Does what you eat before bed really affect your dreams?
Think about the last time you had a weird dream. Now, try to remember what you ate before bed, because the two could be more closely related than you think.
Turns out the types of food you eat before hitting the sack can have a massive affect on your dreams.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, though there isn’t an awful lot of scientific evidence directly linking what you eat to the type of dreams you have, the anecdotal evidence is hard to ignore.
And if you think about all the ways that food impacts your overall health, your body and how it functions, it isn’t really so surprising that a pre-bed cheese binge might ramp up your dreams.
"What we eat does not just have an impact on our weight but also our mood, energy levels and quality of sleep,” explains Nutritionist Geeta Sidhu-Robb, founder of Nosh Detox.
“When it comes to the latter, both what and when you eat can affect your dreams, for better or worse.”
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According to James Wilson, AKA The Sleep Geek eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime raises your core temperature as the body digests the food which can lead to disturbed sleep.
“In some people this may manifest itself in them having dreams they remember and which are more vivid,” he adds.
And if you think about the way different foods impact so many other things in the body, it seems entirely plausible that different foods could affect dreams in different ways.
With that in mind, and to celebrate World Dream Day, we’ve put together our guide on how certain foods can impact our dreams.
Foods of nightmares
Spicy foods, cheese and junk food
Chances are you’ve heard the old wives tale that eating cheese before bed gives you nightmares, but turns out there’s something in it.
There’s also a reason your dreams ramp up a notch after a Saturday night takeaway.
“High calorie foods, especially fast food, cheese and even spicy food, can increase your chances of having a nightmare,” explains Sidhu-Robb.
But it's actually the time we indulge in our food vices that will impact our dreams the most.
“Eating such foods, especially later at night, will increase your body's metabolism and temperature which leads to more brain activity.”
The connection might also be due to the fact that those foods can upset your body/stomach and wake you up throughout the night.
“These foods will also likely upset the digestive system and lead to poor sleep, which will also make you more likely to remember the nightmare you had than if you had a deep and long sleep, even if originally it was very vague in its detail,” Sidhu-Robb explains.
Partial to a pre-bed chocolate hob knob? Beware the bad dreams.
“Chocolate is also a food which may impact our dreams,” explains Sidhu-Robb. “Like coffee, chocolate contains caffeine, which is a central nervous system stimulant to make you feel more energetic. Along with the high amounts of sugar, chocolate will therefore keep you awake at night and negatively impact your sleep. Because of this, the likelihood of a bad or bizarre dream increases.”
It is not just what we eat but also what we drink that can impact our dreams. Sidhu-Robb recommends steering clear of the booze before bed. “Alcohol has been known to cause nightmares and stressful dreams,” she explains. “Although many feel alcohol can help them get some shut eye, it is also more likely to wake you up at night and disrupt your sleep ultimately increasing the likelihood of a nightmare as you and your body continue to struggle to relax.”
Eat your way to better dreams
So how do we ensure our dreams are more flirting with Steve Harrington than fighting with the mind flayer?
“Although we will all dream regardless of what we eat, there is no doubt that certain foods can bring on more vivid dreams,” explains Sidhu-Robb.
“By eating lighter, healthier foods which are easily digested, the chances of a pleasant dream will increase.”
Choosing what to eat before bed is key in determining the quality of sleep you will have and the type of dreams as a result.
“Bad dreams are often caused by the bodies struggles to digest heavy starchy foods, so remember to keep the pre-bed food light," Sidhu-Robb adds.
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Swap your biscuit for a banana. “Bananas are high in tryptophan, magnesium and potassium which are important in maintaining a healthy heart rate,” explains Sidhu-Robb. “By eating a banana instead of chocolate for example, the melatonin levels they contain will help you get to bed at a more reasonable hour and improve your quality of sleep, which maximises the ability to dream better and more pleasantly.”
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According to Sidhu-Robb nuts, such as almonds and cashews, contain magnesium which are essential in relaxing the muscles and if not covered in salt, are a good evening snack to have if you are feeling hungry before bed.
“However, it is important to note that nuts also contain tryptophan, an important amino acid which can help your dreams because they help balance hormones and reduce stress levels in the body,” she adds.