Eating cheese before bed has often had some negative effects associated with it, including indigestion, nightmares and insomnia. But these effects are not necessarily as factual as you might think.
Cheese and Sleep
Though cheese has the reputation of causing vivid nightmares and nights of tossing and turning in an insomniac state, recent evidence actually suggests the opposite is true. This is because of some of the vitamins and nutrients in cheese.
For instance, low-fat cheeses are particularly high in the amino acid tryptophan, which promotes the release of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that encourages the body to relax, and is an integral part of managing your sleep cycle.
In addition to high levels of tryptophan, cheese is also high in calcium. This particular mineral is especially effective in stress reduction and the stabilization of nerve fibers, meaning the nervous system becomes more settled and allows for relaxation. Calcium can even affect the nerve fibers in the brain, so it is not just your body that starts to relax after you eat cheese.
Eating cheese before bed might even help prevent any uncomfortable tossing and turning from hunger. A good snack before bed, which may prove surprising to some, is cheese and crackers. This combination of carbohydrates and protein satisfies the appetite — which should last until morning, allowing for continuous restful sleep.
A cheese to eat before bed that will not disrupt sleep (potentially even encouraging it) is cottage cheese. The National Sleep Foundation recommends cottage cheese as a nighttime snack thanks to its high tryptophan content, which encourages the release of serotonin and allows for relaxation.
Sweeten your cottage cheese by adding some raspberries. Not only does it taste better, but raspberries are rich in melatonin, another hormone that is integral to maintaining healthy sleeping and waking cycles. The pairing of melatonin and serotonin will certainly encourage healthier sleep.
Perhaps the most common myth of all surrounding the consumption of cheese at night is that it will cause vivid, terrifying nightmares. This myth has been passed around for years, but it is not actually true.
A September 2005 study of 200 participants by the British Cheese Board found that, in actuality, there was no link between cheese consumption and nightmares at all. In fact, the majority of the subjects reported that they slept very well, which the former secretary of the British Cheese Board, Nigel White, in a September 2005 interview with Melissa Block of NPR's All Things Considered, attributed to the high tryptophan content found in the cheeses used in the study.
In addition, the subjects of the study reported that they could very clearly recall the dreams they had throughout the night, which leads to a possible explanation for where the cheese-nightmares myth found its origins.
The subjects, though they reported no nightmares, did report having very peculiar dreams throughout the night following cheese consumption. They were not nightmares or particularly unpleasant in any way; they were just unusual. This may be where the cheese-nightmares myth stems from, as cheese may encourage strange dreams that could be misconstrued as nightmares.
Subjects who were given Stilton cheese to eat prior to sleeping found that their dreams were the most vivid and most unusual. One subject reported dreaming of a battle where the soldiers were using kittens to fight as opposed to guns. Stilton cheese dreams may be somewhat jarring, but they are not what could be classified as nightmares.
Interestingly, this variation between reports of dreams based on the particular cheese a subject consumed would suggest that different types of cheese can affect the types of dreams you experience. For instance, the subjects who consumed cheddar predominantly had dreams involving celebrities.
Not all of the cheeses proved dream-inducing, however; subjects who consumed Cheshire cheese reported dreamless, but peaceful, sleep.
Another study published in February 2015 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that the type of food consumed has very little impact on the likelihood of dreams or nightmares and that the bigger factor is the lifestyle choices of the individual in question. When the food was eaten, whether the person binge-eats and the overall health of the subject all affect the likelihood of dreams more than eating cheese or any other types of foods.
Foods to Eat for Sleep
Now that you know eating cheese at night is not going to induce insomnia or severe nightmares, consider some other foods that can encourage healthy sleep.
Some of the best nighttime foods include:
- Lean proteins: Turkey and chicken both include high tryptophan content just like soft cheese does, and tryptophan encourages serotonin release.
- Herbs: Sage and basil can help relieve tension that can keep you awake. Try sprinkling these herbs over some pasta for an evening meal option that will aid with sleep.
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews and walnuts all help to boost serotonin levels in the body.
- Bananas: High in magnesium and potassium, which are both key minerals relating to the relaxation of overstressed muscles. Not only can they help you sleep, they count toward your fruit intake.
- Fish: High in vitamin B6, which promotes melatonin production, allowing for healthy and regulated sleep cycles.
- Milk: A warm mug of milk has long been recommended before bed to aid sleep, but there is science behind it. The high levels of calcium in the drink are stress relieving and nerve stabilizing.
- Green leafy vegetables: High in calcium and also help to reduce stress in muscles and nerves.
Foods That Keep You Awake
There are a variety of foods that can negatively impact how restful sleep is at night, so if you are experiencing any trouble sleeping, review your diet and consider avoiding:
Fatty foods: The acid production from fatty acids causes indigestion and heartburn.
Alcohol: Though it can certainly help you fall asleep, alcohol is detrimental to the later stages of sleep. An evening glass of wine may help you nod off, but it will result in disrupted sleep cycles through the night.
Chocolate: When it comes to avoiding caffeine, most prominent offenders are coffee and soda —
but chocolate also contains high levels of caffeine that will keep you awake.
Although a number of foods are beneficial for healthy sleep, remember to avoid eating large quantities of any type of food right before bed.
- Sleep.org: "Five Surprising Foods That Could Be Making You Tired"
- SleepCouncil.org: "The Right and Wrong Food for Good Sleep"
- National Public Radio: All Things Considered: "Eating Cheese Can Alter Your Dreams"
- NCBI: Frontiers in Psychology: "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Food and Diet as Instigators of Bizarre and Disturbing Dreams"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Foods for a Good Night's Sleep"
- SleepCouncil.org: "Foods That Help You Sleep"
- Brtish Cheese Board: "Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese"