For centuries, the belief has abounded that eating cheese can give you nightmares. So if you chow down on brie before bed, will you find yourself dashing through some Saw-inspired haunt when you finally conk off into dreamland later?
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Although this is a very common perception, there’s not much research to support that conclusion, says nutritionist Joy Dubost.
“There isn’t much investigation into specific foods and nightmares,” she says. But although the research may be scant, there are a few studies out there that attempt to delve into the nosh-then-nightmares question.
One of the most-cited cheese and nightmares research comes from the British Cheese Board, who funded a study back in 2005 to explore the relationship. Their findings? There was no evidence to support that dairy caused bad dreams.
But the researchers did suggest that cheese can influence your dreams in general. The research even went so far as to point to different types of cheese and their dream output. Want to dream about celebrities? Pick cheddar, apparently.
Now, caveats abound with this research, since it was never actually published and it was funded by the British Cheese Board, who may have pretty good reason to want to clear cheese’s good name.
But other research on the topic has been published. For example, a 2015 study sought to further explore the relationship between dairy and dreamland.
When researchers asked 382 people whether they believed what they ate influenced their dreams, they found that 18% believed their food could influence their shuteye, causing disturbing or bizarre dreams.
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Out of the people who said food can cause disturbing dreams, 44% pointed to dairy as the potential culprit.
The people who held the belief that their food could cause nightmares also reported more frequent and unsettling dreams, poorer sleep and – perhaps worthy of more investigation itself – higher coffee intake.
So what might be going on there? It’s possible that the perception of bad dreams after eating dairy could simply be due to disrupted sleep, the researchers say. They call this the “food distress hypothesis”, and say it can occur with foods that trigger gastrointestinal distress.
The fact that cheese was fingered as the top culprit for disturbing dreams fits with this theory, especially since dairy can cause symptoms like gas, bloating and cramps in people with lactose sensitivity or intolerance. And that, of course, can mess with your sleep, which can have an effect on dreams.
Another possibility? It might not be what you’re eating, but how much you’re eating. “Eating larger meals prior to sleep, particularly those higher in fat and are spicy, can cause sleep problems,” Dubost says.
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Spicy foods can induce heartburn, leading to fragmented sleep, she says. And foods higher in fat also take longer to digest, which can alter sleep, too, since your digestive system will be hard at work to shuttle those foods through your system
Also, you may remember dreams more often because your pre-sleep meal is waking you up in the middle of your REM cycle – in the middle of your dream state. Still, the current research out there just isn’t strong enough for nutritionists to issue a blanket statement to avoid certain foods because of nightmares, Dubost says.
“If you’re having recurring nightmares, I’d suggest keeping a food diary, noting the amounts of food eating, specific types, and timing,” advises Dubost.
“Perhaps you can establish a pattern that might be inducing the bad dreams.”
And if you notice a pattern? Then you can try to cut out the offenders for a while to see if that helps – but for the majority of nightmare sufferers, cutting out cheese probably won’t be the factor that’ll make you sleep peacefully.
This article was originally published on www.menshealth.com
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