There has not been any research to determine how and if food specifically affects dreams, says Donna Arand, PhD, clinical director of the Kettering & Sycamore Sleep Center in Ohio. “However, if a person eats any food that upsets their stomach, gives them heartburn, or makes them feel ill, that can make their dreams unpleasant,” she says, because any type of physiological discomfort can lead to bad dreams.
“Dreams are only loosely tied to brain and gut physiology,” explains J. Catesby Ware, PhD, director of the Eastern Virginia Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine. However, he does note that the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is found in bananas, milk, and turkey, “reduces the frequency of eye movements during REM sleep,” which are putatively tied to dream action. He also says that a big night of excess—a large, late-night meal with rich food, alcohol, coffee, and chocolate dessert—will make your sleep fragmented, increasing your awareness of dreams.
The smell of food can affect dream content, says Arand. “For example if you are sleeping in the morning and your partner starts frying bacon, you might find yourself dreaming that you are eating bacon and eggs,” she says. “Or if coffee is brewing you might find yourself making coffee or drinking a cup of hot coffee. You basically incorporate the stimulus into a dream activity.”
Tore Nielsen, PhD, director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal and a professor of psychiatry at the Université de Montréal, says that around the holidays he gets a lot of questions about food and dreams, “probably because of Scrooge’s awful nightmares that he merrily attributes to ‘a bit of undigested cheese’ or something to that effect.” He echoes Arand’s sentiment about there being no research on the subject, and proposed doing a survey on CHOW as an exploratory step—so we posted his questions on Chowhound. His lab will analyze the answers that you contribute, and we’ll publish a follow-up.