I had a violent nightmare last night. This is a rarity as I usually sleep soundly throughout for seven to eight hours. It has been so long since I had a nightmare that I forgot what had triggered the last one, and all the ones previously and what was triggering this one. The culprit?
How can I know this - that sugar is the evil villain behind my nightmares? Simple. I pay attention. It is the only commonality for all the gory nocturnal events. In fact, the last time I had a nightmare which was probably eight or nine months ago, I was propelled to commit to 'no sugar in the evenings' and have stuck with it. At least until last night. The night went like this. A great meal at a neighbourhood restaurant, all plates shared between my partner, son, girlfriend of son, and me. Dessert time and the boys had big eyes and stomachs to back it up. Three sweet treats ordered, two of which were sticky toffee pudding. If you know sticky toffee pudding, you know how warm, luscious and decadently sugar-laden it is. Fortunately the boys laid most of the desserts to rest but I got my four forkfuls in. That was all I needed at 10:00 at night to set the stage for 'knives and kidnapping' during my sleep.
I am not the only one to experience nightmares from sugar. I have had a few clients who discovered the same effect. One is a woman in her 50's who has suffered from nightmares since she was a young child. It had been so debilitating that she had been using sleeping pills for years, along with anti-depressants. A suggestion to eliminate sugar in the evenings stopped the nightmares and ultimately reduced her dependence on the pills.
Sugar is also not the only food to be a nightmare culprit. While doing research for this post, I discovered that forums are filled with people who have identified various food-bad dream connections, including pizza, wine, gluten, spicy foods, processed meats and all of the subsidiaries of sugar, such as ice cream and candy bars.
Although there is a lot of research on sleep, there is little that is substantive around specific foods and nightmares. There has been some identification of particular nutrients that enhance or decrease sleep quality and duration. And there is a connection around the role of hypoglycemia and nightmares, i.e. that sugar will trigger a low blood glucose level which will alter brain chemistry and lead to vivid mental disturbances. However I personally need no further convincing via research or any explanation of the link. I know it exists for me and I just need to remember the discomfort enough to be dissuaded from evening indulgences.
I'm sharing this post with you in case you, your children or anyone else in your life suffers from nightmares and you haven't considered food as a source of the problem. If you need to eat before bed, eliminate any foods that you may be sensitive to, as well as sugary, spicy or junk foods (or drinks), and possibly alcohol (although alcohol helps some people sleep soundly). Consume only close to nature foods rich in protein (which stabilizes blood sugar between meals and through the night), a small dose of healthy fat and fibre. Cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with flax seed and a 1/4 avocado is an example. Oatmeal with a dab of almond butter and chia seeds is another. Hope this is helpful.