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Are sweet dreams truly made of cheese?

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese (Or Are They?)

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In cases where we’ve already covered something, we might link to what we wrote before, but will always be happy to revisit any of our topics again in the future too—there’s always more to say!

As ever: if the question/request can be answered briefly, we’ll do it here in our Q&A Thursday edition. If not, we’ll make a main feature of it shortly afterwards!

So, no question/request too big or small 😎

❝In order to lose a little weight I have cut out cheese from my diet – and am finding that I am sleeping better. Would be interested in your views on cheese and sleep, and whether some types of cheese are worse for sleep than others. I don’t want to give up cheese entirely!❞

In principle, there’s nothing in cheese that, biochemically, should impair sleep. If anything, its tryptophan content could aid good sleep.

Tryptophan is found in many foods, including cheese, which (of common foods, anyway), for example cheddar cheese ranks second only to pumpkin seeds in tryptophan content.

Tryptophan can be converted by the body into 5-HTP, which you’ve maybe seen sold as a supplement. Its full name is 5-hydroxytryptophan.

5-HTP can, in turn, be used to make melatonin and/or serotonin. Which of those you will get more of, depends on what your body is being cued to do by ambient light/darkness, and other environmental cues.

If you are having cheese and then checking your phone, for instance, or otherwise hanging out where there are white/blue lights, then your body may dutifully convert the tryptophan into serotonin (calm wakefulness) instead of melatonin (drowsiness and sleep).

In short: the cheese will (in terms of this biochemical pathway, anyway) augment some sleep-inducing or wakefulness-inducing cues, depending on which are available.

You may be wondering: what about casein?

Casein is oft-touted as producing deep sleep, or disturbed sleep, or vivid dreams, or bad dreams. There’s no science to back any of this up, though the following research review is fascinating:

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: food and diet as instigators of bizarre and disturbing dreams

(it largely supports the null hypothesis of “not a causal factor” but does look at the many more likely alternative explanations, ranging from associated actually casual factors (such as alcohol and caffeine) and placebo/nocebo effect)

Finally, simple digestive issues may be the real thing at hand:

Association between digestive symptoms and sleep disturbance: a cross-sectional community-based study

Worth noting that around two thirds of all people, including those who regularly enjoy dairy products, have some degree of lactose intolerance:

Lactose Intolerance in Adults: Biological Mechanism and Dietary Management

So, in terms of what cheese may be better/worse for you in this context, you might try experimenting with lactose-free cheese, which will help you identify whether that was the issue!

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