When it’s getting close to bedtime, and you hear your stomach grumble, what do you do? Ignoring it isn’t always an option, since going to bed hungry will probably keep you awake. Chowing down on an entire sleeve of those chocolate mint cookies you stashed in the freezer isn’t a great idea either.
Even when you aren’t trying to watch your weight, late night eating can torpedo a whole day of good choices. It doesn’t have to, though. A light snack that provides a mix of healthy fats and protein can tide you over until morning without packing on the pounds or keeping you awake. In fact, choosing the right snack or drink before bed not only satisfies your hunger, but can also help you fall asleep.
If you find yourself staring into the refrigerator or cupboard trying to find something to eat at night, skip the chips and try one of these options instead. Not only are they packed with nutrients for relatively few calories, but they also contain sleep inducers like melatonin, tryptophan, and magnesium.
Dried Tart Cherries
In one study, drinking tart cherry juice from the Montmorency cherries in particular increased melatonin levels in the subjects and helped them get better sleep compared to those who drank a placebo. There’s nothing wrong with downing a glass of cherry juice to help you sleep, but if you’re hungry, try snacking on some dried Montmorency cherries. Enjoy them on their own, or mix them in with a cup of low-fat, low-sugar yogurt or sprinkle some on a bowl of cereal or oatmeal for a tasty melatonin boost.
Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, packing in 11 vitamins and minerals without a huge number of calories. They are also one of the best dietary sources of tryptophan, which helps spur melatonin production, as well as vitamin B12, which helps promote sleep. Try snacking on a boiled egg or two before bed; the protein will help you feel full, and the tryptophan may help you drift off. Try enhancing the flavor with some everything bagel seasoning, or pair your eggs with some crunchy veggies for an even more satisfying snack.
Like eggs, sunflower seeds are a good source of tryptophan, which converts into brain chemicals that help you sleep. Snack on a handful of shelled sunflower seeds before bed to help you fall asleep. The seeds are also a good source of antioxidants, as well as B vitamins and magnesium that support good blood flow and muscle contraction, which help you sleep better.
Nuts, in particular almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, naturally contain some of the highest amounts of tryptophan of any food, making them a great snack for boosting melatonin production. Nuts also contain magnesium, which is a natural sleep aid. Try snacking on some pistachios before bed; opting for the shelled version forces you to slow down so you don’t mindlessly eat a huge serving.
Or, if it’s more appealing, enjoy your nuts in butter form. Try spreading some peanut or almond butter on a banana or apple for a healthy, sleep-inducing snack. Bananas in particular are a good choice, as they also contain tryptophan and magnesium. Check the sugar content of any nut butters first, though, as many contain added sugars that will keep you awake.
Cereal and milk
Not only do high-glycemic carbohydrates (which don’t cause blood sugar spikes) like those in whole-grain cereals help you fall asleep faster, but milk has also been shown to help people fall asleep faster (explaining why warm milk is often recommended to help you get to sleep). A small bowl of cereal with milk creates the perfect combo so support sleep, but stick to low-sugar, whole grain cereals to prevent a sugar high, which will have the opposite effect.
A nice warm bowl of oatmeal is another high-glycemic carbohydrate snack that can help you get to sleep. Studies have shown that people who eat whole grain oats before bed fall asleep faster, most likely because of the carbohydrate content and the high levels of melatonin. Enjoy a small bowl of oatmeal with milk or some berries or chopped fruit to fill you up before bed and induce sleep.
When you’re looking for a late night snack, kiwi might not be the first thing you reach for, but they are a smart choice. In one small study, participants fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer when they ate kiwi before bed. Researchers believe this is due to the sweet fruit’s high levels of antioxidants and serotonin, which help you relax and fall asleep.
Not all foods that help you sleep are loaded with melatonin or tryptophan. Some, like figs, contain nutrients and compounds that spur natural processes to support sleep. Figs, for example, contain fiber that will fill you up, as well as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, all of which help you fall asleep by improving blood flow and muscle contraction. Plus, figs are naturally sweet, so they can satisfy any sweet tooth cravings you might have before bed.
Another food packed with nutrients to help you relax (high-glycemic carbohydrates, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, to be more specific), enjoying some sweet potatoes with dinner can help you wind down for the night, but they also make a great late night snack. Try whipping up some sweet potato toasts: Slice a sweet potato lengthwise into quarter-inch thick “toasts.” Cook them in the toaster or toaster oven until they are fork tender (not soft) and cool for a minute or two before adding some salt, everything bagel seasoning, some nut butter, a drizzle of honey, avocado, or any other topping you like.
If you just can’t resist something sweet before bed, reach for a square of dark chocolate. Not only does dark chocolate benefit your heart, but it also boosts serotonin, helping you fall asleep. Avoiding overindulging, or snacking on sugary milk chocolate or candy bars, which will keep you awake.
Whatever you decide to snack on before hitting the sack, make sure you don’t overeat, as this can keep you awake. Ideally, your snack should be 300 calories or less, just enough to curb your hunger and help you get a great night of sleep.