Can Figs Cause Nightmares?

I’ve been trying to eat more low-carbohydrate foods at the suggestion of my friend who is a Registered Dietician. She says it will help keep my weight at a normal level, especially since I’m “getting up there in age.” Whatever. I do think it’s working, though; in fact I believe I’ve dropped a few pounds over the weeks. Some of my friends have commented that my body actually looks too small for my head and that I should add more bread to my diet. “Jesus, you look like you have Encephalitis,” commented Dr. John. The sad truth is that I have a pretty large head that makes me look strange – or maybe stranger at a healthy weight – so if you’re thinking I have Manorexia just forget it.

When I go to ______ Hospital I always stop in at the pharmacy first. It doubles as a convenience store so I buy a cup of coffee and a Power Bar to give me the most psychological energy possible for the patients. The cashier is a tall, blonde woman who wears garish rings and excessive neck bling while sporting nails longer than the file she uses to shape them. A true, stereotypical-looking New Yorker. Today she snapped her gum as she bagged my items. I see her almost every week and she’s always chatty.

“You know,” she said as she licked her fingers, preparing to count off dollar bills that would serve as my saliva-soaked change. “I ate figs last night. Those always give me really bad dreams.”

I’m fairly certain she doesn’t know I’m a Psychologist so the comment came as even more of a surprise than the inherent weirdness of it would suggest. “Oh?” I said. “That’s…too bad.”

“Yeah,” she said and pushed up on her beehive haircut, the way Flo used to do in the now defunct television show ‘Alice.’ “It happens all the time when I eat figs.”

So why do you keep eating them? “Maybe you’re allergic to them,” I said.

“Maybe. But my husband gets them too when he eats figs. Dates too.”

“Your husband’s dates get bad dreams when they eat figs?”

“No, when he eats dates he gets nightmares.”

“Do you get them when you eat dates as well?” I asked.

“I don’t eat those, but when I have prunes I have awful sleep experiences.”

I hear dream theories all the time and, knowing that they are just speculation, don’t put much stock in them. And while I don’t particularly enjoy talking shop outside the office, the women’s interest in the connection between food and dream patterns was admittedly intriguing.

“Do you mean to say that dried fruit is the cause of bad dreams?” I asked.

Her eyes widened, as if I just revealed who really shot JFK. “Yes! Yes I do! In fact, my first husband – a total prick, by the way – used to eat these dried cranberries and would wake up screaming like a banshee.”
I felt a tinge of pity at her oversimplification of how dreams work and some guilt at what was now a laugh at her expense.

The reality is that the interface of the subconscious, brain waves, human physiology and any other bodily functions involved in dreams will likely never be completed understood. It will remain a mystery, likely forever, despite what popular psychology books claim.

“The surgeons at this hospital are generally pretty stupid, but you…are a genius” she said.

“Actually I’m not a surgeon, I,”…a genius?

“You should write a book about dream analysis because I think you hit the nail right on the head,” she said.

“I think dreams are a lot more complicated than that,” I said. “And if not, there’s probably not a whole dream book there. More like a dream pamphlet.”

“Oh I think there’s plenty there. You could talk about raisins and apricots and…what are some other dried fruits?”

At this point I was running late for my first session and the intrigue of the conversation was wearing off. “I really should be going.”

Clearly miffed at my rejection of the next New York Times Best Seller, she said, “well, I’ll bet those sun-dried tomatoes cause horrible dreams.”

At that point the woman’s colleague chimed in as she counted pills into a small vial. “That’s a vegetable.”

“What?” the beehive-haired woman said.

“Tomatoes are vegetables.”

“Don’t be stupid. Even Big Head here knows tomatoes are fruit, don’t you?”

“Thanks for the conversation ladies,” I said, and walked out.

Save for the occasional anecdotal evidence from random people who connect specific foods and dream patterns, the woman is wrong beyond her personal experience. If her theory held any water the National Fig Growers would be out of business. Read any text on dream interpretation you want but the specific ways our brains function when we are asleep will be pure speculation for many, many years.

But she brings up a valid, more pressing question: do I need to eat more carbs so I stop looking like some disproportionate freak?

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13 Responses to “Can Figs Cause Nightmares?”

  1. Mel says:

    Dr. Rob–
    Is it possible that the nightmares is due to some sort of placebo effect? Maybe the checkout lady happened to have a nightmare after eating a fig and associated the two together since then?

  2. While I almost always have an opinion about everything, I’m stumped here. Since I don’t know how freakishly disproportionate your head is to your body, I can’t answer. I’ve never had that problem. And I’ve never had bad dreams from dried fruit. But, I would read your dream pamphlet. LOL

  3. Sandy says:

    You kind of made fun of annorexics…
    Dr Rob: please explain.

  4. marcia says:

    I was stumped on this one, too, and am almost embarrassed to admit I spent two days trying to come up with a rational reason why someone would get nightmares after eating figs. So here it is: Nocturnal hypoglycemia. Sugar jolt from dried fruit, followed by crash sometime later in the night. Nightmares are one symptoms of nocturnal hypoglycemia. (Don’t care if I’m wrong; at least I can stop obsessing now).

  5. Straw says:

    You’ll be fine as long as you don’t ask James Spader to borrow his sweater.
    I have the opposite problem. My head seems too small, like a witch doctor was in the middle of shrinking it and got bored.

  6. skib says:

    There is an easy solution to this problem. Go and see a head shrinker.

  7. Wayland says:

    We just need to get you on a muscle-building routine man. Make your body catch up to your head 🙂 All brains and no brawn. We gotta fix that. I wanna hurt your dietician.

  8. yekdeli says:

    You certainly are dismissive of this woman. There is a possiblity of something chemical causing these dreams. Molds like ergot and supplements like 5-HTP are known to be associated with nightmares. I, too experience nightmares when eating figs. I cannot be sure why, but I can count on this experience when I eat them. Odd. I’d be very interested in a chemical analysis of the damned things.
    And it isn’t related to glycemic levels…if I eat other sweet snacks, even close to bedtime, it doesn’t happen.

  9. Alice says:

    Dreams probably are more complicated than this, but sometimes these things are very simple too.

    Dates, figs, prunes etc are all well known to help with constipation because they “stimulate” the bowels. Perhaps an overactive digestive system keeps some people awake, wakes or half-wakes them up, or gets them dreaming when they’ve eaten too many figs?

  10. […] remember. Hell, they may even share this story at a party with friends one day: “I saw this big-headed guy bust out in song on the subway!” But is this going to be the focus of their day? Doubtful. […]

  11. Amy Tiffany says:

    I have been experiencing these nightmares myself from eating dried fruit and nut mix before bed. I think it’s the sulfites. It’s not funny. You could actually study this easily and find out. I eat 1/2 cup at night when my calorie count for the day is too low and I don’t have anything else easy to grab.

  12. Sally says:

    Funny, I’ve been having terrible nightmares the last couple of weeks and the only difference in my diet is having a date before bedtime! Perhaps this is the cause?!

  13. toni b. says:

    I just found this blog apon researching “bad dreams from eating cranberries before bed.” I had dried cranberries last night, along with bad dreams. And last time I had weird dreams, I drank cranberry-grape juice before bed