Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Last night I got home late and didn't eat a proper dinner. I had Fritos and some spicy dip. That night I dreamed I was at an amusement park and I got separated from my family so I walked around with TON and Lowercase E. And Lowercase E was complaining about the humidity. The Wall Street Journal explains why this happens: Everybody dreams, though many recall their dormant fantasies better than others. Some report that their subconscious stirrings appear to be more vivid after a spicy meal. Science is a long way from understanding all the nuances of the resting brain, but one expert, Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford University Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, explains how a pad thai dinner might seem to bring on nightmares. Dreams have two functions, Dr. Mignot says. One is to relax the most primitive part of the brain. “When you are in REM sleep,” he says, “you cool down and are essentially paralyzed, and the lower part of your brain is almost switched off.” While that’s happening, the second purpose of dreaming kicks in: the cortex, which controls higher-order executive function, switches into overdrive. “Dreaming fires your brain in random ways, forcing it to create unexpected connections that you wouldn’t logically make while you are awake,” he says. This is part of what makes humans smarter and more creative than other species. If you’re a sound sleeper, you likely won’t recall your dreams, anyway. “Most people who remember their dreams have relatively poor sleep,” says Dr. Mignot. “They wake up frequently, so they have fragmented dream states, which allows them to remember more about the dream.” No food has been shown to increase the vividness of dreams, the psychiatrist and behavioral scientist explains. During the night, people go in and out of the dream state numerous times. Various studies have shown that by eating certain proteins, like turkey, you will have more dreams. And some amino acids can increase the amount of REM sleep, when intense dreaming typically takes place. While there is a lot of literature showing that eating big meals makes people sleepy, there are no studies that Dr. Mignot knows of that prove that spicy foods in particular induce nightmares or outlandish dreams. However, he notes, chicken tikka or too much sriracha could possibly be a culprit for some people. “Spicy foods increase your body temperature, so they may make you sleep less well—and as a consequence, your dreams may be more conscious,” he says. That doesn’t mean that you’ll dream more vividly or have more nightmares, he adds, but remembering them clearly may feel like the same experience. Many types of foods—not just spicy ones—might have an impact on dreams because the gut and the digestive process are so complex, the sleep expert says. “Amino acids in food, for example, can be metabolized in the body into active brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine,” the professor of sleep medicine says. “They can enhance anxiety or pleasure, and that might affect your dreams.” But your grandma’s piquant meatballs have never actually been proven to give anyone nightmares (indigestion notwithstanding). For people who often jolt awake from disturbing dreams, Dr. Mignot recommends keeping a food journal to see if there are any particular foods that might be triggering nightmares or shorter sleep cycles. He has his narcoleptic patients sometimes keep diaries to try and determine if specific foods make their dreams more ghoulish. “But I’ve found that the size of the meal is more important,” he says. And can any food create happy dreams? The doctor has doubts: “Unfortunately there is no food that I know of that can make you have funnier, more vivid dreams.” This definitely makes sense because I am a very deep sleeper and I very seldom remember my dreams at all. Maybe the spicy food and heartburn wake me up, or keep me from getting into a deep sleep, and therefore I'm just more like to remember a weird dream after eating spicy food.