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10 Foods That Can Cause Bad Dreams

by M David Scott
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Scary movies, thrilling TV crime shows, medications, and stress can all cause nightmares. But did you know that the snacks you choose can also put a damper on your quality of sleep?

The foods you consume can directly affect your sleep pattern and control the types of dreams you have at night. If you enjoy a little bedtime snacking, you might want to think twice about which foods you select.

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10 Hot Sauce

You’ve probably heard that spicy foods and hot sauce cause bad dreams, and you may have even experienced it yourself. According to recent studies, the rumor is true.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that people who consumed hot sauce before bed had trouble falling asleep and experienced stressful dreams. Spicy foods change the body’s temperature which alters dream formations.

A study by a university in Australia also showed that hot sauce disturbs sleep patterns. Participants in the study were given hot sauce and mustard with their evening meals to assess the changes, if any, to their sleeping habits.

The sauce increased their total time awake, causing them to sleep and dream badly. As the sauce elevates the body’s temperature, brain activity is disturbed and nightmares can be produced. The bad dreams will have you sweating more than the hot sauce.[1]

9 Cookies And Cake

As a kid, you were told that sugar before bed was a bad idea. We know that sugar can increase the risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But it can also cause bad dreams.

That is why it’s a good idea to stay away from cookies and cake before jumping into bed. In the research that was published in Frontiers in Psychology, 31 percent of those being studied reported bizarre dreams after eating foods like cookies and cake.[2]

These sugary foods can alter dream formations during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. So make sure you eat them at least six hours before you go to sleep.

8 Cheese

When it comes to foods that are most likely to give you nightmares, cheese ranks near the top. In the same study that was mentioned earlier, dairy had the highest percentage related to bad dreams. Almost 44 percent of participants reported having dreams of a disturbing nature after consuming cheese and other dairy products.

In 2005, the British Cheese Board released a study that connected cheese to nightmares. The research was conducted to debunk the myth that cheese can cause some terrible dreams.

The board used several types of cheese in the study, and some of them proved the board right. On the other hand, some cheeses were found to produce odd and vivid dreams.[3]

Stilton cheese caused 85 percent of female participants to report bizarre dreams, while 75 percent of men also experienced odd dreams. Now we know why Ebenezer Scrooge blames cheese for his ghostly encounters in A Christmas Carol.

7 Salad Dressing

One of the more surprising foods that can cause bad dreams is salad dressing and other sweet sauces. These dressings and sauces contain hidden sugars that could keep you up all night or even disturb your sleep. Before downing a salad for dinner, check the nutrition labels on your favorite bottle of dressing to find those lurking sugars.[4]

The study in Frontiers in Psychology showed that dressing and other sweet sauces were the cause of scary dreams for some participants. Excess sugar and inadequate fat adaption will disrupt your sleep by either producing dreams or causing you to wake up during the night. Avoiding the hidden sugars will help you avoid the monsters in your sleep.

6 Pasta

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a well-balanced diet because the body converts them into glucose, which is a form of sugar, and runs on them. Even though carbs are important to the body, it is best if you consume them well before bed. As we know that sugar disrupts sleep patterns, it isn’t surprising that carbs would do the same to someone trying to rest their eyes.[5]

Participants in a recent study reported having disturbing dreams when going to bed after eating pasta or bread, and a small group even reported bizarre dreams. The study showed that pasta caused more disturbing dreams than all other foods except dairy and spicy foods.

There is nothing wrong with a delicious dinner from The Olive Garden. But it may be a good idea to schedule that meal a little early to avoid the dreams later.

5 Potato Chips

Greasy foods such as potato chips are bad for your health because they contain a high number of calories, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and crowd out the healthy foods you need. In one study, researchers found that eating foods like chips caused participants to get less restorative sleep and wake up throughout the night. Their results showed that good sleep depends on the types and amount of food that is consumed.

The study published in Frontiers of Psychology showed that about 12.5 percent of all disturbing dreams were caused by greasy foods like chips. The fatty snack food also can disrupt your digestive tract, making it hard for you to peacefully sleep at night. Your body will be working overtime to digest the food as you attempt to sleep.[6]

Swapping to a healthier snack before bed can help decrease the bad dreams, but skipping snacks altogether is the only way to guarantee a good night’s rest.

4 Soda

Technically, soft drinks aren’t food. But what you drink before bedtime is just as important as the foods you consume. Caffeinated drinks make it extremely difficult for you to catch some sleep.

There are multiple reasons that sodas are bad for the body. For example, they may contribute to weight gain, lead to diabetes, and increase the risk of heart disease.

Sodas are responsible for various health conditions, but they can also cause nightmares due to their sugar and caffeine content. Caffeine directly stimulates the brain, even during sleep, which can help lead to unpleasant dreams.

As the brain struggles to relax fully due to the caffeine intake, it causes you to lightly sleep and produces some bizarre dreams. Avoiding caffeine four to eight hours before bedtime can reduce the risk of bad dreams. If you are sensitive to caffeine, try to avoid it for up to 12 hours before bed.[7]

3 Chocolate

According to researchers in a New Scientist report, chocolate could be disrupting sleep and causing violent nightmares for sufferers. Just like soda, chocolate contains caffeine that could be triggering bad dreams for chocolate lovers. The study shows that more men are affected than women and it can even cause those having nightmares to shout as they dream.[8]

Chocolate is known to contain compounds that have psychoactive effects on the brain which can lead to enhanced dreams. On the other hand, dark chocolate has been shown to contain healthy antioxidants, but it also disrupts a night of sleep.

The sweet treat also contains theobromine, an alkaloid that spikes the heart rate, leaving you wide awake at night. We know it is addictive and delicious, but try eating it as an afternoon treat instead of a midnight snack.

2 Fries

Most people know and believe that fried foods aren’t healthy, but it’s hard to deny their delicious tastes. Visit your local fair, and you’ll find anything and everything in a fried version—such as fried Oreos, fried Kool-Aid, fried jelly beans, and fried butter.

Even with so many fried foods to choose from now, french fries (or fried potatoes) still seem to be a favorite among many. Some consumers like them dipped in ketchup, some enjoy them smothered with chili and cheese, and others like them simply with salt.

People who ingested greasy foods such as fries reported having nightmares, though. It takes the body more time to process the carb-heavy food, which reduces the quality of shut-eye at night. Enjoying fries baked is a healthier option that reduces the amount of fat and the number of nightmares you will experience.[9]

1 Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream . . . or maybe we’re screaming because of ice cream. That’s right, one of the best bedtime foods can cause nightmares.[10]

Ice cream is loaded with fat and sugar, and the body doesn’t have enough time to burn any of it when eaten before bed. The carbs will actually pump your body full of energy as you try to sleep. This sends mixed messages to the brain that ultimately result in nightmares.

A bowl of ice cream at night while watching TV seems innocent, but you’re doing more harm to your body than you realize. Not only are you putting yourself in a position to experience bad dreams but all that sugar also turns to fat as you eat it. There is definitely no happy ending to that nightmare!

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If you want to have more nightmares about food, check out 10 Terrifying Things That Can Hide In Your Food and 10 Disgusting Delicacies From Around The World.

fact checked by Jamie Frater