Can Sugar Cause Nightmares?

I boast the biggest sweet tooth. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have passed it to my son. It is unfortunate particularly during Halloween or parties as consumption of sugary things such as candy, skyrockets. With the surge in sugar intake comes difficulty in sleeping and/or remaining asleep. Nightmares also tend to be common upon her indulgence with too much sugar.

The happenings made me do some research on the relationship between sugar and nightmares. From my extensive research comes this comprehensive piece. Read on.

The effects of sugar on our health are excellently documented in this study. Healthline, a reputable platform for matters health also lists the detrimental effects of sugar comprehensively in this article. While we know that too much sugar can affect our health severely, the million-dollar question is can it affect the quality of your sleep?

Dreams are one of the ways our brains work through vague encounters. However, it can be alarming when the string of scary vivid visions and random nightmares becomes common. Could it be because of the food or drinks you take? Could the sugar-rich dinner-treat or even dessert that you consume be what informs your nightmares.

Can Sugar Cause Nightmares?

Can Sugar Cause Nightmare
Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

Yes, sugar can facilitate the occurrence of nightmares!

According to research published in this journal, researchers did a study on some students to ascertain whether there’s a relationship between dreams and diet. It was established that 31% of the subjects experienced disturbing and bizarre dreams after taking cake and cookies.

While we are into snacking before bed by taking things such as chocolate bar, biscuits or cake, it is prudent to avoid these. Some of the things we consume not only contain high sugar levels but they are also rich in caffeine that will also keep you awake in addition to giving you nightmares.

Although there is no concrete evidence to suggest that sugar is the major cause of nightmares, I can authoritatively state that from my research, sugar has a role, whether minimal or otherwise, to play in our dreams.

One of the connections between nightmares and sugar is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition can inform temporary changes in brain chemistry. The changes can cause the occurrences of strange dreams.

Confusion, sweating, and shakiness are some of the telltale signs of hypoglycemic.

Hypoglycemia and Nightmares

So how exactly does hypoglycemia cause strange dreams (read nightmares?

When your brain senses that you are low on glucose, it does strange things to try to restore glucose in the bloodstream. One of the ways it does this is via adrenaline spurts. Do weird feelings characterize your vivid dreams? If yes, chances are high that it emanates from issues related to blood sugar.

You can solve the issue by incorporating more protein into your meals. Protein, according to this study, has a way of regulating your glucose levels as you sleep making sure you rest peacefully.

Is All Sugar the Same?

So do all sugary foods and drinks boast the effect on our sleep? Often, the word ‘sugar’ entails everything from added sugar present in processed candies and beverages to natural sugar contained in vegetables and fruits. Nonetheless, does the sugar present in broccoli bring with it the same effect like the one in a cream-filled doughnut?

Although various sugar forms have almost the same effects when it comes to our levels of blood sugar, they differ in their processing within the digestive system.

Note: Simple sugars like fructose and glucose that are present in beverages, fruits, and foods tend to be processed faster or rapidly compared to other sugar forms.

Complex ones are hard to break down and difficult for the system to absorb. What this means is that the complex ones boast a lesser impact on our blood sugar levels.

As we have already established earlier in our article, low sugar levels can play a role in the occurrence of nightmares.

The rule of thumb, as we shall learn in the next section, is to maintain optimum constant nighttime wakeups. This study also paints a picture of the important nature of having appropriate sugar levels in the body if you want to enjoy a restful sleep.

The sugar contained in vegetables is the healthiest glucose form. This is because vegetables aren’t high in the glycemic index. Foods high in the glycemic-index are notorious is promoting spikes in insulin which results in a dip in levels of sugar. It can also result in adrenaline rush at night as you sleep.

Other forms of sugar that are healthy to the body and your sleep are ketones present in coconut oil and MCT oil.


Of great importance to note is the fact that a good number of low-fat foods bring with them more sugar and calories compared to their full-fat versions.

For this reason, it is prudent to consume more whole foods as well as cooking from scratch. Doing this can go miles to reduce the intake of sugar.

While our bodies do not recognize calories or sugars from drinks similarly from food, it is prudent to avoid drinking sugar-rich, popular drinks like fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sodas. These usually contribute to such a huge chunk of your day-to-day sugar intake. As we have already established, it is prudent to take fresh fruits or baked fruits containing cream.

Another thing you need to do is replace your beloved sugar treats with those rich in fiber. According to this study, fiber plays a big role in restorative sleep. Treats with rich in fiber content are great at enhancing slow-wave and deep sleep. This is through the body’s metabolic activity as well as preventing your sweet tooth’s cravings.

Therefore, moving forward, make sure you include fiber-rich meals in your evening meals to promote peaceful sleep and sweet dreams.

The Relationship Between Sugar, Blood Glucose and Sleep

Our bodies are designed in such a way that they desire sugar. Part of the reason we crave sugar is that it is one of the major sources of energy. It acts as the fuel our bodies require for daily activities especially the vigorous ones.

how much sugar to consume per day
Image Credit: American Heart Association

Although sugar plays such an important role in our bodies, consuming inappropriate levels can be quite harmful. The AHA (American Heart Association) opines that we need to consume 37.5 grams (men) and 25 grams (women) per day. If you are diabetic, obese, and overweight, the prudent thing would be to avoid sugar as much as possible.

When you consume too much sugar, your body stores the excess in the cells resulting in elevated blood glucose levels. Regular consumption of sugar results in a spike in blood glucose meaning that cells will be unable to absorb the extra. This translates to more secretion of insulin by the body and causes ‘crash.’

Some of the effects of constantly changing blood sugar include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Constant urination urge
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Fluctuating levels of blood glucose decrease the quality of your sleep. It ‘removes’ you from a deep sleep and takes you into the light sleep phase. What does this mean? It means that you become more prone to environmental disturbances. Additionally, you will not enjoy sleep’s restorative benefits.

Failure to enjoy deep sleep means that your body is unable to handle important repair works. This can gravely affect your digestive and immune system.

Of great importance to note is that inconsistent blood glucose levels in the body inhibit melatonin production. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, helps your body to not only wind down but also enhances the feelings of sleepiness. Too much sugar will thus result in a restless night.

A drastic drop in sugar levels not only upsets adrenals but also enhances cortisol (stress hormone) production. When stressed, the quality of your sleep is affected severely.

How Sugar Causes Insomnia (Explained Further)

Do sudden wake-ups characterize your nights? Often experiencing difficulties being awake throughout the night? If yes, chances are high that you are experiencing an imbalance in blood sugar. What you need to know is that our bodies normally depend on blood sugar (read glucose) for energy particularly at night.

At night, the brain is active not only storing memories but also making repairs.

Consuming foods rich in carbohydrates or sugar gives the blood a boost hence making you enjoy bursts of energy. Taking such foods right before bedtime will make you grapple with being awake at night because of the high levels of energy.

Our blood sugar levels tend to drop at insulin performs its functions. Because of this, we might experience a sugar crash that makes you feel sleepy. When you reach this point, you’ll fall asleep. Although it sounds like incredible news, it might be the beginning of a vicious cycle.

When the blood sugar levels drop and you are finally asleep, the drop continues and can go to insanely lower levels. At low levels, the body tries to make up naturally by releasing the stress hormones from your adrenaline glands. The two stress hormones bring back the sugar levels to ideal levels.

The sad reality is that they can also trigger your waking at night. Because the body has changed the glucose into energy, hunger might make you wake up as the body desires for something. In most instances, you’ll wake up to grab a snack and the cycle continues every day if you do not take proper care of the meals you take.

Some of the indications of low sugar levels in the body include intense sugar cravings, the heavy reliance of caffeine for energy, lack of appetite in the morning, and energy crash in the afternoons.

You can avoid insomnia by doing some things during the day. They include watching the levels of starches, carbohydrates, and sugars you take. It is also prudent to consume protein-rich breakfast. Finally, yet importantly, you can be consuming small portions of meals every 2 – 4 hours. During this period, take some healthy fats or protein. Doing this goes miles to stabilizing the body’s blood sugar levels.

When Do Nightmares Become a Disorder

In most if not all instances, negative feelings like fear or anxiety characterize nightmares. While common with children, they affect folks of all ages. Often, nightmares start at 3 – 6 years old, decreasing at around 10 years. In teenagers, nightmares affect girls more than boys, at least according to this study.

Occasional nightmares should not be alarming. Nightmare disorders are relatively rare. Doctors term nightmare disorder parasomnia.

For a nightmare to turn out to be a disorder, it has to be characterized by constant disruption of sleep, distress, and challenges with daytime functioning. It can also be termed as a disorder if the episodes are longer than normal.

In summary, the following are some of the situations that paint a picture of nightmare disorder:

  • Daytime low energy, fatigue and sleepiness
  • Frequent occurrences
  • Problems functioning in social situations, school or work
  • Behavioral problems associated with darkness-phobia or getting to bed
  • Memory or concentration problems (failure to stop thinking or remembering images from dreams)
  • Major impairment or distress during the day

If the above-mentioned issues do not seem to subside, it is prudent to seek medical attention. Consult your doctor if the issues persist for a long period.

Other Causes of Nightmares Apart from Sugar-Rich Foods/Drinks/Snacks

We have already established that taking sugar-rich foods/drinks/snacks facilitates nightmares. Several other factors can trigger nightmares. They include:

Scary Movies

With some people, watching frightening movies or reading scary books, particularly before bed can trigger nightmares. If you or your young ones grapple with nightmares as a result because of this particular reason, it is prudent to avoid watching or reading scary movies and books respectively.

Other Disorders

Mental health disorders like depression and psychosis are associated with nightmares. This is according to this study. It is also possible to experience occurrences of nightmares if you have medical conditions like cancer or heart disease.


Drugs for combating conditions such as blood pressure, depression, smoking, and Parkinson’s disease can trigger nightmares. Withdrawal from substance abuse can also facilitate the happening of nightmares.


Nightmares are highly common after traumatic events such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, injuries, or accidents. The same is true with folks with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

Anxiety or Stress

Today’s busy and chaotic life schedule as well as day-to-day challenges such as stress at school or home can cause nightmares. For instance, when you lose a close friend or family member, it is common to have nightmare episodes. When you experience anxiety, you are at a higher risk of experiencing nightmares.

Nightmare Foods

Apart from sugar, there is an array of other foods that are strong triggers of nightmares. According to this 2015 study, respondents reported experiencing bad dreams because of the food they consumed.

Some of the strongest triggers in terms of meals include:


Cheese is one of the most notorious nightmare foods. The relationship between nightmares and cheese has to do with the latter’s difficulty to digest nature. Because the body has a hard time digesting cheese, it means you will be awake for the better part of the night. You will always find yourself within the REM sleep state for longer. It is in this phase that you tend to experience more and more vivid dreams

Therefore, if you want to avoid those unsavory dreams, it is prudent to avoid taking cheese.


Nightmares can be nastier and scarier than a terrible hangover! Taking alcohol before bedtime can make you to not only find it challenging to enjoy deep sleep, it can also cause stressful dreams and nightmares.

Too spicy foods

This study opines that spicy foods affect the quality of your sleep. So that curry that you like to take before bed should be a thing of the past if you want to do away with the constant nightmares that keep characterizing your sleep. Just like cheese, the body has a challenging time digesting spicy foods.

The study discovered that when you add Tabasco sauce to your dinner, it is possible to grapple with disturbed sleep at night. Another reason that can inform the nightmares is because of the resultant rise in temperature to the body. A rise in temperature somewhat disturbs brain activity resulting in a nightmare.

If you insist on taking spicy foods, it is prudent to take your meal around 6 hours before hitting the sheets.

Pasta and Bread

Don’t we all love carbs? Starchy foods such as pasta and bread are notorious for causing nightmares. The main reason for this is the fact that they change to glucose meaning they can spike the amount of blood sugar causing instability in the body. Because of this, you can put up with nightmares. This study established that pasta deprived you of good sleep quality. The same is true with bread.

Also Read: What to Do After a Nightmare: Know The Root Causes

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