My grandmother always warned me -- don’t eat pork or bananas before bed. In her opinion, those foods would give you bad dreams and should be avoided at night time. I’ve always wondered if she was right or if her logic was part of an old wives’ tale. Can different foods actually altar what’s going on during your REM phase?
Many foods have been blamed for vivid, frightening nightmares, but the one that comes up a lot is cheese. The British Cheese Board even conducted a study in 2005 to exonerate dairy from the bad dream link, but the results were suspiciously never formally published. A large percentage of responders anecdotally reported cheese as wrecking their sleep the most, though, followed by spice and sugar.
If you think about it, what we eat during the day can greatly affect our moods and performance levels. Certain nutrients and vitamins can either perk you up or slow you down, so why wouldn’t the same be said for what we eat at night?
Certain food also do not agree with us because of food intolerances, so of course those same foods would bother you at night and possibly disturb your sleep. If you are lactose intolerant and prone to stomach aches during the day, dairy would be a poor snack choice before bed as well. If you are tossing and turning with stomach cramps, some of that discomfort may leach into your dreams and be interpreted as bad dreams.
Spice is also generally hard on your body to digest. It raises your body temperature and may even alter brain activity. Too much hot sauce and you’ve got some weird sleep ahead.
Sugar is a surprising culprit since many people satisfy their sweet tooth before bed. It’s not just cookies and cake that people report affecting their sleep, but also pasta and bread. Rice, however, was reported to help with sleep.
Alcohol is an obvious sleep agitator as anyone who has found themselves unable to sleep after a night of drinking can attest, but it causes more night wakings than bad dreams. Still, this broken sleep could be doing a number on your sleep cycle, which won’t likely result in peaceful dreams.
All of these foods and their correlation to sleep seem largely anecdotal, so it is all to be taking with a grain of salt (or a crumb of cheese as it were). Plus, there’s the power of suggestion and if you hear a certain food causes sleep problems, you’re likely going to see the same causation if you eat that food and have a bad dream, thus reinforcing the theory.
As for bananas, they contain tryptophan, which will actually help you fall asleep, so my grandma was wrong and I can feel free to indulge in a midnight banana snack. Dairy, likewise, contains melatonin, which many take in supplemental form in order to fall asleep. Nuts, especially pistachios, are also a good melatonin-boosting choice, as is rice, which is why it doesn’t have the same bad reputation as other carbs.
All of these issues with sleep and foods seems to be largely personal. If you haven’t had regular disturbances yourself, feel free to work on your night cheese.
In general, just try to not go to bed with a full stomach for the best sleep experience, no matter what you may have eaten.
TL; DR: Bring on the bacon and bananas before bed, because those probably won’t wreck your sleep, but do learn your nightmare triggers and try to avoid them before bed.