ZMA: Vivid, Epic, Movie-Like Dreams
I was hanging around the kitchen at work the other day pouring boiling water onto my valerian bags. “This tea really stinks,” I said to the woman next to me. “But it tastes great once the water is on the bags.” I didn’t want her to think the stench of cheese and vomit wafting off the valerian was me.
“Oh, what is it?” she asked.
“I’ve heard of that. Isn’t that something you drink before bed as a sleep aid?”
“Yes,” I said. “But if you drink it during the day it basically makes you high as a kite all day without any serious side-effects.”
“Love it!” she said.
“You can try a couple of bags, if you like? Just boil them up and then keep refilling the same bags all day. It’s rolling bliss.”
She later sidled up to me at me desk to get the bags. “If you really want something special at night, try this.” She tapped three letters into Google: ZMA. “It gives you insanely vivid dreams.”
I gave her the bags then did my own research.
ZMA (Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6) is a supplement used primarily by athletes, gymnasts, and bodybuilders. It advertises itself as a ‘recovery aid’ that allegedly helps the body achieve deeper levels of REM sleep.
Some more searching around showed that her claim about ZMA creating strange dreams was corroborated by many other users. When my ZMA arrived, I took double the recommended amount as an “attack dose”, and went to sleep.
I thought I had seen everything when it comes to dreams. I became an advanced lucid dreamer in my late teens and I’ve seen everything that has to offer. A couple of years ago I played around with combining jhana with sleep to create “jhana dreams”, scripted adventures I would experience with my memory as the creator being wiped, all against the intensely blissful backdrop of jhana. More recently I had been entering samadhi using just body awareness, then letting myself fall asleep in that state to give crystal-clear dreams of beautiful scenes bathed in an omnipresent golden light.
I didn’t think I could be surprised by what ZMA had to offer, but here we are. ZMA dreams are fundamentally different to regular dreams but in a way that is hard to pinpoint. For a start, they are incredibly vivid – particularly the colours, which are sharper and brighter. The dreams also have a very epic quality about them. They are long – seemingly far longer than ordinary dreams – and are “broad-ranging”, weaving together many different emotive themes to create an epic narrative. Some of the dreams can seem to last several hours, though it is unclear at this stage whether this is due to dream time dilation, or whether they actually last that long in regular time (I failed to check my clock on waking). Finally, these dreams often appear to have content unrelated to one’s own life. Normally, my dreams will contain themes related to events of the past week, though jumbled together to form their own strange yet familiar narrative. ZMA however sometimes just seems to pull in themes from nowhere and have you live them as a movie, giving a kind of “past-life” feel to them. Fortunately, this unconnected feel tends to make me able to snap out of them more quickly, with less emotional “dream hangover” than normal ones.
Here are a couple of examples from last night.
The first dream began as a vantage point in a Mexican village, where a peasant woman was reluctantly selling her two young boys, aged around seven and eight, into child slavery. ZMA dreams often begin in this way as a floating vantage point, like a camera recording a movie, with no inherent ego on “this side” experiencing the dream as a personal observer. Two mustachioed scumbags bought the children and said, in thick Spanish accents, “Maybe you meet your half-brother and sister, eh?” and then chuckled, the implication being that they had already bought children from this woman who had died in their work yards in the years before. The children were taken to a plantation which was just the rough grassy terrain alongside an old railway track. They chopped some sort of crop with scythes before raking it into piles for collection. They were inexperienced, though, and mostly flailed the tools around clumsily, before one accidentally struck the other with a rake. As kids do, this erupted into a rake fight. The other child hit his brother with the rake several times, knocking him to the ground, and then continued to hit him in the head, unaware of the implications of the weapon, smashing his skull until blood brain mush oozed. He had killed his brother, and the camera stayed with this scene until his realization of what he had done, before panning off to show other scenes of utter despondency in the child labour camp along this old railway line.
At some point the “camera” became “me” and I was in the movie as a young slave. I was able to board a train travelling on the other side of the tracks away from the work yard and was chased along the train by banditos in a running gun fight. Finally I arrived at the station and had to try to negotiate my way through guards who were searching for escaped slaves, whilst looking after three young runaways who had joined me. This whole “movie” appeared to last at least two hours, and was interspersed with footage explaining some of the Mexican peasant woman’s backstory. It was absolutely fucking mental and I woke up feeling like I’d just been in another world for half the night. Luckily, because the dream had seemingly nothing to do with my current life, it was easily brushed off as a strange and harrowing but thoroughly immersive and entertaining adventure.
In the second dream, I attended an entire Queen concert, with Freddie dressed in his usual vest and white trousers get-up. The concert was good but Freddie seemed somehow “off” the entire night. When it finally ended, I was able to head Freddie off as he exited the stage and I asked him, “What happened tonight?”
He said, “I just feel tired.” Then he gave me the same look my cat had given me when it was dying. “I feel so cold…” he said.
He knew he was dead, and that he wasn’t supposed to be there. That creeped the hell out of me.
So, those are some of the experiences I have had on ZMA so far. It is a total cheat code for vivid, complex, narrative dreams. The dreams are mostly non-lucid, and contain lots of non-character “camera” points. It is a totally bizarre way to dream, and could give insight into No-Self if interpreted well. The supplement has also induced some lucid dreams, but I struggled to maintain control of those before waking up. Perhaps people currently experimenting with lucid dreams could benefit from ZMA.