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There's a reason your brain is firing like crazy after a big, spicy meal.
Let's say you go out to an Indian restaurant and order some classic Americanized favorites: naan bread, samosas, saag paneer and a vindaloo with a Kingfisher beer. That night, you have you have insane dreams—you're running naked through the town square, you're about to take a test but you never studied for it, your teeth are falling out. It's awful. What's to blame? The spiciness of the chicken dish? The fried triangular pastry? The booze? Or the sheer sheer magnitude of the food consumed?
While no one will commit to saying "science has the answers!" Emmanuel Mignot, director of the Stanford University Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, offered his insights in a recent article at the Wall Street Journal.
First, there is no proof that spicy foods give you fantastic dreams. What does happen, though, is that your body's temperature rises after ingesting, say, a lot of chiles, and that overheating probably keeps you up at night—you wake in the middle of dreams and thus you remember more of them. They're not wackier than usual; you're just catching them in a lighter sleep stage. People who sleep well usually don't remember their dreams, according to Minot..
Second, studies suggest that certain proteins induce more dreams. Some amino acids turbocharge your deep REM sleep, when wild dreaming happens. "Amino acids in food can be metabolized ... into active brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine," Mignot admits. But there are no rules about which foods make your dreams happy, sad, funny, or Kafka-esque. Jot down what you ate before you go to bed and look for patterns.
Finally, it is indeed the act of overindulging—stuffing your gut with way too much food—that causes you to sleep poorly and to wake up in the midst of dreaming. If you like the experience, continue eating late at night with wild abandon and pile on the peppers. To escape the people running after you when you're naked, eat less and eat earlier. And try asking for "mild" instead of "hot as possible."