It’s an old wives’ tale that eating cheese before bedtime gives you nightmares, but have we ever stopped to consider the science behind this bold claim, and figure out how far this reality is from the truth?
Rest assured, the research has been done for you, and some answers have been resolved.
According to an experiment carried out by The British Cheese Board (I’m assuming pun intended), eating different kinds of cheeses before sleeping encouraged subjects to have various types of dreams – not nightmares. Cheddar encouraged dreams about celebrities, whilst Red Leicester took people on trips down memory lane back to childhood. Cheshire cheese produced the most peaceful, mostly dreamless night’s sleep, whilst Stilton did the very opposite and caused incredibly vivid and bizarre dreams with strange plots and characters. Lancashire cheese, however, led to dreams about work, which may or may not be a nightmare depending on the person.
Et violà! Myth dispelled.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) claims that protein and calcium-heavy foods encourage the production of a chemical called tryptophan which makes us feel sleepy, and carbohydrates aid the movement of tryptophan to the brain to facilitate drowsiness. This is precisely why cheese and crackers, or warm milk and cookies, make for the perfect pre-sleep snack; the combinations create a goldmine of yawns and droopy eyes.
And to really shut down the nightmare theory, research suggests that eating heavy, fat-filled meals before sleeping wreak havoc on our digestive systems, leading to uncomfortable and irregular sleep through the night. Perhaps therein lies our answer to the nightmares; a result of fatty-fuelled discomfort.
You might also be wondering where melatonin falls amongst all this chemical talk. Well, tryptophan turns into melatonin, therefore making the hormone a key player in the sleep-inducing process and in the regulation of our sleep cycles. And while the NSF is in two minds as to whether melatonin supplements really assist winding down, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know some of the natural remedies to help move the sleeping process along. Oats, pineapple, oranges, and especially bananas and cherries, are melatonin-rich, and provide the perfect saccharine end to the day before nodding off into a blissful slumber.