The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol

Atripla, Vivid Dreams and Getting Past the Undetectable Brick Wall

Part of the Series Other Sides of HIV: People Taking HIV Meds Share Stories About Side Effects

March 26, 2014



After being told I was HIV positive, for me it was a no-brainer. I started medications right away; when I say right away, it was more like three months, because I needed lab work to determine what my counts were and if I was resistant to any medications already on the market.

I was fortunate, my counts were low and I was not resistant to any medication. I had thought long and hard for the three months and read a lot of articles on HIV. The one topic that always seems to come to surface was achieving an undetectable viral load. If a person was able to achieve an undetectable viral load, he/she was less at risk of passing on this virus to others.

I started Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC] and my only pet peeve about the pill was that doctors and nurses kept making the comparison, "You have nothing to worry about; it is just like controlling diabetes." I believe, if I was told I had diabetes, my mind-set would be a lot different.

My doctor explained to me the side effects, but also told me I must adhere to the regimen and if I could make the commitment, then she would start me on Atripla.

I stood in front of the sink with water in hand and the pill in the other and wondered how this pill was going to change my life. Let me say it did change; it started with dreams so vivid I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would take me a few moments to try to figure out where I was, what was happening. I once found myself in the closet crying with my favorite sweater in hand, crying because I believed it was infested with bedbugs and I would have to throw it out. I actually washed it afterwards so I would be able to calm down and able to return to sleep. By the way, the sweater is doing just fine.


I became very tired. I slept whenever I was able to. It was because of the so many interrupted and sleepless nights.

After three months, it was time for blood work. My CD4 count was up to 1,200 and my viral load was 165 parts per million. I was so happy, but did not reach my goal yet.

I continued the regimen, and my vivid dreams lessened in occurrence. My energy improved with the help of a vitamin supplement that gave me a couple of complete nights of sleep.

Three more months go by, and I sat in my doctor's office thinking, "I will never be able to get to undetectable." So she speaks with a huge smile on her face and says, "Mike, you have an undetectable viral load and your CD4 count is 1,600." At first, I heard nothing; she sounded more like blah blah blah, because I was so focused on being told the complete opposite. When it sunk in, I was so happy.

That was three years ago and I still retain an undetectable viral load and my CD4 count stays between 1,600 and 1,700. When I speak to people who have low CD4 counts, they basically tell me I'm one of the lucky ones, but I don't really feel lucky -- more like responsibility. I was hit with a brick wall and decided right there and then that I would break through.

I hope my story will be encouragement for others who find themselves in a similar situation. I also know there can be side effects down the road because of the drug itself, but I have decided I will deal with those problems when they arise and just enjoy the feeling of being alive and be glad I was diagnosed now and not in the 80s when it was basically a death sentence for anyone who contracted this virus.

Finally, I would just like to say get tested regularly, because if you know your status, you can make informed choices. You also have an opportunity to let others make a choice when you disclose your status before engaging in sex.

Want to share your "Other Sides of HIV" story about dealing with side effects, good or bad? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Other Sides" stories here in our Resource Center on Keeping Up With Your HIV Meds.

Read other stories in this series.

This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
More on HIV Medications
More News on Atripla (Efavirenz/Tenofovir/FTC)

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Mike (Turks ) Sun., Sep. 11, 2016 at 5:55 pm UTC
The story you gave is really working on me. I have been struggling with keeping up with my medication and really been feeling like im fighting a losing battle. I want to get undetectable but feel as tho its impossible. but after reading this I know this is possible once i keep my eye on the prize especially being on atripla as well. Thank you for your encouragement.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Esperanza (Lynnfield, MA) Fri., Feb. 19, 2016 at 1:56 am UTC
I have been on Atripla for 6 years and have had an undetectable viral load for the past 4.5 years. My CD4 count is at 1275. I still experience the "fuzzy" feeling when I take the pill. I do NOT miss the vivid dreams.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Ric (Los Angeles) Sun., Feb. 15, 2015 at 2:04 am UTC
Started Atripla Thursday night 2/12, no vivid dreamsdreams yet, 1st night I felt like my bed would fall off a mountain top with me in it. Friday morning I was dizzy up until 2PM, Today Saturday 2/14 I felt dizzy all day, I took a nap when I got home from work (left early), had a late dinner, now waiting to take the meds. I really dislike this feeling, I feel numb on Atripla, I feel sedated, like I escaped a sanatorium where I was being pumped with drugs. Tonight will be night #3 wish me luck.. :'(
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Jim (Pasadena) Mon., Oct. 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm UTC
Thank you for your story. I have recently changed to Complera and am suffering the odd dreams and occasional depression. Hearing that you stuck it out and it got better really helps.

Thank you.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Beryl (Orlando, Fl) Sun., Oct. 5, 2014 at 7:18 pm UTC
smoking even a small amount of marijuana before taking the med completely negated the atripla dreams.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Obert Gutu (Harare) Wed., Aug. 6, 2014 at 8:47 am UTC
So far so good with me! Aluta continua!
Reply to this comment

Comment by: JWill (Houston Tx) Wed., Jun. 18, 2014 at 1:12 am UTC
How do you get your cd4 count that high?? Anything special you take?? I'm undetectable and take Atripla as well. My cd4 count isn't that high though
Reply to this comment

Comment by: collen (Kuruman, South Africa) Mon., Apr. 7, 2014 at 8:27 am UTC
Thanks very much for the encouragement. I have also reached the undetectable viral load and am very happy about it, however, my CD4 count remains very low around 450 up from 250 since taking treatment 2years ago. I try very hard to leave positively and eat well but the progress is not pleasing me. is there anything I can do to quickly improve my cell count?
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Greg (RI) Sun., Apr. 6, 2014 at 7:00 pm UTC
After several years of Atripla (& Sustiva before that), I still hate the dreams. Wish I could enjoy them like you guys! At least the freakiness has faded and they're no longer as bad as they used to be. I got to undetectable pretty quickly too, but never get higher than 600 with CD4 no matter what.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: David Moorman (Del City, Oklahoma) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 8:50 pm UTC
Thank you for sharing your story Mike. I too take Atripla. I have been on Atripla for 5 years, I have an undetectable viral load and my CD 4 count is always between 1600 and 1800. All the side effects from taking the drug sometimes makes me want to quit but being that I have such great results I know I will never stop!! I thank God everyday that I am alive and can help others who are suffering from HIV/AIDS diagnoses.. Peace and Love, David
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Mike (Toronto ON) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm UTC
Thank you for your comments everyone , it took a great amount of courage to write this article. As for parts for million , an undetectable load is under 40 where I get my lab work done , When I wrote 165 , the count was told to me 165 parts per million and when I reach below 40 I would be consider undetectable. now I do know that some labs consider under 50 as undetectable , if I wrote it incorrect I apologize , doctors and nurses give you a lot of information and sometimes it is difficult to process , if there is something in my article that you found incorrect I'm happy you pointed it out . The vitamin supplement I take is called Ratava 412 which I receive though a naturopathic clinic
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Frank (Ireland) Wed., Apr. 2, 2014 at 5:39 pm UTC
Wow! That's a super high CD4!! Mine has never been above 800.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Larry (New York) Mon., Mar. 31, 2014 at 11:45 pm UTC
Thanks for this uplifting article. It feels to me that we get too many stories of symptomatic and side effect-laden therapy on this website, as if we were still living in the 1990s. I myself was diagnosed in 1989, before there was a surefire regimen, and after taking imperfect combination therapy for some years in the 1990s with incipient viral resistance, I went off all medications for about six years. In retrospect that might not have been a bad thing because after that time I started Atripla, which got me to undetectable, and I've stayed with it for nine years now. Like you said, I felt sluggish and foggy-minded for a while, and for a long time afterwards I would feel a kind of buzz in bed every night after taking my Atripla. But I kind of liked those colorful dreams. I got some good ideas for career directions in those dreams, and inspiration for research and writing. I just wonder, if someday I stop taking Atripla and switch to a different therapy, will my whole cognition suddenly change, or has the effect of Atripla truly worn off after nine years? It has been asked whether a fish realizes what it's like to be out of water when it has all along lived in water. I don't know if there is a different "reality" that feels different beyond my Atripla-saturated state. I just know it feels normal now, and I miss the exciting dreams of the early days.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: NEC (New Jersey) Mon., Mar. 31, 2014 at 9:39 am UTC
Mike, you said that your viral load after three months of treatment was "165 parts per million". I think you meant 165 virus particles per milliliter of blood plasma. It's important to know what the units are and to get them correct.
Reply to this comment
Replies to this comment:
Comment by: James (San Francisco) Wed., Apr. 2, 2014 at 5:38 pm UTC
I was thinking the same thing. It's like parts per million of what?

Comment by: Chris (Allegheny County, PA) Sat., Mar. 29, 2014 at 2:37 am UTC
I've been on Atripla for about 6 years, and have been using a Sustiva-based combo since I was diagnosed (about 14 years ago). I actually enjoy the vivid dreams. Sometimes I get to see my grandparents or parents in the dreams. :)
Reply to this comment

Comment by: ralph (Geneva, Switzerland) Fri., Mar. 28, 2014 at 7:13 am UTC
great article... but what is that vitamin you took to help you sleep? I have the same problem...
Reply to this comment

Add Your Comment:
(Please note: Your name and comment will be public, and may even show up in
Internet search results. Be careful when providing personal information! Before
adding your comment, please read's Comment Policy.)

Your Name:

Your Location:

(ex: San Francisco, CA)

Your Comment:

Characters remaining:


The content on this page is free of advertiser influence and was produced by our editorial team. See our advertising policy.