Cheese often gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to nighttime eating. Ever since Ebenezer Scrooge accused the savory snack for his vivid hallucinations in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, people have blamed cheese for causing nerve-racking nightmares.
It’s plausible that our choice of bedtime snack may affect our sleeping hours. After all, what we opt to eat during the day may give us a boost of energy, affect our focus, or even change our mood.
So, it’s no surprise that a 2005 study found that eating cheese, indeed, may impact our dreams.
Former British Cheese Board secretary Nigel White and his colleagues decided to test the belief that cheese may actually cause nightmares.
In an NPR interview, the cheese expert explained that study volunteers were asked to eat a small chunk of cheese (two-thirds of an ounce) each night 30 minutes before going to bed.
Participants kept a diary nearby to log their quality of sleep and any dreams they could recall. White noted that three-quarters of the cheese eaters had restful sleep each night and most could remember their dreams.
Where Science Comes In
Cheese and other dairy products contain tryptophan, which our bodies convert into the B vitamin, niacin, according to sleep.org.
In the interview, White explained that tryptophan helps to normalize sleep and reduce stress, which would explain the volunteers’ restful sleep. He did express surprise, however, that different types of dreams were linked to specific cheeses.
Can Cheese Determine Our Dreams?
The Cheese Board found that participants who had eaten Blue Stilton cheese before bed were likely to have vivid dreams. “I’m sure the sleep psychologists would have a field day in terms of interpreting,” White joked.
He shared that one volunteer dreamt of a vegetarian crocodile who was peeved because it wanted to eat children. He added, “Another one dreamed that they had soldiers fighting with each other with kittens instead of guns.”
These dreams may not have been pleasant, but White doesn’t classify them as nightmares. He clarified, “Nightmares are where you’re being chased by somebody, you’re about to be pushed off a cliff or you fall off a cliff, or you get run over by a car. But these weren’t scary; they were just wacky.”
A small bite of cheddar—dubbed Britain’s favorite cheese—was linked to dreams about celebrities. Volunteers who opted for the dense and crumbly Cheshire type reported dreamless sleep.
Red Leicester—a traditional hard English cheese—led to participants’ dreaming of childhood or events with their families. And noshing on tangy Lancashire resulted in workplace dreams.
A Cheesy Myth
Judging by White’s study, cheese may not be to blame for our nightmares. Further research may be needed to completely debunk the myth. In the meantime, if you’d like to dream of cranky crocodiles and kitten-toting soldiers, you may want to pick up a chunk of Blue Stilton for tonight’s bedtime snack.