If you're tossing and turning at night with no clue as to why, consider this: your bedtime snack could be affecting your dreams. Poll friends and you are sure to find plenty of personal anecdotes of being plagued by nightmares after splurging on a late-night steak and half a bottle of wine. It seems clear that digesting something so heavy while you sleep is a recipe for a tummy ache and combining that with alcohol (which suppresses REM sleep) will lead to some memorable 4 a.m. dreams.
But some foods' effects are not so obvious. How do we know what's safe to eat if we are feeling a bit peckish and not ruin our 40 winks? If you go gaga for gouda or muse over muenster, does that mean you are cursed to a night of bad visions? It can be difficult to tell the difference between food facts and folklore when the Internet is filled with advice swearing that certain foods will help you sleep like a baby, and induce lucid dreaming, while others will make you never able to sleep again. But it isn't just the type of food you eat that will affect your REM cycle. Going to bed too full or too hungry will hinder the quality of your sleep as well. If you fall asleep with low blood sugar, it can disrupt your sleep pattern and lead to nightmares, studies say.
The best advice is to eat a light snack if you're hungry and avoid alcohol and stimulants. Some foods can promote better sleep and some disrupt it, so review the list below to see what you need to eat for pleasant dreams.
1. Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich (And Sweet Foods)
Looking for a way to fend off low blood sugar and still sleep peacefully? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be just what the doctor ordered. This is highly recommended by Dr. Gary Wenk, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, and the author of Your Brain on Food. “Sleep is a very active process and your brain needs a lot of sugar. I actually recommend to people having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before they go to bed: The bread and the jelly are great sources of simple carbohydrates, which are terrible usually, but great for sleep,” Wenk explains.
What makes this sandwich unique? The PB&J will aid your blood sugar, while the simple carbs and protein from the nuts and bread makes the perfect serotonin-boosting cocktail.
Serotonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan and is said to act as a mood enhancer and sleep pattern stabilizer. Nuts and seeds contain tryptophan and carbs promote the release of insulin. The insulin promotes absorption of amino acids, and hence your body is able to better absorb the serotonin. Vitamin B, found in whole grains, will also help tryptophan convert to serotonin, and further metabolized into melatonin. There is some debate over whether getting serotonin from food will actually make a significant difference in mood and sleep; but as long as you are not sensitive to the ingredients, a PB&J sandwich is relatively easy to digest. This easy snack won't keep you awake, promoting pleasant dreams.
2. Turkey (And Tryptophan-Rich Foods)
Looking to relive the peace of that after-Thanksgiving nap? The amino acid tryptophan is great for encouraging sleep and balancing mood. Our bodies do not make it, so instead we get it from foods such as eggs, soy, cheese, fish, nuts, and of course, turkey. A heavy protein-rich meal can bring on drowsiness, also known as a "food coma" or if you want to impress a date: "Postprandial somnolence."
The turkey and the stuffing make the perfect combo of carb and protein to encourage the production of serotonin. However, eating a large, rich meal will lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, busting up your sleep cycle. If you want to eat turkey before bed— just a little will do, and be sure to have carbs like a few whole grain crackers along side. You know what they say about too much of a good thing.
3. Cheese (And Sadly All Dairy)
Cheese gets a bad rap when it come to bedtime tummy troubles, but did you know it has more tryptophan than turkey? A 2015 study published in Frontiers In Psychology sought to clear up the cheese-nightmare myth which has been popularized in the early-1900s by the comic strip Dreams of A Rarebit Fiend . In the comic, the savory spicy cheese dish called Welsh Rarebit is the cause of the hero's nightly disturbances.
Canadian psychologists Tore Nielsen and Russell Powell, looking to investigate the connection between food and dreams, administered surveys to 396 freshman college students. They found that 17.8 percent of participants believed that eating before bed, or eating a certain food would influence their dreams. Sadly, dairy products, including cheese and milk, were the most repeated types of food blamed for causing both disturbing and bizarre dreams. But you don't have to forego the cheddar right away, as these surveys weren't necessarily conclusive. There are many reasons cheese could lead to trouble, including that dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities. Those nightmares could be due to an upset stomach demanding you wake up! But if you are down with the cheese, you can probably handle a few slices before bed.
4. Steak (And Heavy Or Fatty Foods)
Ever have trouble sleeping during a hot and humid summer, but are able to doze off in an instant during a chilly winter night? We generally sleep better when our environments are at lower temperatures, our bodies even cool down when we sleep to conserve energy. And the act of eating before bed can throw this body chemistry a bit off.
Eating boosts metabolism and raises the body temperature, which can disturb your natural sleep pattern. Dr. Wenk confirms, "The interesting thing about dream content when you dream outside of REM is that it incorporates things that are going on around you, especially in your body. So, does body state influence how you dream? Sure. Body temperature, having a fever, room temperature — those will all be incorporated into the dream narrative."
So next time you have a late reservation at that steak house you've been dying to try — a three-course meal might not be the way to go. (Maybe stop by for lunch?)
I'd like to think chocolate can pretty much cure anything (especially a bad mood). But whether chocolate improves or disrupts your dreams is under some debate. In a blog post in Psychology Today, Dr. Wenk explains that chocolate contains a "complex variety of chemicals" that are generally harmless, however, "when considered in aggregate they may exert compound effects throughout the body; some of those effects may be desirable while others may not. Chocolate is an excellent example of how difficult it is to differentiate food from drug." Tell me about it, because I am definitely a little addicted. But just to be safe, you might want to limit your chocolate intake before bed — the caffeine in chocolate probably won't help you drift off to Snoozeville either.
6. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods and fried foods, while oh so delicious, can cause indigestion that can lead to not-so-pleasant dreams. Spicy foods are constantly called out for disrupting sleep and leading to nightmares. Some even believe that eating a lot of spices, like nutmeg, can have psychoactive properties. I know it sucks, but probably better to avoid the curry-dusted fries before bed.
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