Burger King claims that its “Nightmare King Burger” will give you bad dreams.
Halloween is almost upon us. And with it comes the nightmare-inducing marketing gimmicks that flood the airways and internet before every American holiday.
This year Burger King has upped the wooden stakes by creating a late-night meal so ghoulishly frightening that it will induce more nightmares than a Walking Dead marathon.
To back up their claims, the fast-food chain released the results of a study that asked 100 people to eat this limited-release sandwich every night for ten nights before nodding off to sleep.
Cue the mad scientist music.
The results show that eating the Nightmare Burger before bed increased the rate of nightmares 3.5 times, compared to the general population.
The new Burger King sandwich includes one-quarter pound of beef, a crispy chicken fillet, melted American cheese, thick-cut bacon, mayonnaise, and onions on a green sesame seed bun.
Dr. Jose Gabriel Medina, a sleep medicine specialist and the study’s lead researcher, said in a press release that the combination of proteins and cheese in the sandwich is behind the rise in disturbing dreams.
But are these Nightmare Burger claims for real, or is it just another marketer’s bad dream?
Tore Nielsen, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Montreal, pointed out that the Burger King “study” has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“So any conclusions about the Nightmare Burger’s effects on dreams should be taken with a grain of salt,” he added.
He said he would have liked to see more details about the research, such as how “nightmares” were defined and whether people in the study were already having bad dreams before they ate the burgers.
Well-designed studies take these kinds of things into account, as well as try to control for other factors that may bias the results — like which dreams you remember.
“If the dream content is very good or very frightening, we will recall it better because we may make more of an effort to incorporate the content into our memory upon awakening. If we have a boring dream, we are more likely to return to sleep quickly and not recall it,” said Dr. Peter Fotinakes, a sleep medicine specialist and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California.
A few peer-reviewed studies — most of them small, pilot studies — have found that food may affect your dreams.
“So far, subjects’ self-reports would suggest that food can affect dreams and nightmares — at least some people say they are aware of such an effect,” said Nielsen.
In a 2015 study that Nielsen and his colleague published in Frontiers in Psychology, 17.8 percent of nearly 400 undergraduate students reported that their dreams were affected by the food they ate or by eating late at night.
The most commonly blamed food was dairy. But some students also pointed their fingers at sugary, spicy, starchy, and meaty foods.
The students only reported on “bizarre” or “disturbing” dreams, so it’s possible that food may also induce other kinds of dreams, like ones involving sex, flying, falling, eating, or drinking.
Dairy has long taken the rap for bad dreams — remember Scrooge blaming a “crumb of cheese” and other foods for his ghostly visitors?
To counteract this reputation, in 2005 the British Cheese Board released the results of a study looking at the effect of cheese on dreams.
They found that people’s dreams varied with the type of cheese they ate before going to sleep. For example, people who ate cheddar seemed to dream more of celebrities.
But no nightmares.
Like the Burger King study, though, this one wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In his paper, Nielsen gives several possible reasons for why food is blamed for altering your dreams.
Nutrients in food may actually affect your dreams, or your sleep quality, which can impact dreaming.
Also, food allergies or intolerances — such as lactose intolerance — or difficulty in digesting a particular combination of proteins might disrupt sleep and dreams.
Nielsen said that people may even blame their bad dreams on food they ate recently, when another reason might be behind the nightmares, such as an upcoming exam or relationship troubles.
A lot can leak from the real world into your dream world, not just food.
“Dreams often contain bits and pieces of many different things, things from our memory, things that are preoccupying our conscious thought and any external stimulation that may be occurring during sleep,” said Fotinakes.
Then there’s the power of suggestion, fed by hundreds of years of cultural beliefs that food affects our dreams.
A recent example is The Simpsons episode, “Treehouse of Horror II,” where Marge warns Homer, Lisa, and Bart that they’ll have nightmares if they eat too much candy on Halloween — which they do.
Combine all of these factors and you have a recipe for nightmares.
“If you eat something that irritates digestion and causes more arousals during the night, and if you eat it thinking you will have a bad dream and it’s near Halloween, then you may be more likely to have a nightmare,” said Fotinakes.
Burger King has released a new burger they claim will induce nightmares, complete with a supposedly scientific study. Food experts are skeptical but think that it’s very possible what we eat may influence our dreams.
They caution the power of suggestion extends all the way to the food advertisements that you see each day, so it may be more about the burger ad than the burger itself.
“In the case of the Nightmare Burger, in particular, the marketing of the food as nightmare-inducing, the strange combination of ingredients, or the awful green color of the burger bun may all be influencing people who try to eat it,” said Nielsen.
And if there’s a “scientific” study to back it up, you may well be on your way to the nightmares that your mother warned you about.