So the other night I had a really weird, really vivid dream. Among other things I dreamed I was lying in a hospital bed waiting for some treatment and watching a movie. I remember a scene in the movie where a guy goes to see a play, so I was dreaming I was watching something in which someone is watching something and if the Alice In Wonderland reference weren’t so obvious I’d be tempted to say it was almost like going down a rabbit hole. I told a friend of mine the next morning and the first thing he asked was, “Are you being paid to eat Stilton?”
This was a reference to something we talked about a couple of months ago. I don’t remember which one of us heard about it first but the website sleepjunkie had a study and was looking for “a team of five ‘dairy dreamers’ to experiment on the impact that eating cheese really has on our sleep quality, energy levels and whether it increases the likelihood of nightmares”. And they offered to pay each volunteer $1000 which, seriously, sounds like a dream job to me.
My friend thought of Stilton cheese because there’s a long anecdotal history of that cheese causing especially weird dreams and that’s what we both thought of when we heard about the study. I wonder if any blue cheese could cause weird dreams, though–maybe the mold that makes the cheese blue stirs up something in our guts that intensifies our nighttime experiences. The fact that food can have an effect on dreams is something people have known about and talked about probably as long as we’ve been having dreams.
The funny thing is I didn’t have any cheese that night. A couple of hours before I went to bed I had a piece of banana bread and a small glass of skim milk. Is that what did it? Who knows? That’s the problem with the sleep study. One of the problems, anyway. Dreams are very subjective and most get forgotten by the time we wake up, or soon after.
Another problem is there are so many things that can influence dreams. I used to have night terrors which are as fun as they sound. It’s been about fifteen years since I last had one. Why’d they stop? Why did I have them in the first place?
No one’s even sure why we dream. One idea is that they’re our brain’s way of processing memories, shifting them to long-term storage. For Freud and Jung they were wish fulfillment and a way of dealing with anxieties, or causing anxiety.
Maybe dreams are just something that happens. We give them whatever purpose we need them to have. And I told my friend the cheese-and-dreams study should have stuck with brie or camembert because there couldn’t be any hard conclusions.