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Meat, sleep, dream, don't repeat

Pork chopLast night I arrived home from work>gym>massage at 10:30 p.m. Famished, I reheated a leftover pork chop and sautéed portabellas and scarfed down the makeshift meal in mere minutes. By 11 p.m., I was fast asleep. Then, around 2 a.m., I suddenly jolted awake, completely panicked and terror stricken. After a few long, painful minutes of disorientation and confusion, I realized I’d been having a nightmare—a truly scary, hits-too-close-to-home phantasm.

I’m one of those lucky (or unlucky) people who vividly remembers her dreams and can usually retell them in precise detail the next day. I’ll spare you the gory particulars of this one, but I will tell you that even as I sit here typing right now, I’m still slightly unnerved by its events. So why am I sharing this story? Because I strongly believe that delectable pre-slumber pork chop had something to with this. And this wouldn’t be the first time.

Flash back a few decades to my early childhood. My parents fed me what they thought were balanced meals, taking into account what was convenient to cook and not grimace inducing to an insanely picky kid. Hence, a favorite and oft-served supper consisted of margarine-topped noodles, iceberg lettuce drenched in Catalina dressing, and either Polish sausage or Oscar Mayer Beef Smokies. When I was really little, say 3 or 4, bedtime often came soon after dinnertime. And after a while, my parents noted a strange, unsettling correlation: Whenever I ate processed “meat” for dinner, I’d have horrific, tear-inducing, scream-causing nightmares. That prompted the passage of a new household law: No more suppertime sausages for Melaina.

Hot dog on a stickI remember feeling crushed (told you I have a vivid memory) that my fave dinner was now off-limits and repeatedly pleading my case. But my parents wouldn’t budge and allowed me to eat sausage only for breakfast or lunch. The result? No more nightmares.      

As I grew older, such steadfast rules obviously began bending and waning, and more grown-up protein sources like steaks, chops and chicken took sausages’ spot on my plate next to the wagon-wheel pasta and crisp, pale-green salad. To work around three kids’ soccer schedules and still dine together, we sometimes ate late. And while I was too caught up in my teenager-ness to really care or do much about it, meat before sleep still equaled nightmares.

In my adult life, I eat much more healthfully, both in terms of what I put into my body and when. But I’m not perfect. I admittedly don’t always eat organic, I love heavily seasoned steaks and chops off the grill, and my busy schedule—especially this time of year when daylight lingers long enough to allow for a 6- or 7-mile hike following a full workday—sometimes pushes dinnertime closer to Nightline. Sho 'nuff, a few times throughout the last few months, I’ve suffered the same late-night-meat-feed-sparked consequence of some pretty horrendous dreams.

So what is it about meat that spells trouble for slumber? I don’t experience nightmares when I eat vegetables or really any other type of food post-sunset, and given my long, scary history, I know meat’s the menace.

So this morning I did a little slapdash reporting, basically Googling around to see if meatmares have been dished about online or if perhaps they’re even a well-documented phenomenon. Guess what? They are. Obviously, I need to up my reporting ante a bit, maybe make a few phone calls, talk to a few nutrition experts, but my admittedly amateur digging at least proves I’m not crazy.

While some of the chat sites and threads I perused suggested that the sheer act of eating too late may be the culprit, I found others that outwardly outed meat—saying its fat content, its digestion challenges, and—this one really got me—its hormones can be the cause. Makes sense to me.

Now, I know damn well that hormones are completely avoidable by choosing organic meat—therefore, I should know better than to select non-organic cuts when I do. I mean, seriously, for all the other health problems hormones can pose, bad dreams hardly even register as a real issue. But, like I said, I’m a long way from perfect, and sometimes it takes something to strike some chord significantly close to home before you really embrace a concept.

As a part of the natural products industry, I always feel a bit naïve and like the last one to the party whenever I personally discover side effects or consequences of conventional foodstuffs that my colleagues and cohorts have known about for decades. But hey, me 'n' my meatmares show that, even if lessons come later than they should, it's never too late to teach an old meat-hound new tricks.

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