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Need to Rest Easy? Avoid These Foods to Get Rid of Nightmares

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Haven’t been sleeping well lately? If nightmares and weird dreams have been keeping you up, or just keeping you from getting the rest you need, your diet may be to blame. According to WebMD, about half of adults have nightmares on occasion — and 2-8% of adults describe themselves as “plagued” by nightmares. And while it may seem silly to think that a bad dream can affect your health, nightmares are seriously bad for you. Not only can they be an indicator of stress or anxiety in your life, but they can also lead to sleep deprivation, which can in turn affect your heart healthiness, weight, and mental health. And while there are a couple different causes of nightmares, what you eat is an easy one to examine and change.

In a 2015 study, 17.8% of participants self-reported having bad or weird dreams caused by what they ate — or caused by eating too late at night. 44% of respondents say they had “disturbing” dreams after eating dairy, 19% reported nightmares after eating spicy foods, and 27% had bizarre dreams after eating sweet foods. So what specifically should you be avoiding to stop nightmares before they start? We’ve got the run down.

Ice cream

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Ice cream checks a few of those boxes — it has dairy, of course, and it’s also incredibly sweet. Eating it before bed may seem like the perfect way to relax after a long day, but it can actually keep you up and screw with your sleep. All that sugar gives you a boost of energy that can confuse your brain when you’re trying to fall asleep, and those mixed signals can be what lead to your subconscious getting weird.

Pasta and pizza

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We know, we know, more comfort food. But per Fox News, the acid from tomato sauce can give you acid reflux, and the heavy doughs and oils can lead to heart burn. With your body working overtime to process everything, it can keep you from getting the rest you need. Plus, those carbs work just like eating sugar to keep you up when you’re trying to wind down.

Cheese

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Cheese is the original “nightmare food” — which sounds like a nightmare to us alone, because we love a good cheese plate. But a new study found that people who eat cheese, especially before bed, claim they’re more likely to have bad or weird dreams afterwards.

Hot sauce

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Yep, some of your favorite spicy condiments may be what’s affecting your sleep. A University study found that people self-reported having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep after eating hot sauce. That may be because spicy foods can alter your body’s temperature, and a higher body temperature can prevent deep sleep and increase REM sleep — the sleep stage your body is in while dreaming. The Wall Street Journal cites a study that says that, when spicy foods raise your body’s temperature, it can lead to waking up more in the night. And when you wake up in the middle of a dream, you’re more likely to remember it — which can make it even harder to fall back asleep if it was a nightmare.

Other condiments, like ketchup and BBQ sauce, can also be filled with lots of hidden sugars that keep you up. If you can’t eat without them, make sure you’re eating at least six hours before bedtime so your body has plenty of time to process.

Alcohol

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While alcohol is actually a sedative, and can make you sleepy, it’s not actually good for sleep. Cleveland Clinic reports that it decreases deep sleep and increases REM sleep. It also increases your likelihood of sleepwalking or performing other actions while asleep.

Caffeinated beverages

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You’re probably not drinking coffee before bed — but you might be drinking tea or sodas, which can be packed with caffeine. And caffeine doesn’t just keep you up in the traditional sense. It also increases brain activity, which can be a recipe for disaster when you’re trying to calm your mind and get ready for bed. If you need something to drink, try a nighttime, caffeine-free tea — and avoid bottled juices, which are filled with sugar, and hot chocolate, which has dairy, sugar, and caffeine all in one delicious package.

Cake and cookies

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Pastries tend to be shock full of sugar, which will give you an energy boost right before bed — even worse are cakes and cookies with chocolate in them, since caffeine is likely present and can prevent you from getting deep sleep.

Chips and other greasy snacks

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Again, the carbs can take their toll as your body processes them and turns them into sugar. But it’s the grease that gets your here. It’s hard on your digestive track, which means your body has to work extra to process it. All that hard work can keep you from resting fully and having good dreams.

So what can you eat to sleep well?

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Start by eliminating these foods from your dinner diet if you've been having trouble with nightmares. If you've been getting restful sleep and having pleasant dreams, there's no reason to switch up your meal time. And if you haven't been sleeping well but can't imagine going without hot sauce or pasta, consider having them for lunch instead of dinner. All you need to do is give your body enough time to process these heavier foods so that when you lay down in bed at night, your digestive system isn't still hard at work churning away.

What can you eat for dinner if you've been having problems with bad dreams? BBC Good Food recommends trying protein-rich foods with tryptophan, the amino acid that makes you sleepy. You can find it in chicken or turkey as well as nuts and seeds. As for carbs, you'll want to avoid pasta or breads — but rice is a tasty and healthy substitute that can actually improve your sleep quality. If chicken and rice still sounds bland, check out some of these stir-fry recipes for inspiration (just make sure you don't make them too spicy).

If I cut out these foods, will my nightmares go away?

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According to Food and Wine, there’s no one food or drink that’s guaranteed to give you nightmares. For all the buzz about cheese causing nightmares, science has yet to strongly link the two for all people. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, these foods might be the culprits. Make sure to keep track of what you’re eating, when you have bad dreams, and look for your own patterns so you can tailor this list to your diet. Then, all that’s left to do is sleep like a baby.

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