Once upon a darker time, I met weekly with a psychoanalyst. She practised the distinctive Jungian style of analysis that looks to dreams for insight into the unconscious mind. The problem was, I almost never remember my dreams. Instead, I wake to a mind full of dirty dishes and no leftovers: nonsensical fragments, polluted dreamscapes and visitations from the departed that rouse me with an aching heart and a vacant longing. So I was a rather dull study for a shrink interested in tackling less suppressive sleepers.
Then, last week, I had the dream to end all dreams and woke with a crisp recollection of every weird detail. Desperate to understand it before I forgot/stopped caring/died because I ignored some mysterious encoded omen, I reached out to friends who might help me interpret it.
What happened in the dream was: I had to cook dinner for Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha Bernays, while my parents hosted in my childhood home. The awkwardness of the set-up was perfect. I became fixated on a main course of aubergine dumplings (to my memory, I have never eaten an aubergine dumpling), but grew increasingly anxious about its preparation, first because of the thinness of the dough – or lack thereof – and then over finding the right cheese for a creamy white sauce the dish was inexplicably going to be drowned in later.
The low point of the dream unravelled in a huge, Utopian dressing room. There was reggae playing somewhere – and I hate reggae – while I tried to pull together a Mr and Mrs Freud-appropriate look. But my entire wardrobe, which in reality is almost exclusively black, contained only neon yellow, green and orange smocks. Despondent, I hid in the wardrobe, boycotted dinner and starved the Freuds and my poor parents. It wasn’t just the mother of all dreams, but the Oedipus complex.
It seems fairly self-explanatory that eating rich food before bed can cause indigestion, which disturbs sleep and disturbed sleep can cause unsettling dreams, which you’re more likely to remember upon waking if your sleep was disturbed. The imagination is compelling, forceful and persuasive. It can activate, animate and destroy just about any act of conscious and unconscious thought. The subconscious mind works even more subversively.
The myth that eating cheese before bed causes nightmares can be blamed on ornery Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Scrooge attributed his nightmares to eating a “crumb of cheese” before bed. Research has led to no such association. Amazingly, though, a study commissioned by the British Cheese Board implied that different types of cheese inspired different types of happy, feel-good dreaming.
There’s also a theory that cheeses higher in the amino acid tryptophan will induce a sounder, more relaxed sleep. Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, crucial for a healthy sleep cycle. All animal proteins contain it but turkey is the one that gets referenced most often (even though chicken contains more tryptophan and is a lot easier to find).
I had eaten the better part of a fat turkey’s haunches at Thanksgiving dinner the evening before my Freud fantasy in Neverland, so I take the whole freaky thing with a grain of salt and try to watch the sugar and caffeine after lunch. And maybe I’ll Google my old Jungian analyst and see if she’s still around.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico