Do you find yourself glancing at a brightly lit computer screen phone or tablet late into the wee hours? Or maybe you lie awake in bed desperate for some shut-eye but unable to stop ruminating over the day’s events and borrowing trouble worrying about future troubles. Do you wake up without remembering your dreams? If so you’re not alone. Poor dream recall is common but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “normal.” Is poor dream recall simply the result of insufficient sleep as a whole or might there be a nutritional component to supporting the brain’s activity during sleep?
Vitamin B6 is known for its role in the synthesis and metabolism of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help support balanced moods and a positive mental outlook. Pyridoxal 5'-phosphate the active form of B6 is an essential cofactor for the enzyme that controls the final step in the body’s synthesis of these two compounds. And with serotonin serving as a precursor to melatonin—the hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms and sleep patterns—it’s reasonable to expect that B6 insufficiency could play a role in poor sleep quality. Low B6 levels are also associated with depression further supporting the impact of B6 on the modulation of these neurotransmitters.
A small randomized placebo controlled study seeking to investigate the influence of B6 on dreaming found that 250mg of pyridoxine increased subjective measurements of dream salience. The study involved just twelve subjects (six men and six women) who each went through three intervention types: oral supplementation with 100mg pyridoxine 250mg pyridoxine and a placebo. Each intervention was given for five days with a two-day washout period between each one. Subjects were instructed to ingest a capsule five minutes prior to bedtime and to complete a post-sleep questionnaire upon awakening each morning.
Compared to placebo the higher dose of B6 resulted in a significant increase in the subjects’ own assessment of their dream recall dream vividness and dream bizarreness. The smaller dose also increased those parameters compared to the placebo but the change was not statistically significant. It’s important to note that the subjects were young (ages 18 to 28) had no significant medical issues and drank fewer than seven alcoholic beverages per week. Results may have been different in an older population or in those with medical conditions that may affect B6 metabolism.
The researchers could not be certain whether B6 influenced the vividness of dreaming itself with vivid dreams more likely to be remembered clearly or if better dream recall was the result of overall improved memory. A review of the effects of B6 on cognition found little solid evidence to support a role for short-term B6 supplementation in improving cognitive function or mood (to include depression fatigue and tension symptoms). Supplementation improved measurements of B6 status in the body but this did not have much of an effect on mood or cognition. However other studies support a modest role for B6 in enhancing long-term memory in healthy older men. Additionally a study using an animal model of bacterial meningitis indicated that B6 may help reduce the memory loss and other cognitive impairments that sometimes result from severe forms of this condition.
Good sources of B6 include animal protein (especially beef fish and organ meat) cereal grains legumes and starchy vegetables. Because it is widely available in the food supply overt B6 deficiency is rare but mild insufficiency is common. Some medications such as certain forms of oral contraceptives antibiotics and synthetic steroids may deplete B6 in the body and people taking these pharmaceuticals may benefit from supplemental B vitamins. Heavy alcohol intake also increases the need for B6.