A person who wakes up during the dreaming phase of sleep is “closer” to the dream and will therefore recall it more vividly. As for late-night eating directly causing nightmares, small studies of individuals who ate immediately before sleep have not shown a consistent relationship.
However, nocturnal eating can interrupt your sleep in various ways, prompting recall of disturbing dreams by the mechanism described above. For example, eating a large meal, especially a high-carbohydrate meal, could trigger night sweats because the body generates heat as it metabolizes the food. Also, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), caused by lying down with a full stomach, may trigger symptoms that wake you up.
Eating late also has a possible health impact unrelated to dreaming: Increased calorie consumption–from eating snack foods in addition to the day’s major meals–can end in weight gain. There are certainly good reasons to avoid nighttime foraging.
If you are suffering from nightmares, speak with your doctor about possible causes, such as your mood or new medications. A bed partner may be able to provide additional history about your sleep habits. And even if that midnight snack is not to blame, there are other reasons to avoid it!
– William Kormos, M.D., Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch
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