Giving up smoking is crazy stressful so anything that chills out the cravings, uncontrollable crying and insomnia should be a big relief. It’s therefore kind of ironic that the side effects of nicotine patches, the most recommended quitting aide, include hyper vivid dreams that last for hours and feel terrifyingly real.
This is because the nicotine you absorb while you sleep suppresses something called PGO waves that spike before you enter REM stage. Without these, your brain mixes up its awake and asleep signals, causing “micro arousals.” That basically means you maintain daytime awareness and recall when in dream state.
Now, that sounds totally awesome and not very nightmarish at all, right? We thought so too. Here’s what happened when we tried it out.
BEN, NON SMOKER
VICE: How did it feel when you put it on?
Ben: It felt totally normal; I don’t think it hits you straight away. It was more of a slow thing.
Did you have any dreams?
I had a dream where I was in Afghanistan and I had to hitch a ride on the back of a truck, but I ended up on a trailer that was on top of another trailer. I had to sit on that and hold some chains, to keep them together. And I lost part of my foot, it got gashed off, but I couldn’t yell because there was too much noise, and I couldn’t let go of the chain to signal anyone because I would have fallen off.
Then I had a dream where I was in New Zealand and I found an old fridge in a really shitty old theme park, and it was full of chocolate from the last time I was there. But I didn’t want to eat it because it was next to open cat meat. And I didn’t want to eat cat meaty chocolate.
Did they feel different to regular dreams?
They felt way more vivid and felt like a bad acid trip. I had more control over my body, I wasn’t slurry or slow and it was easier to remember things, they weren’t changing as often. It felt like my brain was working differently.
How did you feel when you woke up?
Terrible, I woke up a couple of times in the night and it felt like I’d drunk three Red Bulls, my mind was racing all over the place and it was really hard to focus on one thing. But luckily I was quite drunk so I managed to get back to sleep. When I got up in the morning I just felt awful, I had that light headed feeling like when you smoke a cigarette for the first time in ages.
VICE: How many cigarettes did you have that day, before the patch?
Jess: Probably 20
That’s a pretty good start, how did you sleep?
I couldn’t sleep at all. I just lay there awake all night.
Did it feel like when you usually smoke a heap before bed?
No, it was a different feeling. I just couldn’t get to sleep, really restless, I felt quite out of sorts and pretty disturbed by it.
When you took it off did you sleep okay?
Nah because my arm ached, I could feel where the patch was, my whole arm was just throbbing. It was sore in the same way after you get an injection, that achiness when you can feel it moving through you. Almost like I’d been sleeping on my arm all night.
Did you feel different the next day?
No, just tired because I didn’t sleep. I didn’t feel sick from it or anything, but I probably wouldn’t know what that feels like because I’m probably nicotine sick all the time. I still wanted a cigarette when I woke up.
VICE: How many cigarettes did you have in the day?
Kat: I’m trying to quit so I didn't have that many. I think I had 2...maybe 3.
How did you feel when you put the patch on?
The patch was warm. It felt funny; I was kind of apprehensive about what was going to happen at that stage.
Any good dreams?
Nothing too interesting, although I did have lots of vivid dreams but they were mainly me at work, really boring, just me serving people food. My work seemed very busy though so they were quite stressful dreams. Oh and I had a mini sex dream but I woke up before anything interesting happened.
That sucks. So how was the night over all?
Shit! I think I woke up a million times. My arm felt funny, all achy, tingly and strange. Kind of like when you get a dead arm. Also I tossed and turned all night, I was really restless. Usually I’m a champion sleeper.
Did you feel like a smoke the next morning?
Nah not really, although I usually feel like smoking all day so maybe the patch works.
VICE: As a doctor did you have any idea what you were in for?
Freddie: Yeah it happens by accident sometimes when people don’t take off the patches before bed. And they wake up and say, “I’m not going to do that again because I had really bad dreams.”
Is it always nightmares? Why not cool crazy nice dreams?
I don’t really know why, but it happens a lot, it’s pretty consistently nightmares. Vivid dreams almost always tend to be nightmares, it’s rare to have a good vivid dream.
So did you have any dreams?
Yeah I did, actually when I woke up in the middle of the night I wrote down what I remembered.
Do you want to just read your notes out?
Camping, initially with 24, 24 killed. First attack, stabbing, lots of people stabbed to death, carnage. Friends and strangers, Joel from Good Charlotte. Or Benji. Bodies in boots, cellars, wood cellars, blood. Mostly stabbing, famous feminist writer stabbed herself in the eyes on live TV. Horror, patch took me to somewhere dreadful. Knew I was dreaming but couldn’t wake up, so scared in the night. Hunted, didn’t know who to trust, always running, everyone went murderous. Got a bit silly with all the killing, still scared. Joel kept putting up Good Charlotte stickers in a glass room, he knew it would get him killed but didn’t mind. Girls killing guys, guys killing everyone, not sure where first attack was from, vent inside building with blood pouring out, girl on inside was ok, just vomiting blood.
The finale, stabbed, over tipped table, heaps of food rolling down towards me, I just wanted to eat a slice of chorizo. I thought there was some, then was told it was an orange vegetable. Ultimate cruelty. Woke up with closing credits song in my head. Sounded like Pictures on the Mirror by The Living End.
There was heaps of shit music in your dream. Sorry to put you through that. I had some other questions but they seem redundant after that.
Yeah, a lot of stuff seemed redundant after I woke up.
Would you keep recommending them to people after going through that?
Well it depends what you thought of that, if you liked the sound of it then go for it. But otherwise, no.
Photos by Benjamin Thomson