Food Facts & Lore

You Dream What You Eat

There was a time, oh centuries ago actually, when your family physician would skim over concerns regarding your mom and dad’s and siblings’ ailments to focus instead on dreams and diet, yours. This would have been your experience had you had the good fortune to have Hippocrates as your personal doctor. You know, he’s the one who said, “Do no harm.”

Greek physician Hippocrates (460 BCE – 370 BCE) believed, and in fact repeatedly confirmed, that dreams reveal much about one’s diet, and thus about one’s state of health. He observed, as did many philosophers and physicians of his time and since, that different foods fuel different qualities of sleep. Not rocket science, you might think, but it is indeed a precise science. Hippocrates prescribed a strict diet regimen for all his patients and had them record their dreams as a key component in establishing any diagnostic.

In his book, “Your Brain on Food,” Dr. Gary Wenk, of Ohio State University, observes that the chemical compounds in food affect reactions in the brain in ways much similar to alcohol or drugs. How we react, however, also depends on gender, life experience and culture, as all of these influence our perceptions of the world and thus the imagery in our dreams.

Some reactions are consistent across generations, genders and cultures, however. For instance, poultry (turkey in particular) has been associated with lucid dreaming. To the dreamer, this may show up as a nightmare or just witnessing a marvelously colorful and detailed universe or dimension. Sweets have been linked to erotic dreams. Chocolate is the main culprit in this case. Dairy is most often linked to nightmares.

Some argue that the brain is merely creating imagery to match the body’s processes during sleep. A late meal or upset stomach might show up as a nightmare; the tryptophan in turkey might trigger hallucinations. According to this school of thought, even the most outwardly dream is merely a narrative of what’s going on in the gut at the time. This narrative was of utmost importance to Hippocrates. Which brings up an interesting question: what of premonitory dreams?

Need a peaceful, light dreamstate night after a few wild lucid journeys in a row? Snack on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before bed. The carbs and protein will lull you to sleep and boost serotonin, explains Dr. Wenk, which has been shown to stabilize sleep patterns.