Another friend says he has vivid psychedelic nightmares and ‘food sweats’ when he eats spicy food for dinner.
That sounds crazy and made up, right?
Well, according to food experts, maybe not.
We spoke to a nutritionist and dietician to find out if our dreams can actually be influenced by what we eat right before bedtime, and what they had to say was very interesting.
Author of Pure Health & Happiness and nutritionist Jennifer May from Sydney City Nutritionist said there are a variety of food-related factors which can lead to nightmares.
“One of the greatest is copper excess or zinc deficiency,” May said.
“When your levels of the mineral copper are higher than the mineral zinc, this often leads to elevated night time levels of the stress hormone cortisol…People with diets low in vegetables, nuts and seeds (all zinc rich foods) tend to have a zinc deficiency, which could explain why they have nightmares.”
She went on to say that cheese is known for stimulating ‘strange and lucid or disturbing dreams’ but nobody really knows why.
“There is little research to support or explain this theory,” she explained.
“Though some people may be sensitive to the amino acid Tyramine which cheese is a rich source of. Those who are sensitive to Tyramine may find that they experience headaches after cheese, wine and chocolate. If this is so, definitely avoid these prior to bed as it could induce nightmares.”
She said another common issue was going to bed “overstimulated” by certain foods, including caffeine and chocolate, which can lead to ‘a surge of stress hormones and a tendency to want to solve problems’ leading to disturbing and nonsensical dreams…In other words, those bizarre work dreams that feel real but make literally no sense.
Consultant dietitian from The Body Doctor, Dr Naras Lapsys, said while he hasn’t treated anyone for ‘strange food dreams’ specifically, it’s definitely something that has come up in conversation.
Like Jennifer May, he advises clients not to eat anything too stimulating before bed, and added that people commonly reported strange dreams from drinking alcohol before bed. Oh.
“A lot of people say they experience an unsettled sleep from consuming alcohol before bed which could mean they’re experiencing strange dreams as well.
“Calming teas like green tea or herbal tea that give you a really deep and relaxed sleep are a good option,” he added.
And if you’ve ever dreamt your pillow is a giant delicious marshmallow, restrictive dieting could be the culprit.
“How much you eat will affect your metabolism and hormone release which impacts how you sleep,” Dr Lapsys said.
“If you wake up in the middle of the night hungry, you’re interrupting your REM sleep which could explain strange dreams.”
Dr Lapsys and Jennifer May both said stimulating foods led to a restless night’s sleep, which could be what’s making your dreams less sweet.
These include: Chocolate, coffee, high sugar foods, tea if you’re sensitive to caffeine, soft drinks, energy drinks and alcohol.
May also said that the digestive process can be disturbed during your REM sleep if you’ve had a heavy meal before bed.
“(REM) is the time where our dreams are particularly strange, though really it’s just that the brain is processing deep thought that our conscious brain is unable to comprehend at the same level. Being woken from REM sleep usually feels like you’ve had very strange or disturbing dreams,” she said.
So what SHOULD we be eating before bed?
I’m glad you asked.
Turkey, potatoes and magnesium-rich foods (but not chocolate), according to Jennifer May.
“Turkey is rich in protein but also contains high amounts of tryptophan which is a building block from which we make a hormone called melatonin,” she said.
“Melatonin is our natural sleep inducer which puts us into a deep restorative sleep. Potatoes are also rich in tryptophan and contain vitamin B6 which enhances our natural production of melatonin.”
“Some foods which are rich in magnesium would also help – you just have to be careful to choose ones that are not also stimulating or contain caffeine,” she added.
“For example, green leafy vegetables and prunes contain high amounts of magnesium and can work wonders for assisting relaxation for a deeper, more relaxed sleep. Chocolate is also rich in magnesium however it’s a very energising food, so best consumed earlier in the day.”
We’re okay with that.
Dr Lapsys said the key to a great night’s sleep is ensuring you go to bed full, but not totally stuffed, especially if you’ve had a particularly stressful day.
“If you’ve had a day full of stress or you’re feeling anxious it’s common for people to crave sugar for more energy and reach for complex carbohydrates throughout the day, which again may affect how you sleep and how you dream,” he said.
“Of course, if you’re not sleeping well, the stress continues in to the next day and it becomes a cycle, so you need to fix this anxiety at the core.”
He said it’s good to eat a nourishing dinner that will help you ‘rest and digest’, but adds that if you eat later in the evening, you will actually eat less.
“People tend to eat less when they eat later, but they’re going to bed full so will have a deeper, uninterrupted sleep.”
He said pure melatonin capsules assisted long-term troubled sleepers best, but rather than through food sources, the best way to naturally assist the production of melatonin was to put your phone away well before bed.
“Staying from blue screens, so TV screens and computers before bed is proven way to improve production of melatonin.”
Do you have weird dreams when you eat certain foods? Tell us in the comments section below.