Don’t worry! You haven’t actually lost all your teeth and showed up to work in your underwear. It was just a bad dream. But if you’re sick of being woken up from your peaceful slumber in a cold sweat, look no further than what you noshed on right before putting your head to the pillow.
Yes, there’s a chance that scary nightmare was caused by your late night Ben and Jerry's indulgence.
Scholars have written about the correlation between diets and bad dreams, well, basically forever. Hippocrates, who is regarded as the father of medicine, was one of the first to note a connection. And now, more than 2,000 years later, there’s finally a study (published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology) that corroborates his notions.
For the study, 396 students at a Canadian university were polled on their diet and dream quality, daily for two weeks. The questions that they answered delved into diet habits, psychological function, overall health, sleep, and dream habits. After sorting through their responses, the researchers were able to drum up a targeted list of foods that cause nightmares. You know, the kinds of dreams that wake you up, mess with your sleep cycle, and ultimately, spike your cortisol levels enough to cause weight gain.
To help you keep the Boogeyman—and excess belly fat—at bay, we dug into the study data to uncover the foods that are most likely to give you nightmares. Kick them to the curb and while you’re at it, read up on these 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight get even more out of your nightly slumber!
Sure, dairy contains tryptophan, which serves as a precursor for the sleep-inducing hormone serotonin, but study participants who consumed dairy products (like cheese!) before bed were more likely to report unsavory dreams. Sounds like a great reason to ditch the caloric late night pizza if you ask us.
According to the study, students who ate spicy foods before bed had a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. They also reported having stressful dreams. The reason: Spicy foods alter the body’s temperature, which according to the study, alters dream formations during the REM (rapid eye motion) stage of sleep. That doesn’t mean you have to totally ditch the hot sauce and spicy grub, though. Just cut yourself off six hours before you turn in for the night—and be sure to stick to one the Eat This!-approved bottles from our special report, 18 Best and Worst Hot Sauces—Ranked!
The only thing scarier than a killer hangover? The dreams you have the night after you’ve had a few. Not only can consuming alcohol before bed makes it more difficult to fall into a deep sleep, participants in the study reported nightmares and stressful dreams after knocking back a few.
Cookies & Cake
Get this: In the study, 31 percent of all reported “bizarre dreams” occurred after participants had eaten sugary foods like cookies and cake. While sweet treats may be tempting before bed, you’re better off giving into your cravings with one of these 15 Best Low-Sugar Snacks for Weight Loss.
After dairy products, sweets and chocolate were the second most frequently mentioned category of dream-influencing foods, with reports of “bizarre” and “disturbing” dreams being the most common. "Remember that chocolate is high in caffeine (which has been shown to decrease your ability to fall into a deep sleep) and has sugar, so this may not be the best bet before bed,” Lauren Kelly, MS, RD, CDN of Kelly Wellness in New York City tells us. Even if you’re eating the healthy dark variety, Kelly advises enjoying it as an early afternoon snack instead of a post-dinner dessert. If you have to have some chocolaty goodness after your evening meal, cut your portion size back to see if that helps.
Just because chips don’t have sugar or caffeine doesn’t mean they’re a good before-bed snack. About 12.5 percent of all disturbing dreams in the study were caused by the consumption of “greasy junk food” like chips. That’s not the only reason to stay away either. The grease can do a number on your digestive tract, making it hard for you to stay in a restful sleep. Switch to a lighter healthy chip or nibble on something else that’s crunchy (like carrot sticks or a small handful of nuts) before bed instead.
We already told you that both the white granular stuff and dairy could bring out the monsters in the closet, so it should come as no surprise that the mix of sugar and milk in hot cocoa can bring you bad dreams. If you crave a soothing warm drink before bed, opt for warm water with lemon or a caffeine-free detox tea. The calming valerian and hop varieties are two of our favorites—just don’t forget to hold the milk.
Pasta & Bread
Participants in the study who had pasta or bread before bed reported having upsetting dreams, which is no surprise considering sugar consumption was shown to have the same effect. It’s a little-known fact, but carbs actually convert to glucose (a form of sugar) in the body. That said, try to eat your carbs earlier in the day so your body has time to process them before you settle in for sleep. Other carb-slashing options: ditch the top bun on your burger and swap your noodles for spiralized zoodles (a fancy name for zucchini noodles).
Study participants who drank soda, even during the earlier part of the day, reported having nightmares, likely because of the caffeine and sugar content. Need another reason to steer clear of the fizzy stuff? Consider this: many sodas are littered with potentially carcinogenic dyes (like caramel coloring) and other icky additives (like glycerol ester of rosin AKA wood resin).
Fries & Chicken Nuggets
Some study participants who had greasy foods before bed reported having nightmares. With that in mind, we suggest choosing baked foods over fried whenever possible. Love fries? Make a healthier version by cutting a potato into wedges, tossing them on a baking sheet, and coating them with a touch of olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, and ground pepper. Bake for 45 minutes at 450 degrees. If the spud’s carb content still winds up giving you nightmares, try dialing back the serving size. For a healthier way to make a batch of nuggets, check out these 30 Quinoa Recipes for Weight Loss! Yup, that’s right; not only are they baked, they’re coated with a wholesome ancient grain, too.
Though they’re often regarded as the better choice, many bottled juices are just as bad as a can of Coke or Pepsi. “Many people think of [juice] as a healthy option, when really it can have even more sugar than a comparably sized soda," warns Kelly. If you drink juice, only do so early in the day and be sure to dilute it with a little bit of water. Remember, sugar lures the boogieman out. For more ways to cut back on your intake of the sweet stuff, don’t miss these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
In the study, sweet foods were shown to cause scary dreams. But not all sugar comes from obvious sources like donuts and milkshakes. To scare off the Boogyman, Kelly says to be careful to avoid “hidden sources of sugar like ketchup and salad dressings.” Not sure which bottles to ban from your cabinet? Don’t miss our report, 16 Salad Dressings Worse Than Chocolate Syrup to discover which options are the worst for your waistline and slumber.
Yogurt & Ice Cream
We get it: Late night TV and Ben & Jerry’s go together like, well, late night TV and Ben & Jerry’s; they’re the perfect match. But due to their sugar content and dairy base, ice cream and even some healthy-looking Greek yogurt varieties can give you nightmares. If you’re craving something creamy, look for a non-dairy, low sugar option instead. Most of these 20 Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts fit the bill.