The two-week Middlesex University study, commissioned by the British Cheese Board, saw 25 students consume 30g portions of five popular British cheeses - Mature Cheddar, Blue Stilton, Red Leicester, Wensleydale with Cranberries, and Somerset Brie - and a non-dairy placebo on alternate nights an hour before going to bed.
A questionnaire, devised in cooperation with sleep expert Professor Ian Hindmarch from the University of Surrey, was then used to gauge the effect of each cheese sample on sleep quality and dream content.
Just six dreams out of a possible 156 were reported as "being disturbing or violent", while four people confessed to having erotic dreams.
On the whole, dreams were reported to be "more lifelike or realistic, with the most popular themes being work, family or friends," said the British Cheese Board.
“We’re pleased that our cheese and dreams study has set straight the age-old belief that eating cheese before bed provokes nightmares," said Nigel White, secretary, British Cheese Board.
"We hope going forward that this will reassure the nation and encourage them to enjoy a cheesy bite before bed, with the added comfort that this is likely to lead to a good night’s sleep with enjoyable dreams, rather than a night terror.”
Inhibitive to dreams
The myth was popularized in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge lays the blame on cheese during a ghostly visitation.
“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are,” Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmases Past in the 1843 novel.
Contradicting the myth, Middlesex University researchers discovered that participants experienced fewer dreams than normal after eating cheese.
Samples of Mature Cheddar proved particularly inhibitive to dreams, they reported.
Those who consumed the Somerset Brie before bed were found to be more likely to experience "abstract dreams about love and relationships", while those that ate Red Leicester an hour before going to sleep were more likely to report "colorful or vivid dreams."
Better night's sleep
The results of the two-week study also indicated that cheese may in fact give some people a better night's sleep.
The 25 student participants, who were urged to avoid large quantities of alcohol during the study, were asked to describe the quality of their sleep on a scale of one to 10, with one being "unenjoyable" and 10 "extremely enjoyable."
An average score of 5.9 was reported across the board. An average of 5 was reported by those that ate the non-dairy placebo.
This, the Middlesex University researchers claim, indicated that participants slept slightly better after consuming cheese.
Sleep expert Professor Hindmarch said that this finding could be attributed to a certain amino found in cheese.
“Tryptophan, one of the amino acids found in cheese, has many positive effects on mood and sleep," said Hindmarch.
"It could well be that the different effects of various cheeses on dreams and sleep found in this study are due directly to the effects of this substance. Overall, this study suggests that in changing the levels of tryptophan, cheese can assist in improving our mood and help to promote a good night’s sleep.”