The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation XX.

Influence of Diet on Rest, Sleep and Dreams.

WHETHER man sleeps, eats, or dreams, he is yet subject to the laws of nutrition and to gastronomy.

Theory and experience, both admit that the quantity and quality of food have a great influence on our repose, rest, and dreams.

Effects of Diet on Labor.

A man who is badly fed, cannot bear for a long time, the fatigues of prolonged labor; his strength even abandons him, and to him rest is only loss of power.

If his labor be mental, his ideas are crude and undecided. Reflection contributes nothing to them, nor does judgment analyze them. The brain exhausts itself in vain efforts and the actor slumbers on the battlefield.

I always thought that the suppers of Auteuil and those of the hotels of Rambouillet and Soissons, formed many of the authors of the reign of Louis XIV. Geoffrey was not far wrong when he characterised the authors of the latter part of the eighteenth century as eau sucree. That was their habitual beverage.

According to these principles, I have examined the works of certain well known authors said to have been poor and suffering, and I never found any energy in, them, except when they were stimulated by badly conceived envy.

On the eve of his departure for Boulogne, the Emperor Napoleon fasted for thirty hours, both with his council and with the various depositories of his power, without any refreshment other than two very brief meals, and a few cups of coffee.

Brown, mentions an admiralty clerk, who, having lost his memorandum, without which he could not carry on his duty, passed fifty-two consecutive hours in preparing them again. Without due regimen, he never could have borne the fatigue and sustained himself as follows:— At first, he drank water, then wine, and ultimately took opium.

I met one day a courier, whom I had known in the army, on his way from Spain, whither he had been sent with a government dispatch. (Correo ganando horas.)

He made the trip in twelve days, having halted only four hours in Madrid, to drink a few glasses of wine, and to take some soup. This was all the nourishment he took during this long series of sleepless nights and fatigues. He said that more solid sustenance would have made it impossible for him to continue his journey.


Diet has no trifling influence on sleep and dreams.

A hungry man cannot sleep, for the pain he suffers keeps him awake. If weakness or exhaustion overcome him, his slumber is light, uneasy and broken.

A person, however, who has eaten too much, sinks at once to sleep. If he dreams, he remembers nothing of it, for the nervous fluid has been intercepted in the passages. He awakes quickly, and when awake is very sensible of the pains of digestion.

We may then lay down, as a general rule, that coffee rejects sleep. Custom weakens and even causes this inconvenience entirely to disappear. Europeans, whenever they yield to it, always feel its power. Some food, however, gently invites sleep; such as that which contains milk, the whole family of letuces, etc., etc.


Experience relying on a multitude of observations, has informed us that diet has an influence on dreams.

In general, all stimullkt food excites dreams, such as flock game, ducks, venison and hare.

This quality is recognised in asparagus, celery, truffles, perfume, confectioneries and vanilla.

It would be a great mistake to think that we should banish from our tables all somniferous articles. The dreams they produce are in general agreeable, light, and prolong our existence even when it is suspended.

There are persons to whom sleep is a life apart, and whose dreams are serial, so that they end in one night a dream begun on the night before. While asleep they distinguish faces they remember to have seen, but which they never met with in the real world.


A person who reflects on his physical life and who does so according to the principles we develop, is the one who prepares sagaciously for rest, sleep and dreams.

He distributes his labor so that he never over-tasks himself, he lightens it and refreshes himself by brief intervals of rest, which relieve him, without interrupting its continuity, sometimes a duty.

If longer rest is required during the day, he indulges in it only in a sitting attitude; he refuses sleep unless he be forced irresistibly to use it, and is careful not to make it habitual.

When night brings about the hour of repose, he retires to an airy room, does not wrap himself up in curtains, which make him breathe the same air again and again, and never closes the blinds so that when he wakes he will meet with at least one ray of light.

He rests in a bed with the head slightly higher than the feet. His pillow is of hair; his night cap of cloth and his breast unincumbered by a mass of coverings; he is careful, however, to keep his feet warm.

He eats with discretion, and never refuses good and excellent cheer. He drinks prudently, even the best wine. At dessert he talks of gallantry more than of politics, makes more madrigals than epigrams. He takes his coffee, if it suits his constitution, and afterwards swallows a spoonful of liquor, though it he only to perfume his breath. He is, in all respects, a good guest, and yet never exceeds the limits of discretion.

In this state, satisfied with himself and others, he lies down and sinks to sleep. Mysterious dreams then give an agreeable life; he sees those he loves, indulges in his favorite occupations, and visits places which please him.

Then he feels his slumber gradually pass away, and does not regret the time he has lost, because even in his sleep, he has enjoyed unmixed pleasure and an activity without a particle of fatigue.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51