Does Cheese Really Make Us Dream?

We’ve always been told not to eat cheese before bed, but why is that? Does eating cheese really cause nightmares?

Well, now we’ve taken the opportunity to find out why we dream, what happens when we dream, and what influences the dreams – or nightmares – we have. And of course, to answer the question on whether cheese really does make us have weird dreams, or if it is in fact, a myth.

WHAT ARE DREAMS?

There are different phases of sleep we go through, as part of our circadian rhythm. It runs in a pattern, and the “dreamiest” sleep we can reach is called the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Once we reach REM sleep, our dreams are likely to be more detailed, but also can be harder to remember. 

But why are dreams always a bit…weird? Well, it’s because the emotional part of the brain is what triggers the dreams. When you’re awake, it’s the logical part that dominates the brain, but while you sleep, your thoughts and ideas have more freedom to roam.

That might sound a bit menacing, but a lot of writers, musicians and artists claim that they’re dreams are where their ideas bloom! They wake up with ideas they’ve dreamt of and make art out of it. Amazing! 

WHY DO WE DREAM?

There are numerous theories behind why we dream, so let’s take a look at some of them: 

Confronting Emotions:

Sometimes we wake from sleep having had dreams that make us realize or question things we hadn’t before. Often, we find it difficult to confront emotional traumas we’re currently facing or have faced in the past. But the emotional part of the brain, not being stunted by the logical part, is much more active during sleep! So, while we sleep, the brain makes connections about feelings that your conscious brain probably wouldn’t and creates emotion-fueled dreams.

Creative Muses:

Artists often credit their work with the activity in their dreams. Perhaps you’ve had dreams that have inspired you to tell a story or paint something! Well, one theory suggests that dreams occur in order to facilitate our creative tendencies. With less logic and more emotion used by the brain, there’s no doubt we have some unconventional thoughts going on!

Stores Memories:

Studies have proven that sleep does help people to remember new experiences and lessons.[i] And dreams? Well, Freud had a theory that there was a transformation stage – dreams activate the new memories, which turns them into long term memories.[ii]

Another fact that studies have proven is that sleep deprivation has a direct correlation with memory storage. If you are sleep deprived, you’re less likely to remember new information.

Stress:

The stress hormone, cortisol, plays a role in the dream experience. When you’re stressed, it can be hard to reach REM sleep, or be a cause of sleep deprivation. This is when dreams might become a bit…strange.

One of the most active parts of the brain during sleep is called amygdala, and it’s more active during sleep than it is during wakefulness. It’s the part of the brain that responds to danger and is linked to our natural survival instinct, otherwise known as fight-or-flight.

So, is your brain telling you to react to a threat? You may have dreams that are more like nightmares. Stress can cause the amygdala to be overactive and think that you could be under threat. Luckily, our brains are able to counteract those subconscious feelings during REM sleep, sending out signals that allow your muscles to relax.  

WHAT INFLUENCES DREAMS?

There are factors that can influence your mind during those peaceful hours. It’s often down to lifestyle and personal experiences, so here’s a couple to bear in mind:

Foods

First, let’s confront the myth that got us here. Does cheese really make our dreams more whacky than normal? There could actually be some science behind that!

Eating just before bed will affect your metabolism. It activates your digestive system as well as your brain activity. It’s not just cheese, but any food really. Carbs and sugars especially give you a surge of energy when you’re awake, so if you eat just before going to bed, it can be difficult to fall into a deep sleep straight away.

Eating before bed may also cause interrupted sleep. Our dreams may be stronger during REM sleep, but dreams can happen in any stages of sleep. And if you wake up during that time, you might be more likely to remember random details of a vivid dream. I know that when this happens it’s like a jigsaw puzzle of thoughts that just don’t quite fit together!

So, cheese doesn’t necessarily cause you to have vivid dreams or nightmares, but, eating a fatty food that needs proper digestion is likely to disrupt your sleep.

Health Conditions

Sleep apnea is a condition where you can’t have deep sleep due to troubled breathing, meaning oxygen can struggle to feed the brain and the body. Often those with sleep apnea struggle with sleep deprivation. 

Sleep deprivation is said to cause vivid dreams, even after a couple of days without sufficient sleep. This could be because different parts of the brain are more active than others. And when you wake from sleep mid-dream, there’s a chance you’ll remember the dreams.  

Final Thoughts

So, maybe cheese isn’t the catalyst for strange and scary dreams, but it has got us thinking! Dreams are often confusing or provoking, and it’s down to the sensible, logical part of the brain is asleep. Emotions run high during the hours of rest, whether we realize or not. Dream therapists suggest there are reasons behind every dream, and maybe there’s some truth behind it! Going through times of stress may cause you to have repeatedly unpleasant dreams, or maybe your lifestyle is keeping you from remembering the dreams. All I know is, I’m going to my fridge right now to enjoying some cheese tonight.

 

[i] http://learnmem.cshlp.org/content/11/6/671.full.pdf 

[ii] http://cogprints.org/2068/1/DreamsAndMemoryTarnow.pdf

 


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