Industry groups fund studies to prove cheese doesn't cause nightmares

There's a common bit of folk wisdom that claims ingesting cheese before bed can cause you to have weird dreams, nightmares, and even night terrors. In an effort to combat this myth, the cheese industry has been funneling money into poorly conducted (albeit pretty entertaining) scientific studies.

Top photo by _gee_ via flickr

Dana Smith writes about one such study over on Scitable:

A study conducted in 2005 by the British Cheese Board attempted to debunk this claim by giving 200 participants 20 grams (roughly 0.7 ounces) of cheese 30 minutes before they went to bed and asking them to record their dreams and quality of sleep. In the study, 67% of participants recalled their dreams, and none reported the presence of any nightmares, something the Cheese Board is calling a win.

Instead of night terrors, the researchers report that the cheese resulted in pleasant nighttime fantasies in most individuals. They even went so far as to test the varying effects different types of fromage had on an individual's dream-state. 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 study makes no mention of either a control group or a placebo, making this attempt at debunking what is probably an old wive's tale, anyway, basically worthless. As Smith writes, "there's no empirical evidence that it was actually the cheese causing these effects and that it was not just the natural sleep state for these individuals." Though that seems unlikely, too. Dreams, after all, tend, on the whole, to be pretty unpleasant places. According to the UC Santa Cruz website on dream research:

Since its publication, the Hall/Van De Castle system of dream content analysis has been used by many different investigators in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, and Japan. Hall himself applied it to dream reports collected for him in four Latin American countries and by anthropologists in many different preliterate societies. All of these studies, incidentally, showed there was more aggression than friendliness, more misfortune than good fortune, and more negative emotion than positive emotion in dream reports from all around the world; when these dream reports were compared to those from industrialized nations, the similarities far outweighed the differences.

More on the crummy science of cheese dreams – including the one academic paper that makes reference to them – over on Scitable.