Lucid dreams are a little-known side effect of SSRIs, but for some people, the unexpected new talent leads to far greater emotional processing than they’re capable of in the waking world

On December 6, 2021, I had a dream about going to an Ed Sheeran concert (I am not a fan of Ed Sheeran). I remember this because it’s the final entry in my months-long dream journal, which I kept in the recent period I was taking antidepressants. “First, we sat high up in the stands,” I wrote, “but we went down to get some snacks. I got a bread roll, butter and a Fanta lemon — I wanted a pink drink because the elderly ladies sitting next to us had big bottles of it, but they didn’t sell it in the shop. Ed finally comes out, and starts pulling people from the crowd to dance on the floor in front of the stage — it’s a choreographed Zumba-style routine, but everyone knows it. I initially get pulled out, but I manage to get away because it would be my nightmare to dance.”

This is an extract from a much longer, extremely detailed retelling of the dream — which I had three days before I stopped taking my prescription. Since then, I’ve dreamt, but I’ve never been able to recall so exhaustively exactly what happened in my sleep. This is a common side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which, according to Mark Silvert, one of the psychiatrists at London’s Blue Tree Clinic, increase neurotransmitters in the brain, serotonin in particular. Silvert explains that with more neurotransmitters, a person’s brain is more active, meaning they’ll likely “feel things in a more vivid way,” including dreams — and, he adds, if the dream “seems more real, you’re going to wake up and remember it.” 

But while many people report suffering nightmares thanks to their medication, some love their antidepressant-induced dreams, and even find them therapeutic. For others, SSRIs can push their dreams even further, enabling them to lucid dream — in which they become aware that they’re dreaming, and can even gain control over the dream’s characters, narrative or environment. 

“When I was on a very high dose of my medication, I would lucid dream three to four times a week,” says 20-year-old Natalie from Illinois. Natalie started taking SSRIs nearly four years ago, and immediately noticed the effect on her dreams. She had never attempted to lucid dream before, but after starting her medication, she found her dreams more vivid and easier to remember, and she could even influence what happened in them. “One thing that happens a lot is that I have superpowers,” she tells me. “I’ll just be able to will myself to fly in my dreams. Sometimes I also have telekinesis, and can just point my hand at an object and move it if I want to, or I can blast someone with a random power coming out of my hands.”

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