Recipe for a nightmare: foods to avoid near bedtime

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Do you ever feel that certain foods and drinks result in vivid dreams and an unsettled night’s sleep? Researchers have.

Canadian university researchers polled students for two weeks, tracking their diet and dreams in order to compile a list of foods found to contribute to bad dreams.

Avoiding sugar, spice and all things nice before bed may help to reduce the likelihood of experiencing scary or particularly vivid dreams. We’ve listed the types of foods and drinks that can contribute to the likelihood of bad dreams and nightmares and – just as worrying – weight gain.

Dairy products
Dairy products contain tryptophan, the amino acid that works as a precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin – the hormone that helps you sleep. So while that’s a positive, a high proportion of study participants reported that consuming dairy products before bedtime resulted in disturbing or bizarre dreams.

Spicy food
Study participants who indulged in spicy meals before bed found it difficult to fall asleep and, once asleep, to stay asleep. Spicy foods can alter the formation of your dreams during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep – the deep stage of sleep. Some spices can also elevate body temperature which can affect the quality of sleep.

Drinking alcohol before turning in for the night make it more difficult to fall asleep and may result in stressful dreams, even nightmares.

Sugary foods
According to the study, more than 30 per cent of the participants experienced strange dreams after they consumed sugary treats before bed. Ice cream and even some types of sweetened yoghurt have a high sugar content and should be avoided as a pre-bedtime snack.

We know that sugary treats, especially chocolate, contribute to bad dreams. But it seems even the ‘good’ dark chocolate should not be eaten before bedtime as it contains caffeine which will stop you from falling into a deep sleep. If you enjoy a hot drink before heading to bed, opt for a caffeine-free tea or warm water with a slice of lemon rather than a hot cocoa which contains sugar and dairy.

Greasy food
Hot chips, potato chips, potato cakes – in fact, any greasy food is a no-no before bed. In all honesty, greasy food should be kept to a minimum in our diet generally, but if you want to avoid the possibility of bad dreams and get a restful night’s sleep, cut the greasy junk fix before bedtime.

Pasta and bread
Carbohydrates, such as pasta and bread, convert to glucose, which is a form of sugar in your body. Loading up with carbs at the end of the day should be avoided.

Soft drinks and juices
Many of the fizzy drinks we consume have high sugar and caffeine content, as do bottled juices. A good night-time alternative would be a glass of water or a herbal tea.

Salad dressings and sauces
Not all sugar comes from the sweet foods we consume. If you like to smother your food in sauces and dressings, you should check that they are not high in sugar.

There are many health benefits to making lunch the biggest meal of the day, from helping with weight control to regulating hormones and blood sugar. It makes sense to consume the most calories during the middle of the day when you are more likely to burn them off instead of in the evening when you are more likely to be sedentary, watching TV or reading a book.You’ll also get a restful night’s sleep and are more likely not to have disturbing dreams.

Do you find that certain foods upset your sleep? Have you made a note of them so you can avoid them? Which foods are they?

Related articles
Sleep – five tips to get enough
Guess what happens while you sleep
Common sleep issue linked to 99 per cent jump in heart attacks

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Written by Andrea


Total Comments: 8
  1. 0

    Giving up my cup of soup at around 8 pm has helped me sleep better, substituted it for a glass of dry red Aussie wine instead. Unfortunately have to brush my teeth afterwards, mouth tastes like the bottom of a cocky’s cage in the morning otherwise.

  2. 0

    In other words don’t eat or drink before bedtime, because there’s not much left after you remove all those things.

  3. 0

    More rubbish research.
    The list seems to include every kind of food eaten in every country.

  4. 0

    Didn’t mention blubber! So thats OK. Do eskimos have nightmares? or should that be nightseals?.
    You’re right, JIm, a bottle of red and I sleep like a baby. But i do have the change nappies in the morning!!

  5. 0

    Any food that makes your liver work hard will disturb your sleep, alcohol, fats and sweets (which have fat) clogs up your liver, it cleans your system as you sleep so if it can’t do its job properly you will be restless. Fruit is the best thing before bed.

  6. 0

    Dont’ agree with all these. I found it best to eat by 7pm and leave at least three hours before going to bed without food and drink, this goes for any drink except green tea. I found starches in the evening good, whilst proteins seem to enhance dreaming. Sugar and fruit does the same. Carbs, starches and fat is good, protein and sugar is out. But maybe we’re all different when it comes to our responses to food. Spices doesn’t bother me one way or the other.



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