretty unusual.

    I’ve been using Natural Balance, it’s 50mg 5HTP and 10 mg vitamin B6, and you can find it on Amazon if you don’t have it at your local natural foods market.

      • Ryan Hurd says

        Unfortunately, the data was inconclusive, mostly bc 5HTP has a longer halflife than I realized at the time, and can have residual effects for days. I’d need to reanalyze the data comparing weeks on/off. And even more unfortunately, I have had to move away from using zeo as a research tool bc their company is for sale and there’s no telling how long their cloud based database will continue to operate. I’m pretty bummed about this. However, I can say, anecdotally, that 5HTP gives me night sweats. :(

  8. Bruce says

    Does anyone else taking 5HTTP having a back lash from their husbands/wives/people they sleep with ?
    After the increase in sleep talking and movement, my wife is not so happy about the whole thing.
    BRuce

  9. Sara says

    I often have dreams that come true but they are always murky and I rarely remember them completely. I am very curious to try 5htp and see if I can unveil more.

  10. Dale says

    I just got my bottle of 5-htp from holland&barrets, it has 50mg htp and 5mg b6, I can’t wait to try it tonight. I will post results :).

  11. Nestor Diaz says

    I started taking 5HTP since it was recommended to me because of my frequently nightmares. It made wonders… I can tell you that I can fly in my dreams and I have the feeling that I can control what I dream. I have taking it everyday like it says on the label. The only problem is that if I dont take it, i have a nightmare everytime.
    What should I do?

  12. Brandon says

    It was 7:00pm and I was taking my daily supplement of 5htp before bed. I believe they were 50-100mg each. I noticed I only had three capsule left. I decided to take them all since I never felt any effects Ingesting one. This was very immature and extremely stupid of me to do. I immediately began to feel warm and sick to the stomach. I could barely make it to my bed. I wanted to vomit. I passed out immediately. This is a night I will never forget, not because of the blatant overdose, but because of the dream. I will never have a lucid dream so unforgettable and so clear again. I remember the smallest details. It was as real as the world awake. Beautiful and bizarre. I only wish that I had been keeping up with a dream journal at that time in my life…the things I could have accomplished…

    • Ryan Hurd says

      yikes thanks Brandon for the story: I’m glad you are OK! Those sound like the symptoms of serotonin overdose, also known as serotonin syndrome.

      I surely hope that 5HTP overdose does not become a popular thing to try… it can have even worse effects for some people. Serotonin overdose can be fatal and different people react to high dosages in different ways. There’s a clinical case of serotonin overdose occurring at less than 50mg of a related compound known as venlafaxine. The case is relevant because this is not considered a strong dose. here’s the source on that one: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12549949

      On a lighter note: write down that dream now! You’ll lose the details over time. It may have been a dumb move, but many people report insightful dreams during overdose situations, extreme fatigue and other intense activities. “From its fruits you will know it, not its roots,” paraphrasing William James on the topic of the origin of spiritual experience.

  13. Glyn says

    I never thought about the correlation of taking 100MG of 5-HTP before bed, but I have been having extremely vivid and lucid dreams every time I sleep. They are amazing good and bad. An addictive experience that comes as a perk to additional health benefits of 5-HTP. Most recent dream I experience heart break similar to the love of your life being taken away from you. I woke up with this feeling and it wouldn’t go away for hours. Very powerful.

  14. Anthony says

    Glyn! I felt the same exact thing as you, except about 9 years go. This dream was so dumb but it made me feel such emotion that I cried. Aha
    I was like 8, and I had a dream that I was building a mansion. I was sort of carving it out of a big stone, and I was working SOO hard. All of a sudden it crumbled down into a billion pieces. I woke up crying and cried for about 15 minutes until my parents calmed me down. The rest of the day I was so depressed, and when they brought it up (they thought it was funny, and honestly it kind of was) I would start to tear up.

    This fascinates me so much though! I just bought melatonin and 5-htp because I couldn’t find choline at walgreens. I’ll be trying them out tonight (:

  15. Trevor says

    I used Melatonin for the first time last night, and I’m really not sure what it did for me. I would not fall asleep at first, almost as if I had caffiene. I bought and took Choline bitartate and 50htp around 3 o clock, I felt quite different during my day at work. Very reserved, thoughtful, a bit sluggish, and my muscles seemed to be fairly tired for any kind of extra exursion. But it was still a great day. I have a feeling like my dreams are going to be amazingly vivid tonight, and they usually are. I would just like to know when it’s the best time to take the supplements. I’m thinking about skipping out on the Melatonin and sticking to both the 5 and the Choline. Choline is supposedly the big hitter in lucid dreaming.

  16. gregory says

    hello all, i have started using htp 5 a month ago in griffiona extract form 500 mg , and i now tell you it WORKS! dreams started the first night on the first pill! the dreams where so real it felt realer than being awake, i could feel wind, cold, heat, i could hear loud sounds just like in awake reality but more real very strange to explain, the dreams where way out of this world i was superhuman immortal and i could know reality before it happened in my mind real strange, anyway i found out that if you take htp 5 with vitamin b6 you sleep real short i mean like 3 hours or less then wake up super awake so that is not a good idea to take htp 5 with vitamin b6. good luck

    peace

  17. RJ says

    Wow, I’ve only been on 5-HTP for over a week now and have had very vivid dreams every.single.night. It made me feel refreshed by morning, and I also loved dreaming about something so vivid. However, last night I had a bit of a disturbing dream of someone dying in front of me (a very gruesome death). It was too real for comfort and I woke up with such a clear memory of it, I began to realize that this whole thing started the first time I took the pills (I take 100mg in the mornings). So I decided to just look it up and see if it’s just me… I can’t believe that it’s not! I’m glad though.

    The pills have personally helped me a lot with the bouts of depression I go through daily. I feel rejuvenated since taking them, but I also am hesitent because I don’t like messing with my body in any shape or form. I don’t know what to do really, because they really have helped me out so much. Hopefully no more nightmares for me though! :)

  18. Amy says

    For those interested in 5-HTP, I just want to add in my experience and echo what the author and many other have already said: BE CAREFUL. I’m a woman, about 5’6″, roughly 117 lbs. I have lupus and Ulcerative Colitis, both severe but much better now.

    I only took 50 mg, for sleep and depression and appetite suppression, last night for the first time. I also take 1-2 capsules (250 mg/cap) a day with caffeine to help with my energy levels, never noticing an effect on my sleep/dreams with the choline. I also take melatonin (1 pill) nightly, for sleep and other “female” health issues. I OFTEN take many supplements and vitamins and minerals at the same time as the choline or melatonin and caffeine, with no noticeable side effects except the slight jitters, if I don’t eat first or very soon after.

    So- last night…well really yesterday AFTERNOON/EVENING around…5 pm-6 pm, perhaps?-, took the 5HTP, along with all my other stuff. I’m sure I had a Red Bull and choline along with this mix, as I was not ready to sleep yet, and had forgotten to take my mix earlier in the day. I also took it hours before I slept because I must stop drinking liquids at least a few hours before sleeping, or else I’ll get no sleep from going to pee all night.

    Anyway, took the junk- felt weird/jittery? Maybe a bit dizzy?- for a bit after, and then completely dopey the rest of the time I was up, nealy falling over at times!. Around midnight I remembered that I had taken something new and that it was prob interacting with the melatonin, which I had not previously considered (I’m very careful when adding new supplements or vitamins). Laid down and was immediately afraid to close my eyes and go to sleep, because my balance seemed even more “off” almost as though I had been drinking, and my mind seemed to want to “leave” me. Not sure how to explain it, but I knew that I would sleep, and deeply at that, but I DID NOT KNOW if I would awaken safely! It felt spiritual, and I was almost terrified. Prayed for protection (I’m a Christian), gave in and…

    Some of the most terrifying/bizarre/erotic dreams I’ve ever experienced. And I’m a natural lucid dreamer since I was a young child, and so am used to crazy dreams. Every blue moon, I naturally have an erotic dream so intense I’ll have an orgasm that wakes me. *blushing furiously* Sorry so detailed, but I’m trying to help those searching to better understand that intensity of these side effects. Well, last night, I probably had about 5 or 6…or more. I got almost NO sleep, as I was busy running to pee all night, as orgasm>>intense desire to pee…naturally…yes? Lol…I’m so ashamed typing this! *sigh* In these dreams/nightmares, it felt spiritual, with dark overtones. I…”stuff” sexually was going on with me (Idk what, tried to forget immediately upon waking)- I also “witnessed’ family members/friends in erotic situations, which further contributed to the feeling of dark/evil overtones, as I shouldn’t be seeing things like that.

    The orgasms were so intense that I nearly hurt myself several times during the “struggle”, and also in trying to fight against it after understanding what was happening. I don’t know if I made any noises (I live w/the parents). I was terrified to go back asleep, but couldn’t help it. I slept until nearly noon today after finally falling asleep peacefully around 8 am. Because of an ongoing illness, I already struggle with night sweats which can get intense; however, I’m convinced that the 5-HTP intensified that too, last night. I’ve also been feeling off-balance all day today, too, really off.

    Please be careful with this stuff. Erotic dreams sound nice, right? Well they’re NOT when you have this stuff in your system, at least I’m sure that’s the way it will be for some other people too. And when you’re single and (now) chaste until marriage for years, erotic dreams of any sort are downright awful. I ended up crying…lol…because I didn’t have a REAL man to be with in that way, and it felt like I was being physically and spiritually tortured. Others here have also reported intense emotions while having 5HTP in their systems. I would have- SHOULD have- opened the pill and taken only half to start with. That’s what I suggest. I wasn’t looking for lucid dreaming aids, as my dreams are ALWAYS colorful, wild, and sensory-heavy and I didn’t want to aggravate that further, as dreams can also be/open pathways into not only the “good’ of the spiritual world, but also the evil! As I have experienced since childhood. So…here’s another experience for you, please use much caution. Don’t know if I’ll ever try it again…(Sorry So Long!)

  19. Brian Hughes says

    I just started taking it today as a mood stabilizer. I already have vivid,lucid dreams and have since I was a child.

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