Ask Jeeves

I remember watching a TV show in childhood where a little redheaded boy and a girl with short blond pigtails lived in a mansion with their uncle and spent most of their time with their English butler. I always thought it would be cool to have an English butler, but back in Iowa, we didn’t have such things.

If you’re a regular blog follower of mine (thank you!), you’ll note that I’ve been processing a lot of “Mom material” since her death three years ago. In so many ways, she was the hub of the family wheel. She had her kids, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren believing she had an answer for every question. It’s true, she did. I don’t know if they were always accurate, but she had answers. I was married to a guy once who had a similar propensity for supplying answers to any question and citing the Readers Digest as his source.

Back to Jeeves. Since Mom is no longer around, to whom do I ask questions like, “does eating spicy food make you dream?” I treated myself to dinner at a local Ethiopian restaurant last night after a long work week. I tried the honey wine—truly a different taste sensation, sort of like beer and rubbing alcohol infused with honey, served at room temperature. Not as bad as it sounds. I know nothing about Ethiopian food, but love Moroccan cuisine, and figured it would be similar. I’ve always been an adventurous eater. Bravely, I ordered the combination plate with three different lamb stew tastes, one beef contribution, and a mini chicken (?) leg, along with an amazing stewed cabbage something-or-other, all eaten by scooping the food onto pieces of flatbread. Like with Moroccan food, they bring a warm fragrant towel for hand cleansing before the meal. I like eating with my fingers—it puts me in touch with my more primitive side.

After dinner I commented to the very solicitous waitperson that the food, while delicious, was much spicier than Moroccan. “Really?” he said, with arched eyebrows. “This is our very toned-down version, to please the local palate.” His smile said, “Lady, you think that’s hot, you’re just a plain old sissy.” Although I’ve never been prone to dyspepsia, I had some concerns about whether or not my digestive tract would survive unimpeded throughout the night. I did, of course, expect (and receive) an increase of hot flashes.

My stomach survived just fine, but OMG the dreams . . .

The whole night was filled with dreams of confusion, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, not finding what I was looking for, coming in at the end of an event that I was supposed to host, losing my direction, forgetting my script for a performance—on and on, until I woke up feeling more exhausted than when I’d treated myself to dinner after the long week.

Back to Jeeves. Since I couldn’t call Mom and ask her if this was a direct result of having eaten spicy food at night, I turned to Jeeves—the perfect (in my imagination) English butler with all the answers, even if I don’t have cute little blond pigtails.

“Hey Jeeves,” I typed in, “does spicy food at night make you dream?” And just like my mom, and just like my ex-husband, Jeeves had an answer for me:

“When and what we eat may affect our nighttime rest, if not our tendency toward bad dreams. A small study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology had a group of healthy men eat spicy meals before bed on some evenings and compared their quality of sleep on nights where they had non-spiced meals. On the spicy nights, the subjects spent more time awake and had poorer quality sleep. The explanation is that spicy food can elevate body temperatures and thus disrupt sleep. This may also be the reason why some people report bad dreams when they eat too close to bedtime. Though few studies have looked at it, eating close to bedtime increases metabolism and brain activity and may prompt bad dreams or nightmares.”

That’s probably more than Mom would have said. Her answer might have been more along the line of, “Sure does.”

So, if you have any burning questions and no one to answer them for you, I’ll lend you my English butler. He knows stuff. Just type in Ask Jeeves.