Foods That Cause Night Terrors

A night terror is a sleep disorder and there are several reasons that can cause it. Night terrors usually occur in the night’s first half and they’re most common among kids between one and five years of age.

While the most common reasons behind night terrors are scary thoughts, sleep-disordered breathing, and negative everyday events, the food you eat can also lead to this disorder. Surprisingly, the list of these foods contains some items that most people consume regularly.

In this article, we’ll discuss all those food items in detail, along with effective ways to control night terrors.

What Are Night Terrors?

As mentioned, night terrors are a sleep disorder that wakes up a sleeping person in a terrified state due to a bizarre or disturbing dream. While nightmares and night terrors have similar symptoms, they usually occur during different sleep cycles.

Nightmares usually occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Motion/Movement) sleep cycle. On the other hand, a night terror usually takes place in the first half of the night. 

Night terrors can also take place during naps and they can also lead to sleepwalking. According to the Mayoclinic, the following are some of the most common symptoms of a night terror.

  • Screaming and sweating while sleeping or waking up
  • Confusion after waking up
  • Awakening from sleep suddenly
  • Persistent terror or fear at night
  • Unable to fully wake up
  • No recollection of nightmares or bad dreams
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty getting comfortable

Foods That Cause Night Terrors

It’s important to note that there are not many studies about night terrors. But the research we have shows that there is a strong connection between the food you eat and night terrors.

According to a study conducted at a Canadian University and published in Frontiers in Psychology, your diet and food choices can lead to night terrors and disturbing and bizarre dreams.

The study was conducted on hundreds of students. The researchers took the psychological function, sleep patterns, dream habits, and diet habits of students into account. Based on the responses that students gave, the researchers published a list of food that can cause night terrors.


Cheese is known as a comfort food that many people like to eat just before going to bed. While it’s linked with better sleep quality, it can lead to scary dreams.

Keep in mind that cheese contains an amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid increases the production of a sleep-causing hormone known as serotonin.

The National Library of Medicine states that serotonin can lead to lethargy, loss of motivation, and drowsiness, which can affect your sleep.

According to Charlotte Gupta, a researcher at Central Queensland University in Australia, eating cheese just before going to bed can disrupt sleep because it’s hard to digest. She believed that it’s one of the reasons why cheese and bad dreams are connected.

Therefore, it’s best to avoid eating cheese as a nighttime snack to minimize the risk of night terrors.

Read also: Can’t sleep after eating pizza

Hot Sauce

According to Doctor Charles Bae, Md, from the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, spicy foods just before going to bed can lead to high-stress dreams.

He explains that late-night snacks increase your body’s temperature and metabolism, which increases your brain activity and can change how dreams form while sleeping.

Eating hot sauce may be irresistible for some people but because of its negative effects on sleep, you should avoid eating it excessively, especially before going to bed.


You might find it difficult to believe but chocolate can actually lead to night terrors. In fact, sweets and chocolates are on the second number of the list published by the Frontier of Psychology.

Almost all types of chocolates, including dark chocolate, contain theobromine and caffeine. Both of these substances are linked with sleeplessness and high heart rate.

Additionally, the cut-off time for caffeine use recommended by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine is six hours before going to bed, especially if you have difficulty sleeping.

Caffeine and sugar consumption can also decrease your natural ability to experience deep sleep cycles throughout the night. Not only do they disturb your sleep but they also increase the risk of experiencing night terrors.

However, drinking warm chocolate milk can actually help promote sleep, so this may be an option for you if you need to get a chocolate fix before bed.

If you are interested in how sugar affects sleep, read our post Does sugar give you night terrors?

French Fries

The Frontiers of Psychology study shows that greasy junk food, such as French fries, led to disturbing dreams in 12.5 percent of students. Researchers also found that greasy foods can disturb the function of your digestive tract and it can make you wake up multiple times throughout the night.

According to the University of Queensland, Australia, junk food can lead to poor sleep quality, especially in teens. Not only is it bad for your sleep quality but it can also affect your health and cause obesity.

Foods Rich in Carbohydrates

Food items that mainly consist of carbohydrates, such as pasta, noodles, and bread, can cause chaotic dreams. They have a pretty much similar impact on your sleep quality as sugar.

That’s because your body converts carbs into glucose molecules and if your blood contains glucose in high amounts, it’ll lead to poorer sleep. The study shows that students who ate bread and pasta at nighttime experienced more night terrors.

So, you should limit the consumption of food items containing carbs or sugar just before going to bed.


Although bananas offer a range of health benefits and can help your body in multiple ways, they contain sugars in a high amount. Eating this food item just before going to bed can be problematic as it’ll keep your body active to perform digestion.

As a result, your sleep quality will decrease and you might wake up several times during the night due to night terrors.

You can also read our guide on the pros and cons of bananas for sleep.

Alcohol and Soda Water

The consumption of alcohol in a high amount can lead to worst nightmares and it can also give you severe headaches.

According to WebMD, excessive consumption of alcohol keeps you from getting REM and deep sleep cycles. It can cause stressful and intense night terrors because your body fails to give you a good night’s sleep.

The same is the case with soda water because of its high sugar content. Some students reported that they experienced night terrors even when they drank soda earlier and not just before going to bed.


Many vegetables contribute to night terrors. According to the same study, 6.3 percent of students reported that they experienced disturbing dreams when they ate carrots, beans, mushrooms, and peanut butter.

Whereas, 15.4 percent of the students said that they experienced bizarre dreams after eating the same food items.


According to the National Library of Medicine, high meat consumption can affect the natural sleep cycle and sleep quality, especially in older adults. The Frontiers of Psychology study shows that 12.5 percent of students reported that they suffered from disturbing dreams due to meat consumption.

The common meaty food items that caused night terrors among students include hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks.

Other Causes of Night Terrors

Night terrors are an undesirable and frightening experience during sleep and they can occur due to a range of different triggers. Other than the food items listed above you or your children can experience night terrors due to the following.

  • Disturbed sleep or sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety, depression, or stress
  • High body temperature or fever
  • Sleep-disordered breathing like sleep apnea
  • Sleeping in a new place away from home
  • RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome)
  • Certain medications, especially the ones that affect the patient’s CNS (Central Nervous System)
  • Recent surgery or anesthesia

Who is Affected by Night Terrors the Most

While night terrors are most common among children, they can occur in people of all ages.

Night Terrors in Adults

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, night terrors affect just 2.2 percent of adults. The frequency of this sleep disorder is even lower in older adults more than 65 years of age. It’s important to note that people who have a childhood history of night terrors usually experience this sleep disorder in their adulthood.

This problem typically occurs in those individuals due to some sort of sleep disorder, sleep deprivation, or stress. But just like children and adolescents, adults don’t usually have any recollection of night terrors once they wake up.

Night Terrors in Adolescents

The prevalence of night terrors among adolescents is higher than in adults but it’s much lower than in children. According to the National Library of Medicine, only 4 percent of adolescents experience night terrors.

Just like adults, adolescents with a childhood history of night terrors experience this problem. However, most of them outgrow these episodes when they reach adulthood.

Another study states that teenagers can suffer from sleep terrors because of a psychiatric disorder or trauma. Additionally, night terrors can also cause anxiety and depression in teenagers in certain environments and social settings, such as summer camps, and sleepovers.  

Night Terrors in Children

As mentioned, night terrors are most common in children with the age ranging from 4 to 12 years. However, a study published in Jama Pediatrics states that children about 1.5 years of age experience this sleep disorder most commonly. The study also shows that about 35 percent of children of this age suffer from night terrors.

Should You Wake Up a Person Experiencing a Night Terror

It’s normal if you want to calm a kid and make them comfortable while they’re having a night terror episode. You need to make sure that you stay close to them to keep them from falling from the bed or hurting themselves.

However, you should not try to wake them up as it can prolong the episode and stimulate a bodily reaction that can lead to an injury. Night terror doesn’t usually last very long, and you should wait so that your kid can go back to sleep again.

If your kid experiences night terrors regularly, make sure your child’s room is a secure place by eliminating potentially harmful things and closing windows and doors.

Treatment for Adults and Adolescents

If you experience night terrors on a regular basis, you should visit a sleep specialist as soon as possible. An experienced doctor will examine your body and read your history to help you identify if there’s an underlying medical condition causing this problem. They might also prescribe a sleep study to diagnose and evaluate your case deeply.

Treatment for Children

Any medical treatment isn’t necessary for children (less than 12 years of age) who experience night terrors. That’s because it’s common among kids and they automatically outgrow the episodes of night terrors as their central nervous system develops and they reach puberty.

You just need to make sure that you take care of your kid’s sleep hygiene because good quality sleep can reduce the frequency of this problem. Keep in mind that sleep deprivation is one of the most common causes of night terrors. So, improving the sleep quality of your child is the best way to address sleep terrors.

However, you’ll need to take your kids to a doctor if there is an underlying medical condition that’s causing night terrors. The doctor will examine your kid and provide you with a treatment plan to deal with that medical condition.

Important Note: Some children experience night terrors as a body’s natural response to some antidepressants and sedatives.

Natural Ways to Control Night Terrors

The following are some natural and effective ways to control night terrors.

Minimize Consumption of Refined Carbs

Limit the use of processed food containing refined carbohydrates in high amounts. They disturb the blood sugar balance and wake you up at night with a night terror. Focus on natural and whole food items that don’t contain processed or refined ingredients.

Try to eat food items that will slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream. It’ll allow your body to maintain your blood sugar levels and promote sleep quality.

Minimize Use of Gluten

According to a study, a gluten-free diet helps kids fall asleep easily and quickly. It also helps them stay asleep for a long time without experiencing interruptions.

So, if your kid is experiencing night terrors, consider giving them a gluten-free diet to help them with night terrors. You can use cakes rather than bread and courgette spaghetti instead of noodles and pasta.

Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods

According to the National Library of Medicine, magnesium can increase sleep quality and can even treat symptoms of insomnia. It’s relatively a new way to treat people with sleep problems and it can also help with night terrors.

If you experience night terrors and other sleep problems, then you might be suffering from magnesium deficiency. Therefore, you should eat food items rich in magnesium. Some of the most common food items that you can eat for this purpose include Epsom salt, dry beans, whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, and oat bran.

Limit the Use of Digital Devices Before Sleeping

The blue light that digital screens release can affect your sleep quality greatly, and this problem is more prevalent in kids. Make sure that you don’t use digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops before going to sleep. Not only will it prevent sleep deprivation but it’ll also decrease the risk of night terrors.

Read also: Is it ok to read a kindle before bed?

Regulate Your Bedtime Routine

Regulating your bedtime routine is another great way to avoid or minimize night terrors. Follow a healthy daily routine and make a habit of going to bed early. It’ll also help you get enough sleep so that your body can fully recover.

When to Consult with a Sleep Specialist?

As mentioned, you should visit a doctor if you or your kid experience night terrors, regularly. While night terrors go away automatically as kids reach adolescence, visiting a doctor should always be considered, especially if you experience any of the following:

  • A night terror leads to an injury or near an injury
  • You or your kid sleep talk or sleepwalk during a night terror episode
  • You don’t have a childhood night terror history and they started after adolescence or adulthood
  • Night terror episode takes place more than two times a week
  • You are sleep deprived or suffering from sleep-disordered breathing
  • You experience sleepiness during the daytime and find it difficult to be productive or even functional

In any of these scenarios, you should visit a sleep specialist and report your sleep behaviors and symptoms of night terrors. The doctor might call your partner to describe your condition during the episode.

It’ll help the doctor to understand if there is any medical condition behind your night terrors to treat the problem effectively.


Can Night Terrors Be Diagnosed?

Yes, it’s possible to diagnose night terrors. A sleep specialist will need to examine your medical history and perform a medical test, like EEG (Electroencephalography) or sleep study for this purpose.

Can Dairy Trigger Night Terrors?

Yes, dairy can trigger night terrors. According to the Frontiers of Psychology Study, dairy products caused disturbing dreams in 43.8 percent of participants and the percentage of bizarre dreams was 38.5 percent.

Conclusion: Foods That Cause Night Terrors

Night terrors are common in children but they can also occur in adolescents and adults. They can occur due to many reasons including sleep disorders, bad thoughts, negative daily experiences, and foods.

We hope this guide will help you understand the foods that cause night terrors and how to treat them. Make sure that you don’t make any changes in your daily diet without consulting with your doctor, especially if you’re already on some medication.