Read our article, ‘Eat Well to Sleep Well‘, to find out what foods can improve your sleep.
What’s the Connection Between Food and Sleep?
Food affects a lot of areas of your body. Your stomach, brain functionality, and how well you sleep are just a handful of ways that food can affect your overall wellbeing.1 When you consider how your digestive system has a say in almost everything your body goes through, it’s understandable then that it’s not always what you eat, but when you eat.
It could be that certain foods can upset your body and wake you up during the night. This makes it more likely for you to remember your vivid dreams. J. Catesby Ware, PhD., Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA suggests that the general rule of thumb is that you need to wake up “within five minutes of having a dream to recall it”.2 So, if you’re suffering from indigestion, your body will not settle enough for you to go into a deep sleep. Dining on a big meal shortly before going to bed will boost your body’s temperature and metabolism. This’ll result in more brain activity during the REM stage of sleep – the sleep stage where you dream.
A lot of specific food groups and items have been connected to how you dream, what you dream about, and whether or not you wake up remembering your nightly adventures. Find out what foods can affect your dreams below.
Foods That Can Affect Your Dreams
Spicy food can cause indigestion, which makes you stir more. This’ll make you more likely to remember your dream. So, it’s not that you’ve had a dream that’s more bizarre than usual; you’re just remembering this one. Spicy food can also raise your body temperature. This makes falling asleep more challenging, and your sleep will be a bit more restless than normal. When this happens, your dreams could become more chaotic and disjointed as you aren’t experiencing REM sleep as you should.
Dairy is the better known food group that can affect your dreams. A study in 2015 investigated how food influences dreams by issuing a three-part questionnaire to 396 college students in Canada. The results showed that the most frequent foods that were blamed for the disturbing (44%) and bizarre (39%) dreams were cheese, milk, and ice cream.3 This could be a tough one to swallow – who doesn’t love cheese? The good news is that cheese doesn’t necessarily cause nightmares, it just makes your dreams more vivid. Stilton cheese in particular can lead to dreams that are more bizarre than usual.4
In the 2015 study mentioned above, 31% of participants reported that they had bizarre dreams after they had eaten sugary foods, like cookies and cake.5
Chocolate is high in caffeine. Just as you should avoid drinking coffee in the evening, you should avoid nibbling on that chocolate bar. Caffeine will keep you alert when you want to be sleepy, and it’ll prevent you from falling into a deep, restful sleep.
Plus, chocolate has also been linked to nightmares in a BBC report – mainly due to its levels of caffeine. The good news is that there’s no evidence of a link between eating chocolate and violent sleep patterns in the general population. Instead, it could be related to Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD), a sleep disorder in which sleepers unknowingly thrash about and shout in their sleep.
Chocolate-stimulated RBD has been documented by Robert Vorona of the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. Vorona suggests that the caffeine in chocolate can block a natural process called atonia. Atonia paralyses the body while you’re sleeping so that you can dream safely. When this is blocked, the sleeper is free to move about and act out their dream. So, avoiding chocolate before going to bed is good for minimising your caffeine intake and improving your sleep – whether you’ve got RBD or not.6
The later in the day you enjoy greasy food, the more likely you are to have nightmares. Grease can cause indigestion, and your body will need time to digest it and settle. If you eat takeout close to bedtime, you could find that you don’t fall into a deep sleep. If you want a yummy snack late in the evening, choose baked food instead of fried food. Or, opt for fruit and vegetables for more relaxing dreams.7
Pasta and Bread
Participants in the 2015 study who had pasta or bread before going to bed claimed to have had upsetting dreams. This isn’t surprising when you think of how sugar consumption can have the same effect. It’s not very well-known, but carbohydrates can actually convert to glucose in the body.8 Try to eat your carbohydrates earlier in the day so that your body has time to process them before you settle in for a snooze.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
According to Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Ohio State University and Medical Centre, this sandwich is actually ideal if you want your brain to sleep a bit more soundly. He highlights that the bread and jelly are “great sources of simple carbohydrates” – while these are normally terrible, they’re “great for sleep”.9 You could end up with a few sweet dreams by snacking on this classic.
Bananas aren’t just a great source for potassium. They also cause really vivid dreams if you eat them close to bedtime. This seems to be due to the B6 vitamin in them. B6 converts tryptophan into serotonin, which plays a role in helping the brain remain a bit alert during the REM stage of the sleep cycle. This can lead to greater dream intensity and recall.10
While garlic has plenty of health benefits, it’s actually something that you’ll probably want to avoid before going to sleep. Not only will you be able to taste it no matter how many times you brush your teeth, but garlic can cause heartburn. This will disturb your sleep. Plus, people have reported that garlic seems to make their dreams a lot crazier.11
Are There Drinks That Affect Your Dreams?
Caffeine can give you some crazy and vivid dreams, so you could avoid drinking coffee or fizzy drinks before going to bed. Plus, caffeine could also keep you from getting a restful snooze if it’s consumed too late in the evening, as it’ll keep you alert when you should be sleepy.
Also, while they’re often thought to be the better choice, many bottled juices are just as bad as fizzy drinks. Lauren Kelly, MS, RD, CDN of Kelly Wellness in New York City warns that juice can have “even more sugar than a comparably sized soda”.12 If you drink juice, it’s better to have it earlier in the day, and dilute it with a little bit of water.
Plus, alcohol can also affect your sleep and dreams. The dreams you have the night after you’ve had a few drinks can be scarier than the hangover itself. Drinking alcohol before bed can make it more difficult to fall into a deep sleep, but participants in the 2015 study also reported nightmares and stressful dreams after knocking back a few.13