ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Somewhere on the ripe frontier between science and sleep and a hunk of Cheddar cheese, we found our next guest.
Mr. NIGEL WHITE (Secretary, British Cheese Board): My name is Nigel White. I am secretary of the British Cheese Board. The misperception has been that eating cheese before you go to bed gives you nightmares. We wanted to see whether or not we could prove or disprove this myth.
BLOCK: And this is where science comes in. Tell us about the study.
Mr. WHITE: Well, we asked for a number of volunteers to eat a small piece of cheese about half an hour before they went to bed.
BLOCK: How small?
Mr. WHITE: Well, the amount of cheese was two-thirds of an ounce.
BLOCK: Not a lot of cheese.
Mr. WHITE: Not a lot of cheese. And the idea was that they would keep a diary of the type of sleep that they had, and also, if they did dream, could they remember what they dreamt about.
BLOCK: And what did you find?
Mr. WHITE: And they did this for a week, and we found that about three-quarters of everybody said that they slept well every night, and most of those people could remember the dreams that they had. So that was pretty encouraging. And the science of that, we think, is that there is an essential amino acid in milk called tryptophan. Now tryptophan is known to be something which is helpful in normalizing sleep and reducing stress levels. That seemed to make sense to us. What was really wacky was that the type of cheese that people were eating seemed to give them different types of dreams.
BLOCK: Oh, and this would be consistent? In other words, the cheese was the determinative factor here?
Mr. WHITE: Well, as far as we can tell. What we found was that those who were eating blue cheese, Blue Stilton, were coming up with some quite vivid dreams that I'm sure the sleep psychologists would have a field day with in terms of interpreting.
BLOCK: Can you share some with us, or are you bound by science cheese privileges?
Mr. WHITE: Yeah, I mean, one of the volunteers said that she dreamed of a vegetarian crocodile who was upset because he couldn't eat children. And another one dreamed that they had soldiers fighting with each other with kittens instead of guns.
BLOCK: I would think you could consider those two examples you just gave us bad dreams, no?
Mr. WHITE: Not nightmarish. I mean, nightmares are where you're being chased by somebody, you're about to be pushed off a cliff or you fall off a cliff or you get run over by a car. But these weren't scary; they were just wacky.
BLOCK: OK, well, that was Stilton. What other cheeses did you put to the test?
Mr. WHITE: Cheddar is the most eaten cheese in this country, and there seemed to be a theme there where the volunteers were dreaming of celebrities. We have another famous cheese called Cheshire. The people who ate Cheshire said they had nice sleeps, but they were dreamless.
BLOCK: Were you only testing British cheese here?
Mr. WHITE: Yes. And the other cheeses we did were Red Leicester and Lancashire. With the Red Leicester, it seemed to be very nostalgic dreams that people were having about things that happened in their childhood or with their families. As far as the Lancashire was concerned, they'd seem to dream about work. Actually, one even dreamed of being the prime minister of the country. Well, I can assure you it wasn't the prime minister who took part.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. White, thanks for talking with us about your research into dreams and cheese.
Mr. WHITE: Melissa, it's a pleasure.
BLOCK: Nigel White, secretary of the British Cheese Board. He admits he might have a vested interest in the study, but insists the science is good.
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