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If I want to, say, collect beardlings or harvest nightmare fuel from hallucinations, how could I quickly lower my sanity from the safety of my base? What brings it down the fastest besides monster auras and such?

On the other hand, how could I bring my sanity back up quickly after I've done my harvesting?

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The fastest way to reduce your sanity reliably is to eat Green Mushrooms, if you have them available. They can be found in Forests and the Savannah, can only be picked at Dusk and reduce your Sanity by 50 points, with no HP loss. With 1-2 raw Monster Meat pieces on top of that you'll become Insane in no time, just remember that Monster meat deals damage when eaten.

The only thing that gets close to that amount of Sanity loss is a Grue(a.k.a. the Night Monster) attack, that reduces your sanity by 20, but that is risky, since a couple of hit in short succession can easily kill you.

When you're done harvesting your Nightmare fuel, you can quickly gain Sanity by sleeping in a Tent: at a whooping 50 Sanity gained per use it will easily soothe your shaken nerves letting you finally get some good nights of sleep after facing your Nightmares. If you're having problems getting the Spider Silk required by tents, you can always create Straw Rolls, that let you get 33 Sanity per use.

Happy hunting!

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Exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for the help, I'll be trying this out today. –  MapCavalier May 10 '13 at 17:15
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Of course sleeping causes you to wake up hungry, so you’ll need to have plenty of food available. Fortunately green mushrooms subtract 12.5 from your hunger, so eating them is a good way to reduce sanity. Just make sure they are raw because cooked green mushrooms add 15 to sanity, subtract one from health, and do nothing for hunger. –  Synetech Oct 1 '13 at 5:37
    
I think green mushrooms also appear in swamps. Also, take care that Wickerbottom can not sleep. Use cooked green mushrooms or inventing new things to quickly gain sanity. –  Konerak Oct 1 '13 at 11:29
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For a more controlled way of reducing your sanity, you can also repeatedly jump into a wormhole, which lowers your sanity by 15 each jump.

This has the advantage of not dealing any physical damage; you only lose sanity.

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Plus, it is easy to jump in them numerous times without having to do anything or go anywhere, as well as bringing you to a different part of the map which might be handy. –  Synetech Oct 1 '13 at 5:38
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