Have you ever eaten a rich, cheesy dinner (hello, ravioli in Alfredo sauce!), gone to sleep, and had an absolutely horrible nightmare? If so, you might have wondered: Could the food and the bad dream be related? While there is no scientific proof that what you eat can affect your dreams, that doesn’t stop some people from believing that specific foods, like dairy products or spicy dishes, lead to bad dreams.
And it isn’t that hard to see why there might there be a connection. After all, food impacts a lot of areas of your body besides your stomach. For instance, what you eat can affect your mood, how awake or sleepy you are, and the quality of your sleep at night.
The connection might also be due to the fact that certain foods can upset your body and wake you up throughout the night, helping you remember your vivid dreams more. In other words, let’s say that you have a slight sensitivity to dairy and ate a big bowl of ice cream before sleep or that you feel indigestion after having a giant, spicy, pepperoni pizza dinner. Since your digestive system is upset, you may sleep poorly and wake up more often, boosting the chances that you'll remember what crazy dream you were having. So perhaps the food didn't cause the nightmare—maybe the food simply made you remember it.
And it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it that can affect your dreams. Dining on a big meal just before turning in for the night boosts your body’s temperature and metabolism—two consequences that result in more brain activity during the REM stage (a.k.a. when you dream).