A Cheese Dream Journal.
A familiar situation: you’re in bed and as you wake up, you recall bizarre scenarios dreamt up the night before, way stranger than usual. Instinctively, you ask yourself—did I eat cheese last night? Along with oysters and aphrodisiacs, asparagus and pee, pineapple and jizz—cheese and dreams are another food-phenomenon pair that are well-known but scientifically dubious. The myth that digesting cheese can conjure up extra strange dreams, or nightmares particularly, can be traced back to as early as Charles Dickens’ time via A Christmas Carol. Other than literary fromage-homage, there has been one significant study conducted with 200 participants, with 67 per cent of participants recalling cheese dreams. However, this was not the most scientifically stringent study and was carried out by the cheesemakers themselves—the British Cheese Board. The science behind cheese dreams is also not that grate, and while cheese-sourced chemicals like tryptophan and tyramine have been identified as the curd-be culprits, the research is still incomplete.
From my own experience, although I have had my fair share of strange dreams (recently I had a sex dream about myself) and far, far more than my fair share of cheese, I failed to recall any particular dream that I could assuredly credit to cheese. However, the quaintness of the cheese dream myth is so charming that I badly want to brielieve that they are real, and that some of these dreams have risen out of steamy cheese fondues and the strings of mozzarella-drenched pizzas. So, as both an avid dairy consumer and an avid sleeper, I was overjoyed to embark on a week of cheese-sponsored slumber in search of the truth—and the best cheese for the job.
Night 1: Camembert
I begin the experiment with what I believe to be a healthy state of mind and body, though on the dream front I have been suffering from a drought of sorts, with the last dream that I can remember being over a week ago. My trusty dairy-constituted steed that I choose to help me ride out of the drought is a familiar wheel of camembert. Great for when you’re feeling a little bit fancy but know you have a crippling student debt, wheels of camembert usually find their way into my fridge on a fortnightly basis, in bodily rhythm with New World’s specials cycle. Fortnightly also appears as a reasonable length between extra peculiar dreams—could camembert be the cheese of my weird dreams?
In the British Cheese Board study, participants ate 20g of cheese 30 minutes before they went to sleep for the night. I am very happily eating my camembert with some crackers when I remember this and see that I’ve almost eaten half the wheel. This is how I very scientifically establish half a wheel of cheese, or about 75g, as the amount that I will eat each night for my study. For further scientific integrity, I use an episode of Lost as an accurate timer, with the beginning of an episode serving as ingestion cue, allowing 10 minutes for cheese enjoyment and 30 minutes later, bedtime at the end of the episode. However, on the first night, I only come up with this ingenious method already partway through a Lost episode so I end up watching two more episodes and go to sleep approximately two hours after eating the camembert.
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I start off dreaming that I am in a South Korea with sequined streets, though this quickly evolves into an exaggerated Wellington, where the hills are practically vertical and a lot of my dream consists of me trying to get somewhere by patting a vertical hill in a miserable attempt to get further up (not far from reality, actually). I remember the dream being in a purple wash and I have also written down on my bedside notepad what I make out to be the word “commune”, most likely referring to one of the many numerous mini-dreams that I have as I drift in and out of sleep before I fully awake.
The verdict: ★★★
The dreams that I can remember do not seem too strange—I had recently been in South Korea and live in Wellington so they are familiar locations, and struggling to walk up any slightly-angled surface is also very real. Also of note was how I woke up partway through the night, at a natural break in the dream, which is unusual for me. Furthermore, the camembert succeeded in breaking my week-long dream drought and although I couldn’t accurately remember their content, the many dreams I had right before waking up were fired off with an unusual vividness.
Night 2: Blue
Amongst those that I’d discussed this experiment with, the crowd favourite prediction for weirdest dream-creator was blue cheese. Indeed, some of the research into cheese dreams suggests that the fungal growth in the cheese may hold high concentrations of effective chemicals. Visually analysing the dark blue of the small wedge that I had bought, I found that the vein-like branches held the same mystique of tea leaves or lines of a palm—random, but governed by something higher. As I tried and failed to read my future in the wedge of cheese, I realised that this was the first time in a long time that I had bought blue cheese at the supermarket. Although I enjoy blue cheese, I prefer it in sauces and dressings than in pure solidity, hence its usual absence from my own fridge. However, due to my cheap and gluttonous disposition, solid blue cheese still enters my greedy body on a roughly fortnightly basis, courtesy of complementary cheese platters at various talks and gallery openings.
Once again, I bring up an episode of Lost to help time my experiment, and I enjoy how the outdatedness of the television show mimics the age of a fine wine that I could be enjoying with my blue cheese instead of the ready-salted chips I use as a pair instead. The experiment is going well until the last five minutes of the episode, which force me to watch another four episodes before going to sleep, thus going to sleep only slightly later than science intended me to.
I am hanging out with two friends in an unknown country when I meet a nice boy who has the most perfect voice in the world. We exchange telephone numbers and he calls me later to arrange a pizza date. Over the phone, his voice is even more impressive, and the dream-me is swooning, practically dribbling into the phone. There is then an intermission from Perfect Voice Boy and I am somewhere snowy with family members taking photos of the aurora borealis (though it could have been the aurora australis), and I leave via a flying balcony that I choose to dangle off rather than sit on. The dream then switches back to the pizza date, where the unnamed boy reveals that his parents left him when he was very young, and then he shows me a cupboard in his house that was made to the exact dimensions of a pizza box, and I wake up unsure if the pizza-cupboard was the reason he was abandoned.
The verdict: ★★★★
Once again, I wake in the middle of the night, just as I am dangling off the balcony above the clouds, and I find that I am even sweating. In terms of content, this dream sequence is a lot further from reality than the first night, notably Perfect Voice Boy and being seen in public with my whole family, but it is the realness of the dream environments that gives blue cheese high potency points. Even writing this a day later from scribbled notes, I can recall almost exactly how the places looked and felt to be in, and perhaps somewhat creepily (or prophetically), I feel I could still identify the nice dream boy’s voice if I were to hear it again in reality (okay, definitely creepily).
Night 3: Control
The third night is cheese-free to act as a control night in the experiment. Is it usual scientific protocol to have the control right in the middle? I’m not sure. Did I forget to nocturnally eat cheese because I had been watching Lost consecutively for eight hours that day? Definitely.
I found it hard to remember my dreams from the night before, though I do know that I had a few different ones that left a vague positive feeling waking up, though not weird. What I manage to remember is that I am at an assembly of some sort, and I am sad because I have no one to sit with, but then I realise that everyone else in the assembly is a child and then I leave, laughing as I exit.
There was a definite difference to my previous cheese dream nights, most notably in the difficulty of remembering much. This I would put down to the weak strength of the dreams, which could also be the reason I did not wake up at any time during the night. However, the sleep was still not dreamless.
Night 4: Feta
Its savoury, crumbly nature makes feta’s enjoyability quite different to other cheeses. It is very likely that you will find me eating a bag of grated mozzarella over the kitchen sink, but very unlikely you will find me doing the same with a block of feta. Because I quite enjoy eating cheese in the former fashion, feta is more of a monthly cheese for me.
I was also unsure how to eat the feta, since there weren’t any of the usual feta pairings (spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes) around, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a vegetable after 10pm. So, I decided that making a feta dessert would be a good idea and I crumbled up 70g of feta and drizzled on some honey and topped with raisins. This sounded very tasty in my mind, like a Poor Man Who Happened To Have A Block Of Feta’s baklava, but I was about to be disappointed.
While it seems illogical that by combining three delicious ingredients, all three are completely ruined just upon contact, this is exactly what happened. The feta was far too salty, the raisins were unpleasantly dry and the honey became bitter. The more the mixture sat in the bowl, somehow the honey became more watery. It began to look more and more unappealing—lumps of white and brown floating around in some yellowy liquid, the stuff of nightmares rather than dreams. In the name of science, I bravely ate as much as I could (which was basically all of it bar a few raisins), though very, very slowly across three episodes of Lost.
I dream that my mother tells me that I have a lot of dandruff, and when I rebuff her and run a hand through my hair, I am proven wrong. Like the crumbled feta that was poured into the bowl, clumps of moist dandruff poured out of my scalp, enough to make snowballs with. I feel nauseous even thinking about now, making it the closest I’ve had so far to a true nightmare.
The verdict: ★
Terrible dream material. It also took forever for me to fall asleep, struggling to do so even three hours after going to bed. The one dream that feta did stir up was absolutely disgusting, and if my horrible dessert idea hadn’t already, its metaphor as dandruff has put me off feta for quite some time. Although disgusting, the all-too-visceral nature of clumpy-feta-dandruff was incredibly vivid and should be noted in that area of success.
Night 5: Edam
Edam is the cheese I consume the most of by far. One of the more economical cheeses and incredibly versatile, big blocks of edam are a staple in my fridge, finding their way into sandwiches, melted toppings, sauces, or just gnawed upon immediately after purchase.
I don’t find myself getting ready for bed until quite late and quickly cut off a familiar block of edam and shovel it down like a savage, immediately before falling asleep. By now I am eating my nightly cheese less in Liz Lemon’s sing-about-it manner and treating it more like a hit of something, eager to get my daily dairy fix before another night-time high.
Shock horror! The night of edam is a dreamless night, and I soundly sleep straight through to this immediate moment. I try hard to remember any sort of fragment of a dream, but not even a vague linger is present. In a reverse to the norm, I go to the fridge to check that I did eat cheese the night before (perhaps I had only dreamt I ate the edam), but alas, there is an undeniable 70g-shaped square missing from the block of edam.
The verdict: 0
Is it worth giving e-dam about edam? It seems my new-found cheese junkie habits have perhaps led me to build up a defence to weaker, common cheeses as no dream-stirring qualities were to be garnered through edam. This recent spike in cheese bingeing, coupled by my usual steady edam intake (my body and brain could be already used to edam, nothing unusual to react to), mean that while this friendly and familiar cheese scores zero points for myself, my own habits could render this as an anomaly, and for others edam may be highly dream-potent. Nonetheless, I am very sad to find that my loyal cheese strain has nothing to offer.
Night 6: Quantity not quality
Following edam’s failure to yield any dreams, abuse of dairy came as no surprise. Disheartened, the final night involves a binge eating session of all the half-eaten blocks, wheels and wedges of cheese from the previous nights, about 600g in total (feta, however, remains in the fridge). With the rest of the cheese I make a not-too-shabby-looking cheese board, along with some sliced apples and crackers. Like some sort of cave-dwelling animal after a hunt, I drag the cheese board to my bed where many episodes of Lost are waiting for me and together we enjoy several hours of dairy ingestion and overly dragged-out storylines.
I start bingeing spitefully over edam’s inabilities and start to feel a bit queasy around an hour in, about a third of the way through the cheese. The remaining half-wheel of camembert is all gone; there is a smallish chunk of blue cheese left; but many large, overbearing slices of edam remain. Despite our little tiff from the night before, I find myself getting distracted by the television show and end up nibbling away most of the edam as well. As I begin to feel sleepy, I have probably eaten 500g of cheese.
I am at a Weezer concert (which is unusual because I had a dream about a Weezer concert not too long ago), and Rivers is telling people about a movie he is making. He explains how Keanu Reeves is in it but then a photo of John Cusack is projected behind the band instead. This appears to be out of confusion and not for comedic effect. Suddenly my dog is beside me and he is talking to me in my mother’s voice—it does not come across as disturbing but incredibly ordinary, almost annoying. At this point, I stir and it interrupts into a new dream where it is still the same Weezer concert but the venue has changed to a carpeted room.
The verdict: ★★
Surprise, surprise, overdosing on dairy is not a good thing to do before going to bed. I spend much of the night nauseously rolling around, trying to sleep while my stomach is trying to deal with my poor dietary decision. In my mind, all the cheese has teamed up together to form a “super ball” of cheese in my stomach, a large angry clump that refuses to be digested. I also feel quite thirsty but I am too lazy to get out of bed and also too scared of ghosts to go get any water, which furthers my insomnia. I estimate that I finally fall asleep around 4 or 5am.
However, when I do fall asleep I sleep soundly, only stirring shortly before I wake up. When I wake up it is almost 3pm, which is quite awkward because I was meant to meet a friend to see a movie at 1.30pm. For experienced dream interpreters out there, you may have already guessed that the appearance of my dog and mother were likely to have been absorbed through my dog and my mother trying to wake me up in reality. I text my friend and apologise profusely, blaming a cheese hangover and warning them about the dangers of too much dairy affection in bed.
The dream itself was remarkably easy to recall, even in my queasy, groggy state the next day. It was also the only dream of the week to have featured celebrity figures, and, once again, the worlds in which the dreams were set felt incredibly real. The most unusual part was probably the recurring nature of the Weezer concert, though whether this was a one-off event or if I will continue to dream about the band is unknown at this point. However, the 500g:70g ratio of cheese does not correlate to a similar ratio of extra dream-weirdness, which was disappointing.
From the experiment, I believe that it is safe to say that cheese does affect your dreams. While the dreams that I had on cheese were not particularly more surreal than my regular dreams, they were much more vivid and “real”, making them much easier to recall once awake. However, truly weird dreams seem to remain free and unharnessable by dairy, their source remaining a mystery. Another important discovery was how the quantity of cheese and weirdness of dream show a logarithmic relationship rather than a linear one, with 50–80g sufficient to entice a dream or two.
For your own prophetic and recreational use, eat blue cheese to predict future lovers, and binge on any sort of cheese for celebrity appearances. Camembert is more of a wildcard, but good for breaking any dreamless spells. Also, feta is not a good dessert. Finally, a cautionary warning for any dream cheese junkies: this experiment also suggests an adaptive tolerance to cheese and an entry-level cheese such as edam, in small amounts, is recommended as a starting point. Of course, this experiment only covers a small slice of the many different cheeses out there, and I encourage you to call upon your own favourite cheese before bed and see what snoozy adventure you have afterwards. Sweet cheesy dreams to all.