Does Eating Before Bed Cause Nightmares?


Monsters under the bed & food in your stomach

We’ve had this theory for years. When we have a really bad dream, if we think back to the night before, we almost always ate something right before going to sleep. We’re convinced there’s a correlation between nightmares and late-night snacks. Seeing as we’re not scientists, we sought out to do some research to discover if that bag of Doritos really is to blame for the monsters under our bed or if we’ve created  our own version of an old wive’s tale.

What are nightmares?

young beautiful lady fly in zero gravity room. Photo combination creative concept

Before we delve into whether or not a meal before bed causes bad dreams, let’s talk a little about nightmares themselves.

Nightmares are dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that results in feelings of strong terror, fear, distress or extreme anxiety. This phenomenon tends to occur in the latter part of the night and oftentimes awakens the sleeper, who is likely to recall the content of the dream. Nightmares are: 

  • More common in females than in men

  • May be a normal reaction to stress

  • Very common before the age 10

  • Prevelent in adulthood too and, if so, are more likely to be caused by trauma or anxiety

Nightmares are considered normal, unless they occur frequently and impair social, occupational and other functional areas of your life. If this is the case, they may be referred to as Nightmare Disorder or “repeated nightmares.”

Does eating before bed cause nightmares?

There are a few studies that support my beliefs and show evidence that eating before bed may lead to nightmares.

We already know that eating before bed is a bad idea. That extra food means that your body is going to boost its metabolism and temperature which leads to more brain activity during REM sleep. More brain activity during REM sleep means more dreams, but does it mean more nightmares too?

Recently, a study by the University of Montreal, discovered a correlation between food, eating before bed and nightmares. In their study, they found that 9.5% of the study’s participants reported a link between late eating and nightmares.

Another study published in the Journal of The Mind and Body, found that ice cream and candy bars can trigger increased brain waves. This caused 7 of their 10 participants to experience nightmares. The study also revealed just going to bed on a full stomach, whatever you ate, can cause nightmare-inducing brain waves.

So what can you do about your nightmares?

Unfortunately nightmares happen to everyone at times. Thankfully they aren’t common for adults, but according to the research we found, there are some simple things you can do to prevent the likelihood of having a bad dream.

  • Don’t eat before bed —  We love when we can say that when we’re right about something. One simple way to avoid having a bad dream is to avoid eating a large or heavy meal before you go to bed. Give yourself a few hours between eating and sleep so your body can digest the food without affecting your sleep.

    If you need to eat before bed, nibble on something light like fresh popcorn. Not only will you consume less calories, you’ll also consume less sugar, fat and spicy food — all of which can contribute to brain activity that leads to nightmares.

  • Sleep on your right sidePrevention Magazine shared a 2004 study written in Sleep and Hypnosis which found people who sleep on their left sides had “significantly more nightmares than those who slept on their right side.” The obvious takeaway: try rolling over onto your right side while you sleep and reduce your chances of a bad dream.

  • Practice lucid dreaming — Charlie Morley, a lucid dream teacher, believes nightmares are an essential part of our being. Charlie uses lucid dreaming techniques to battle the demons in his unconscious mind and release himself from their grip. You can read more about lucid dreaming and watch Charlie’s Ted Talk on another post I’ve written for Restonic.

We hope the advice and research we’ve found means that you’re less likely to be chased by the Boogeyman in slumberland tonight.

Do you remember the last bad dream that you had? Did you eat before you fell asleep, or do you think it was because of stress in your life? Share your weirdest nightmares in the comments below and what you do to try and prevent them.

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This blog does not provide medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on Restonic.com. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.