Can Certain Foods Induce Nightmares?

Updated on February 4, 2024

close up of woman waking up holding her head

Nightmares are…well they’re a nightmare, especially when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. There’s nothing worse than getting to bed early, settling in for a relaxing night of slumber, only to be startled awake by a terrible dream.

While certain factors that cause nightmares can be out of your control, being conscious of your diet, especially near bedtime, may help to manage their frequency and intensity.

Hot and spicy dishes make for chilling dreams

Sadly, for lovers of all things hot, spicy foods are one of the biggest causes of food-induced nightmares. This is thought to be down to the fact that it takes your body a whole lot more effort to digest spicy foods like curries and hot sauce, than it does blander dishes. Therefore, spicy foods can lead to a restless night, and a restless night can lead to…you got it; nightmares! Not only that, but spicy foods like Tabasco sauce can also increase your body temperature, which has a similar effect particularly on the brain. 

Does that mean you have to give up hot dishes if you want a restful night’s sleep? Not necessarily. It’s totally safe to eat spicy foods as long as you do so at least six hours before going to bed. Giving your body time to digest and regulate itself should be sufficient to keep those food induced nightmares at bay; for most people, most of the time, anyway.

Sweet dreams aren’t made of sugary treats

What makes sugary snacks a no-no before bedtime? In a study of 396 students, Frontiers in Psychology found that almost one-third of participants had bizarre and disturbing dreams after eating sugary treats like cake and cookies. This is not surprising because sugar and caffeine (which is found in chocolate) are known to keep us awake, and as we have learned, when your body is restless and your sleep is disturbed, nightmares are more likely to enter our unconscious minds. Though eating the odd square of chocolate before bed probably isn’t going to do you any harm, eating lots of sugary snacks throughout the day, and especially at night, probably isn’t going to do you any favors when it comes to those night-time intruders of the mind.

Bread can cause dread

Starchy carbs (the best kind, right) are converted into glucose, which is a form of sugar. So basically, carb-rich foods act on the body in the same way that sugar does.

The good news is you don’t have to give up carbs with your evening meals to have sweet dreams, you just need to switch to more complex, slow-release carbs like brown rice and oats instead.

Alcohol is not sleep’s friend

Alcohol is known to cause broken and disrupted sleep, so the quality of the slumber you get will be compromised, to say the least. And, as we have well and truly learned by now, disrupted sleep leads to…nightmares! If you must drink, then do so sparingly and try to have a glass of water before bed. It might not totally banish the demons from your dreams, but it will help!

Is there anything that WON’T cause food induced nightmares?

a picture of a clock and fruits and nuts scattered around it

Some foods that will not only NOT disturb your sleep, but will actively improve it, include:

  • Turkey
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Bananas
  • Oats
  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Cherries
  • Fish
  • Tomatoes

These are all foods that contain either tryptophan, melatonin, or both. These are both naturally occurring in food, and known to aid sleep, which is why you can often buy them in supplement form. Eating any of these foods before you go to bed at night is likely to have a positive effect on your ability to fall, and stay, asleep. 

That said, it is never a good idea to eat too close to bedtime as your body will be digesting food when it should be resting, and that could make you more restless and prone to nightmares as a result. Sweet dreams!

 

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