Preemptive apology: This post contains no answers. We're simply here to speculate on the reasons behind cheese dreams or — as they're more historically known — cheese nightmares.
In case you're unfamiliar with the concept, here's a brief catch-up: It's a long held belief that eating cheese before bedtime can cause you to have particularly wild (and oftentimes bad) dreams. Dickens references it in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge blames night cheese for causing him to hallucinate ghosts. 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, however, has never had a problem with it.
Back in 2005, the British Cheese Board (this one, not this one) conducted a study with the hopes of ending this vicious schmear campaign against their beloved, cheesy products. Using an uncontrolled group, the board had its 200 participants eat 20 grams of cheese a half hour before bed and then report on their dreams. Only 67% of participants could remember their dreams and none of that 67% reported nightmares. CHEESE VICTORY.
Though none of the participants had full-blown nightmares, the cheese, depending on the type, did seem to have an effect on the types of dreams the consumer had.
From Dana Smith over at Mind Read:
From their conclusions, blue Stilton resulted in the most bizarre trips, affecting about 80% of participants and resulting in visions of talking animals, vegetarian crocodiles and warrior kittens. On the other end of the spectrum, Cheshire cheese produced the least memorable nights, with less than half of the participants being able to recall their dreams.
The BBC also reported on the study's findings, writing:
A few years ago there were reports that different types of British cheese gave people different kinds of good and bad dreams, though none of the study volunteers reported having nightmares as such. Stilton-eaters had bizarre dreams, fans of Red Leicester dreamt about the past, and those who ate Lancashire before bed dreamt about the future. If you want to dream about celebrities, apparently you should make Cheddar your bedtime snack.
Because the study was incredibly biased and relatively informal, none of this information is conclusive. You could eat all the cheddar in the world before bed and still never have that precious Tom Hiddleston encounter that you've been hoping for.
As Smith points out, not a lot of academic research has gone into cheese dreams and all of the reasons behind them (if they even exist) are still speculative. There are some theories, though. Like this one:
...the bacteria and fungal content in cheese, and in potent blue cheeses in particular, might be at the root of the increase in dream vividness. This is due to the potential psychoactive effects different compounds found in fungi, like tryptamine or tyramine, might have, influencing our brains' chemical systems and thus our state of mind.
In other words, your brain could actually be tripping on cheese although that's probably not the case.
There are numerous other types of foods that contain chemical compounds like tyramine and tryptophan affecting our neurotransmitter systems. This includes cured meats, egg whites and soybeans, none of which have the dream-producing reputation of cheese. So for now, it appears to be an untenable link between cheese specifically and these nighttime apparitions.
So basically, no one knows whether or not cheese causes crazier dreams than any other kind of food eaten close to bedtime. Personally, the worst dream I ever had was after eating a chicken salad sandwich at a diner at 4 A.M. and you don't hear me creating long-lasting myths about it. DO YOU, DICKENS?
But speaking of the power of cheese dreams:
Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese [Mind Read]
Image via Yellowj/Shutterstock.