Burger King has let loose a new viral marketing campaign for their Halloween-themed burger, the Nightmare King, a burger that they claim will give their loyal customers a nightmare-filled sleep. The global fast-food chain has even carried out their own “clinical trial” on the effects of the burger to prove it increases the chance of nightmares.
While eating a green-bunned burger filled with beef, chicken, melted cheese, bacon, and mayonnaise just before you go bed may be enough to scare most people, there is barely any independent peer-reviewed scientific studies that argue specific food can alter the nature of your dreams. If anything, more evidence suggests that a healthy diet and eating less can actually result in more vivid dreams.
As per the company’s press release, the trial saw 100 participants eat a Nightmare King burger before they went to sleep. Their heart rate, brain activity, and breath were then tracked to see whether they were vividly dreaming. One guy reportedly dreamed about “aliens attacking”, while another had a nightmare about someone transforming into a snake.
Considering that 4 percent of the population experiences nightmares in any given night, they conclude eating the burger increased the chances of nightmares by 3.5 times. They attributed this to the burger’s "unique combination of proteins and cheese.”
Outside of this Burger King-sponsored study, there’s not much evidence to back up these claims.
A study in the journal Psychology Reports compared the dreaming habits of 50 people, some who ate healthy food and others who ate “junk food”. They found that the people who ate carb-rich diets with lots of fast food actually dreamed less than the group who ate a “high intake of organic food.”
The British Cheese Board were also pretty keen to dispel this myth of cheese causing night frights (and understandably so). In another non-peer-reviewed study with a vested interest, they asked 200 volunteers to eat 20 grams of hard cheese about half an hour before they went to bed. They reported that none of the participants experienced nightmares. In fact, most said they had a good night's sleep with pleasant dreams.
Other than this, science about cheesy dreams is pretty thin. As a general rule, you should always be a bit wary of industry-sponsored research into food or nutrition. A scientific review in 2007 found that nutrition studies that received industry support were four to eight times more likely to be favorable to the financial interests of the sponsors. Now that's scary!