The question of whether what you eat or drink just before going to bed influences the quality of your nocturnal escapades hasn't been well researched. Psychiatry professor Tore Nielsen, director of the University of Montreal's Dream and Nightmares Laboratory, hopes to remedy this with a study investigating the relationship between foods and dream content. In lucid dreams, the holy grail of serious dreamers, the dream self takes control of the action and influences the outcome. "Lucid nutrition" is the name given to foods and supplements alleged to promote better dreaming.
Sleep and Dreaming
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sleep is a progressive five-phase process. During stage one, when you're just drifting off, you might experience dream-like visual images, but they won't form a coherent plot. You spend about half your slumber time in stage two, when eye movements cease and brain waves become slower. During stages three and four, brain waves descend to the extremely slow delta frequency. Most dreaming takes place during the next stage, when your eyes are in constant motion, as though watching a movie. Onset of the rapid eye movement stage usually occurs 70 to 90 minutes after falling asleep. Most people spend about two hours of every sleep cycle dreaming.
Cheese and Dairy Products
Eating cheese or other dairy products just before bedtime is widely believed to induce better dreaming. Food science professor Milena Corredig of the University of Guelph in Canada says ripening cheese produces chemicals that transmit signals to the brain. Stand-up comic Mae Martin has been experimenting with cheese as a dream catalyst and says that although brie gives her wings, gorgonzola brings forth the undead. A 2005 study by the British Cheese Board supports Martin's contention that the sharper the cheese, the sharper the dreams. Among 200 participants, Stilton, a blue cheese, was associated with the most bizarre dreams.
Other Foods and Supplements
Fruit juices, ice cream, popcorn, pickles and fish are often cited as food triggers for elaborate dreams. Dietary supplements alleged by the manufacturers to induce memorable dreams are commercially available. Credible reports on these herb, vitamin and enzyme supplements suggest that their efficacy, if any, is questionable. Many master-level dreamers advise skepticism. However, dream researcher E.W. Kellogg III of Sonoma State University says that taking a supplement containing 100 to 250 mg of vitamin B-6 just before bedtime "increases dream vividness and recall for many people."
What Not To Eat
Eating or drinking anything disruptive to your sleep cycle, such as caffeinated drinks and difficult-to-digest foods, is likely to have an adverse effect on dream content, says psychiatrist James MacFarlane, director of education at the Toronto sleep clinic MedSleep. An Australian study published in the "International Journal of Psychophysiology" in September 1992 seems to bear this out. Volunteers who ate foods laced with Tabasco and mustard just before bedtime took longer to fall asleep and experienced poorer sleep quality than normal. Two possible reasons floated by researchers included indigestion and the elevated body temperatures linked to sleep disturbance.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Brain Basics -- Understanding Sleep
- HealthZone; "Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese?"; Brendan Kennedy; March 11, 2011
- Dream Visions; "Simple and Effective Ways to Lucid Dream"; Paul White
- "New York Times"; "The Claim: A Spicy Meal Before Bed Can Disrupt Sleep"; Anahad O'Connor"; June 17, 2008
- Dream Studies; "Top 5 Lucid Dreaming Supplements"; Ryan Hurd; October 23, 2008
- Dream and Nightmare Laboratory: Lab Data
- Sonoma State University; "Handout No. 1 Lucid Dreaming Group"; E.W. Kellogg III; July 13, 2005
- Dreaming Life: Using Vitamin B-6 for Dream Enhancement and Lucid Dreams