The enduring myth that consuming cheese before bedtime leads to nightmares is one that intertwines cultural beliefs, anecdotal evidence, and the complex science of sleep and diet. However, as we have explored in this article, the claim lacks substantial scientific backing.
Does Eating Cheese Before Bed Give You Nightmares?
While you’ll see that the research is a bit lacking, and the main myth-buster was actually just one study by “big cheese” (the British Cheese Board) back in 2005, there is importantly no proof from any study we found that can link cheese to nightmares.
In this article, we will look at the study and science behind cheese and sleep and even look at whether factors like overeating and cheese allergies might be at the root of the myth.
The Science of Sleep and Cheese: Debunking the Cheese Myth Introduction
From a scientific standpoint, the relationship between diet and sleep is multifaceted and not fully understood. While certain foods like cheese or turkey, for example, might theoretically affect sleep, the specific claim that cheese causes nightmares remains unsubstantiated. The scientific community has conducted various studies to explore how different foods affect sleep patterns and dream quality. These studies, often involving controlled experiments and large sample sizes, consistently find no specific link between cheese consumption and nightmares.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some studies now.
Big Cheese: The British Cheese Board and its Totally Not Biased Study From 2005
One of the most notable studies on the topic of Cheese and Nightmares was conducted by the British Cheese Board (see: Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese).
This study aimed to explore the relationship between cheese consumption and dream quality. It involved 200 participants, evenly divided between males and females, who were given 20 grams of cheese half an hour before their bedtime.
This controlled setup was crucial in ensuring that any observed effects on sleep and dreams could be accurately attributed to cheese consumption. Contrary to popular belief, the study found no increase in the risk of nightmares among the participants. This finding is significant as it directly challenges the widely held notion about cheese’s impact on dreams.
The study’s methodological rigor and clear results provide a strong counterpoint to the myth. While debunking a myth based on one study is not exactly the pinnacle of science. It does suggest that the old idea that cheese leads to nightmares is more folklore than fact.
NOTE: The studies on cheese and sleep are lacking. I know because you can do a search of studies, and not much turns up. In fact, related topics include things like “Nutrition, sleep and recovery“, which shows nutrition can impact sleep (for example, caffeine and alcohol), and “Associations between Rice, Noodle, and Bread Intake and Sleep Quality in Japanese Men and Women” which shows sugars can cause nightmares. The issue is that we have a study showing cheese doesn’t cause nightmares, and no study showing it does. So this forces a conclusion that 1) it has to be labeled a myth for now, and 2) more research needs to be done.
Cheese and Dream Quality
The relationship between diet and sleep quality is intricate, with numerous factors contributing to how we sleep and dream. In the context of cheese consumption, it’s crucial to distinguish between the physiological effects of eating certain foods and the psychological experience of dreaming.
Eating heavy, fatty foods like cheese right before sleep can lead to indigestion. This physical discomfort, often experienced as bloating or stomach pain, can disrupt the natural sleep cycle. When our sleep is interrupted or shallow due to physical discomfort, it may lead to a more fragmented sleep experience. This fragmentation can, in turn, result in more vivid and memorable dream recollections. It’s important to note that while such disturbances may lead to more vivid dreams, they do not inherently cause nightmares.
Nightmares can be defined as dreams that cause fear or anxiety and can be influenced by many factors, including stress, trauma, and certain medications. The link between diet and nightmares is more tenuous and less direct than many believe.
Tyramine and Sleep
Tyramine, a naturally occurring substance found in cheese, has been speculated to have an effect on sleep and dreams. This speculation stems from tyramine’s role in the body and its presence in various foods. As a byproduct of the amino acid tyrosine, tyramine is involved in various physiological processes. It can affect blood pressure and is known to trigger headaches in some individuals, particularly those who suffer from migraines. The idea that tyramine could influence sleep patterns arises from these known effects.
While cheese is a source of tyramine, it’s far from the only one. Many other foods, such as cured meats, fermented products, and certain fruits and vegetables, also contain tyramine. The potential effects of tyramine on sleep and dreams, therefore, should be considered within the broader context of one’s overall diet and not solely attributed to cheese.
Cheese’s impact on sleep extends beyond simple digestion to the complex biochemistry of sleep. This relationship is exemplified by the presence of specific proteins in cheese that contribute to the production of essential sleep-related chemicals. Cheese contains proteins like casein, which are sources of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that serves as a precursor for serotonin, a neurotransmitter, and melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. The presence of tryptophan in cheese suggests a potential positive impact on sleep chemistry.
However, this potential benefit is not universal. For individuals with lactose intolerance, consuming cheese can lead to digestive issues, such as bloating and gas, which can negatively impact sleep quality. The experience of digestive discomfort can disrupt sleep, leading to lighter sleep or frequent awakenings, which may affect dream patterns.
Discomfort and Sleep Disturbance: A Contributing Factor
While research shows the consumption of cheese before bedtime is not known to cause nightmares directly, it’s important to consider the broader context of how dietary habits, particularly in individuals with lactose intolerance or those who overeat, might influence sleep quality. Discomfort or physical distress, whether from food allergies, intolerances, or simply overeating, can lead to disrupted sleep. In the case of lactose intolerance, the digestive discomfort associated with consuming dairy products, including cheese, can lead to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Similarly, cheese allergies can result in physical reactions like hives or digestive upset. This physical discomfort can interrupt the natural sleep cycle, leading to fragmented sleep.
When sleep is disturbed, it not only affects the quality of rest but can also impact how dreams are experienced and remembered. People are more likely to recall their dreams, including vivid or unusual ones, if they wake up during or immediately after the dream phase of sleep. Therefore, it’s conceivable that the discomfort caused by dietary factors could indirectly lead to more memorable and vivid dreams. However, this is a far cry from directly causing nightmares. This aspect of how physical discomfort can influence sleep and dream patterns might have contributed to the myth about cheese and nightmares. Over time, anecdotal experiences of disrupted sleep and vivid dreams following cheese consumption could have been misinterpreted or exaggerated into the belief that cheese directly causes unsettling dreams.
- Does Cheese Give You Nightmares and Vivid Dreams?. Greatist.com.
- Does Eating Cheese Before Bed Give You Nightmares?. ScienceAlert.com.
- Eating Cheese Before Bed: Is It Bad?. Saatva.com.
- Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese. archive.org (British Cheese Board).
- Does Eating Cheese Before Bed Cause Nightmares?. FoodNetwork.com.
- How Your Diet Can Ruin Your Sleep. Sleep.com.
- Sleep disorders related to nutrition and digestive diseases: a neglected clinical condition. NIH.gov.
- What are some cheese allergy symptoms?. HowStuffWorks.com.