The earliest nightmare I can remember experiencing happened around the age of seven. I was being chased through my school corridors at night by a gigantic version of the dinosaur from Toy Story who wanted to Sellotape books to my ears. In hindsight, I’m unsure why this was scary or what it really says about me as a child; however I distinctly remember my dad jokingly blaming the experience on “eating cheese before bed.”
The earliest link between the dairy and the scary can be found in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, wherein Scrooge attributes his holiday haunting to an undigested ‘crumb of cheese.’ However, Dickens also characteristically lists a ‘bit of beef, a blot of mustard’ and even ‘a fragment of underdone potato’ as potential candidates for prompting the apparition. As such, it is interesting that Scrooge’s specific mention of cheese has remained so culturally enduring.
In 2005 the British Cheese Board conducted a survey to investigate the influence of different cheeses on sleep. The study consisted of 100 male and 100 female participants consuming 20 grams of cheese 30 minutes before they went to bed. This was repeated every day for a week, with each participant being assigned to one of six types of British cheese – Stilton, Cheddar, Red Leicester, British Brie, Lancashire and Cheshire. The participants were asked to keep a record anything they remembered about their dreams and how well they slept every morning.
The study showed that 67% of participants could remember dreams; however, not a single individual recorded experiencing a nightmare. Undoubtedly the credibility of such results is dubious, consisting as it did of a relatively small sample size, while also remaining unratified by a scientific journal; however the survey is at least amusing for the influence it suggests that the type of cheese can have on the events of the dream. Those who consumed Cheddar supposedly dreamed more about celebrities, whereas those who ate Red Leicester experienced more nostalgic visions. Stilton produced ‘odd and vivid’ dreams, with one memorable example including a vivid encounter with a ‘vegetarian crocodile,’ miserable because it could not eat children.
The conclusions drawn from the study were that as none of the participants suffered night terrors, cheese could be officially declared a nightmare-free consumable. Nigel White, secretary of the British Cheese Board stated,
‘Now that our Cheese and Dreams study has finally debunked the myth that cheese gives you nightmares, we hope that people will think more positively about eating cheese before bed.’
Ignoring the possibility of vested interest within the Cheese Board’s investigation into cheese, White claims that eating cheese before bed can actually enhance the chances of getting a good night’s sleep. White attributes this to the essential amino acid tryptophan found within many dairy products. Benefits supposedly include a reduction in stress levels and a balancing of hormones, making cheese the ideal pre-kip snack for every anxious, coffee-fuelled finalist.
However, before White’s comments as an encouragement to gorge on late night cheesy-chips, it is worth bearing in mind the other nutritional impact that cheese can have upon sleep patterns. While unlikely to cause nightmares, cheese is high in fat, and therefore takes longer than most macro-nutrients to digest. This can disrupt sleep cycles as the body works harder to process the fat, while also increasing the risk of constipation. Consequently, the most advisable dietary choice would be to limit any large intake of any food within an hour of going to bed, and to opt for lighter, low-fat snacks to tide you over until morning.