Eating These Foods Can Give You Nightmares

If you have a tendency to experience nightmares, fear not — you've got some company. According to a 2010 study published in Sleep, 5.1% of the general population has at least 1 nightmare per week.

While we all know that having a nightmare is scary, what exactly is a nightmare? As defined by experts at the Mayo Clinic, "a nightmare is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear that awakens you." They are more frequent in children, but can also happen in adults, and typically occur in the second half of the night while you are in the rapid eye movement (REM) portion of your sleep. The main difference between a nightmare and a bad dream is that the level of disturbance caused by the nightmare will typically prompt you to wake up. While neuroscientists still debate what causes nightmares, there is general support for potential contributors, such as chronic stress or feelings of anxiety, mental health issues, sleep deprivation, certain kinds of medication, and medication withdrawal (via Sleep Foundation).

What researchers know about nightmares

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that food intake before bedtime was associated with negative sleep effects in healthy adults. If you are the kind of person who tends to eat late dinners or midnight snacks, what kinds of food should you avoid? 

A 2015 peer-reviewed study published in the science journal Frontiers in Psychology noted that, despite longtime common beliefs that food is associated with nightmares, there remains limited consistent evidence supporting this notion. However, based on this study of 396 undergraduate students, dairy was most frequently identified in association with disturbing dreams. It is worth noting, though, that a number of these participants were lactose intolerant, so that may have had an effect on the disturbance. Spicy foods were also singled out by the participants who had troubling dreams. 

At the end of the day, however, more research is needed to conclude with certainty whether dairy, spicy foods, or other types of foods can affect your dreams. If you feel hungry before bedtime, health experts generally warn that eating salty junk foods or sweets is not the best idea. Choose nutrient-rich foods, such as nuts, berries, or a little dark chocolate to satisfy your hunger. It will be less likely to negatively impact your metabolism and disturb your sleep patterns (via Healthline).