Does Eating Cheese Before Bed Cause Nightmares?

We asked experts about the rumors surrounding dairy and a good night's sleep.

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There are plenty of old wives' tales about cheese causing nightmares and if you’ve ever eaten a really large meal and then tried to go to bed you would certainly agree that food can disrupt sleep, but there may be even more to it. A study published in 2015 took a closer look at how eating habits can affect sleep. According to researchers, dairy foods are most often blamed for issues with sleep but that does not lead to scientific facts to support cheese as the culprit.

What Experts Say

We went right to the expert to determine the relationship between food and sleep. Karman Meyer RD, LDN, author of Eat To Sleep — What to Eat & When to Eat It for a Good Night's Sleep isn’t sold on the link between cheese and nightmares. "There's not any robust research that supports the claim that eating cheese before bed will cause nightmares,” says Meyer. “I'm a regular cheese-eater, at any time of day, and can't recall the last time I awoke from sleep, stricken by fear from a nightmare. That's anecdotal evidence, of course, but at least I know for me, there's nothing to fear in eating cheese at night!” In fact, Karman includes cheese on the "Best Bedtime Snacks" list in her book.

Cheese also has plenty to offer in the nutrition department. According to Meyer, there are elements that might actually benefit your sleep. “Cheese will provide calcium, magnesium and potassium, all of which are important for reducing muscle cramping and healthy blood pressure maintenance, and can help you drift off to sleep and stay asleep.”

When You Might Want to Avoid Cheese Before Bed

Old wives tales aside, some folks do have issues digesting cheese and other dairy products. For example, those with lactose intolerance may benefit from Meyer’s tips for enjoying dairy more comfortably.

  • Choose lactose-free products or dairy foods that are naturally lower in lactose like natural hard cheeses (Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss, and Parmesan).
  • Eat smaller portions of dairy foods spread throughout the day rather than a large amount at any given meal.
  • Enjoy dairy foods with other foods to help the body better digest the lactose and slow gastric emptying.

Bottom Line

Give cheese a chance! There’s no good evidence to support the relationship between cheese and nightmares, but there are ways to be smart about all the foods you eat before bed. Meyer reminds us that it’s more about the quantity and quality of all types of foods you are eating. “The ‘how much’ rather than the ‘what’ is often more important when it comes to food or beverages, especially before bed. Eating high fat meals, spicy foods, too large of a meal, or drinking caffeine or alcohol at night, can lead to sleep disturbances.”

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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