SEATTLE, WA—Foods and dietary habits may significantly impact sleeping and dreaming, investigators reported at SLEEP 2015.

Results of an exploratory study “also suggest possible dietary strategies for improving sleep and reducing the incidence of disturbing dreams,” stated Tore A. Nielsen PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada.

Noting that “beliefs that food influences sleeping and dreaming persist with little empirical justification,” Dr. Nielsen, also Director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, and colleagues conducted an exploratory study to examine “the prevalence of such beliefs in students and the foods most commonly identified and associations between sleep and dreams and dietary habits/motivations.”

A total of 382 students completed the Sleep Quality Scale, the Intuitive Eating Scale, the Three-factor Eating Questionnaire, and other measures of dietary habits/ motivations. The students also reported their own perception of whether foods influenced their sleeping and dreaming. Mean age of the male students (n=126) was 21.6±5.3 years and of the female students (n=255), 21.4±5.24 years. One student’s age was unspecified.

A total of “49.7% of subjects reported food effects on sleeping (43.4%) and dreaming (17.2%),” Dr. Nielsen stated. “Foods identified as leading to better sleep were beverages (38.3%; mainly milk [20.2%]), fruit (25.5%), meat (23.4%), and vegetables (20.2%).” Conversely, the foods that were identified as leading to worse sleep were those that were caffeinated (31.4%), sugary (26.7%), dairy (17.4%), greasy/fried (16.3%), “junk”/fast-foods (14.0%), spicy (8.1%), meat (8.1%), and vegetables (4.7%).

“Dairy products were most frequently blamed for disturbing or bizarre dreams (43.7% vs. 38.5% respectively), followed by sugary (12.5% vs. 26.9%), spicy (18.8% vs. 7.7%), and junk/fast-foods (6.3% vs. 11.5%),” he noted.

“Correlations also revealed a pathological constellation of variables involving disturbing dreams, poor sleep, binge-eating, emotional eating, and low reliance on hunger/satiety cues (all P<0.01), and a healthy constellation of variables involving vivid dreams, good sleep, healthy diet, and longer times between meals/snacks (all P<0.05),” he reported.

“The extent to which these perceived effects of food stem from accurate observations, misattributions, or folklore influences has yet to be determined,” he concluded.