Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Louise Carter
The foods we eat can influence our dreams, so modifying your diet can improve sleep.
Eating late at night can cause nightmares, as calorie intake feeds the brain and leads to a vivid subconscious imagination. Food that takes a long time to digest keeps the body active.
If you often experience nightmares, avoid sugar, alcohol, red meat, and spicy foods before bed.
Foods high in tryptophan promote restfulness by releasing sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin and serotonin. Turkey, dark leafy greens, and milk are high in tryptophan.
Eat fish because Omega-3 fatty acids reduce stress hormones released during REM sleep. If you consume carbohydrates in the evening, exchange simple carbs for complex carbs.
If you want a quick snack in the late evening, some almonds or a medium-sized banana will be beneficial.
What Causes Bad Dreams At Night?
While more commonly associated with children, nightmares can happen at any age. There are many possible explanations for bad dreams in adults, including the following.
- Stress and anxiety.
- Undiagnosed health conditions.
- Side effects of prescription medications.
- Subconscious disturbances to your sleep, like noise that doesn’t wake you.
- Previous trauma is recalled by the subconscious in dreams.
- Exposure to frightening images or words earlier in the day.
- Eating immediately before bed forces the body to digest during rest time.
Eating late at night impacts sleep, but consuming the wrong foods leads to vivid, frightening dreams.
Foods That Can Trigger Nightmares
Eating the wrong foods in the evening can commonly cause bad dreams.
Foods and drinks that can trigger nightmares include the following:
- Sugar – A “sugar high” late at night leads to more active brainwaves while you sleep, and the resulting crash may cause nightmares. The Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism explains how Metformin, used by type 2 diabetics to lower blood sugar, lists bad dreams as a side effect.
- Spicy Foods – According to the International Journal of Psychophysiology, spicy foods raise the body temperature during sleep. This can lead to “fever dreams,” including nightmares.
- Red Meat – Red meat, like steaks and burgers, sits in the stomach and takes time to digest. Forcing the body to work hard to process your meal may lead to nightmares.
- Alcohol – Consuming alcohol late at night can increase your emotions, which the brain may process as nightmares, especially if you were drinking to dampen feelings of stress and anxiety. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine directly links alcohol and drug use to chronic nightmares.
If you want a restful night’s sleep punctuated by pleasant dreams, cut these foods from your diet or only eat them more than 6 hours before bedtime.
How To Stop Bad Dreams At Night
If you’re prone to nightmares, you’ll rarely enjoy a restful night’s sleep. This will impact your physical and mental health over time, so regaining control of the subconscious overnight is essential.
While scientific studies into preventing nightmares are limited, certain techniques are believed to increase the likelihood of pleasant dreams, including the following:
- Keep your bedroom cool because high temperatures can lead to bad dreams.
- Sleep on your side, as lying on the back is correlated to nightmares.
- Don’t stay up too late. An overtired mind experiences more negative thoughts.
- Avoid frightening or intense media before bed.
- Relax the body and mind before getting into bed. Perform stretches or breathing exercises, and write a journal of anything causing stress to get it out of your head.
- Add a pleasant aroma to the bedroom, like flowers or incense. If you light candles in your bedroom, ensure they’re extinguished before turning out the lights and going to sleep.
Of course, you should also consider your diet, avoiding all trigger foods close to bed.
What Foods Help Stop Nightmares?
To avoid having your sleep disturbed by frightening dreams, adjust your meal plan. While eating too close to bedtime is inadvisable, the following foods will bolster your quality of rest:
Fresh fish, especially salmon, herring, mackerel, or tuna, are a good evening meal for preventing nightmares. The fattier the fish, the more Omega-3 it contains.
The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is the most important because it’s linked to healthy brain function.
Nutrients stated that the right amount of Omega-3 is linked to superior sleep, while Omega-3 regulates levels of norepinephrine. This stress hormone plays a vital role in REM sleep.
Make chicken or turkey part of your evening meal. Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes melatonin and serotonin production, two hormones essential for restful sleep.
Green, Leafy Vegetables
Eating broccoli, kale, and other leafy greens can promote sleep without nightmares. Leafy green vegetables are high in calcium and magnesium, which relax the body before bed.
The digestive system can easily process nutritious green vegetables without sugar spikes.
Simple carbs should be avoided before bed because they elevate blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates steadily break down in the body, providing sustainable energy.
While white rice may leave you feeling bloated and hungry again before long, brown rice will leave your stomach full and your mind and body relaxed.
While valerian tea is often used as a relaxant at night, it can lead to more vivid dreaming. If you’re under stress or take medication, valerian tea can increase the probability of nightmares.
Avoid herbal tea with hallucinogenic properties, like Calea zachatechi.
Lavender, chamomile, or juniper teas are highly recommended. However, avoid drinking too much liquid before bed, as you may need to go to the toilet.
If you’re hungry and crave a pre-bed snack, eat some almonds.
Almonds are high in vitamin B6, which regulates sleep. Almonds also contain magnesium, which relaxes the body and reduces the realism of dreams.
If you dislike the taste of almonds, other nuts can have a similar effect. Pistachios are even higher in vitamin B6, while walnuts and cashews can also aid restfulness.
Consider eating a banana before bed as a replacement. This fruit has many similar qualities to almonds and has long been regarded as the ideal food for promoting restful sleep.
Milk and Yogurt
A mug of warm milk is a popular bedtime drink throughout the West because of its sleep-inducing qualities, primarily due to the presence of tryptophan in milk and dairy.
This means dairy products, contrary to popular belief, can aid sleep.
While it was believed that cheese before bed causes nightmares, this has never been proven scientifically. Research in Psychotherapy links calcium deficiencies to bad dreams.
The reason for this is calcium relaxes the body. However, a large wedge of cheese may sit heavily in the stomach, which is potentially why eating it late at night is linked to nightmares.
To avoid this, eat yogurt or cottage cheese as an evening snack if you prefer not to drink milk.
A teaspoon of honey is a delicious, naturally sweet treat that promotes restfulness.
When we eat honey, our glucose levels naturally rise. This sends a message to the brain to stop producing orexin (hypocretin), a chemical messenger that encourages the mind to remain active and alert.
Oats lead to the steady release of energy. This means the mind and body will gradually digest oats while you sleep, avoiding spikes in blood sugar that influence your dreams.
Magnesium relaxes the muscles, making you less likely to experience restless legs while asleep. This will prevent the brain from reacting to the body’s unpredictable movements.
Diet plays a pivotal role in regulating dreams and keeping nightmares at bay. Make positive changes to your evening meal plan if you regularly experience bad dreams.