Food’s Impact on Dreams

Late night snacks tend to get a bad rap, but not all foods are the same. Some foods can function as natural sleep aids, while others can induce unsettling dreams. Why? It often comes down to the nutrients found in what you consume. The nutrients in our foods can affect things such as mood, cognition, and sleep quality in general. When you consider this, it makes sense that food can change how vividly you dream. Let’s explore some common foods that may be impacting how you dream at night.

1. Cheese

The younger you are, the more sleep you need. On average, children ages 3-5 need at least 13 hours of sleep each night. While this may seem like a lot of sleep, it is crucial for childhood development. Maintaining a routine bedtime may seem easy, but when your children are regularly watching TV or playing video games before bed, the stimulation their brain gets from the blue light of the screen and the excitement of the game or TV program may lead to more tossing or turning than you account for in their bedtime routine.

2.  Alcohol

Sleep experts generally advise to avoid alcohol consumption before going to sleep. Not only can alcohol affect the quality of your sleep, but it can also affect your dreams. While alcohol is often consumed as a nightcap, the sedative effects will actually wear off as your body processes the alcohol during sleep. When you would normally experience four stages of the sleep cycle, metabolizing alcohol during sleep may prevent you from reaching REM sleep, or wake you up entirely, leading to more intense or colorful dreams as a result of your fragmented sleep pattern. These dreams may be lucid or give you the feeling that you are half-awake and half-asleep because, at some point during the dream, you might actually be.


3.  Peanut Butter & Jelly

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a pantry staple and  an ideal snack for good dreams and sound sleep. According to Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Ohio State University and Medical Center and author of Your Brain on Food, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can help you sleep more soundly. The PB & J maintains your blood sugar while the protein and carbs from the nuts and the bread, respectively, boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin, which acts as a mood enhancer and sleep pattern stabilizer, is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, which nuts contain. Moreover, the carbs from your sandwich bread promote the release of insulin, which promotes absorption of tryptophan. Vitamin B, found in whole grains, will also help tryptophan convert to serotonin, and further metabolize into melatonin. Since it is a mood enhancer, serotonin can evoke pleasant dreams while melatonin can improve your quality of sleep.


4.  Coffee

A lot of us like to start our days with a morning cup of joe. In fact, we probably rely on that extra kick of caffeine to get us through the work week. However, if you consume too much caffeine or drink caffeinated beverages too late in the day, it may begin to disturb your sleep. One of those disturbances includes your dreams. Caffeine stimulates brain activity which can sometimes lead to nightmares. More specifically, caffeine stimulates the nervous system while hindering the neurotransmitter that tells your brain it’s time to sleep. If this pattern continues while you sleep, your brain activity will not slow down. Since your brain is working overtime, despite not being awake to think logically, it can induce strange dreams without guidance of your conscious mind.


5.  Turkey

Holidays just wouldn’t be holidays without turkey, right? And we have all heard the old adage that turkey makes you sleepy.  The reason for this is that turkey is another food which contains the amino acid tryptophan. However, it is no more sleep inducing than any other food that contains tryptophan. Tryptophan promotes sleep and a balanced mood, so when you pair your turkey with all of the trimmings, you get a perfect combination of carbs and protein that promotes the production of serotonin. However, keep in mind that eating too much of anything can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Such discomfort can also disrupt the sleep cycle and possibly invoke nightmares.

As you can see, what we consume directly impacts our energy levels and our quality of sleep While certain foods impact sleep more negatively than others, it is more a matter of when you eat certain foods rather than what you eat. In general, it is better for your overall wellness and digestion to eat several hours before you start preparing for bed, anyway. The impact of food on dreams increases the later you eat, but for those who indulge in the midnight snack, try eating a light snack or a food that will promote sleep instead.