When it's getting close to bedtime, and your stomach starts to rumble, do you head to the kitchen and gorge on whatever you can find? Or do you go to bed hungry, only to toss and turn while you try to ignore the hunger pangs?
Although enjoying a full meal before bed isn't a good idea, that doesn't mean you need to forgo nighttime snacking. In fact, there is increasing evidence that noshing on a nutritious sleep-promoting snack before bed can help you sleep better while also supporting healthy cholesterol and blood sugar. Consider stocking your kitchen with these healthy pre-bedtime snack options, and enjoy better sleep.
The Qualities of a Sleep Promoting Snack
When you're choosing a bedtime snack, certain foods have the right balance of nutrients to promote sleep without wrecking your healthy eating goals. Choosing foods that are high in sugar and fat, for example, will both keep you awake and increase your risk of weight gain. By the same token, choosing a snack that naturally contains sleep-inducing chemicals like tryptophan or melatonin can help you drift off more quickly.
Ideally, your late-night bite should have a good balance of protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates, which can help keep you full without an excessive amount of calories. Snacks like whole grain cereal with low-fat milk, apples, and peanut butter, or Greek yogurt with nuts offer balanced nutritional content without spiking your blood sugar or causing weight gain. And as you'll soon see, each of these options contains nutrients that can help support you get some rest.
The Best Late Night Snacks to Help You Sleep
If you are looking for a balanced night time snack, consider some of these options:
• Almonds: Almonds are a sleep-inducing powerhouse. They naturally contain melatonin, which helps regulate your natural sleep-wake cycle, as well as significant amounts of magnesium, which helps support melatonin production.
• Bananas: Bananas are naturally high in serotonin, which supports the production of melatonin. If you're struggling to sleep,spread some almond butter on a banana. Delish!
• Cherries: Certain varieties of cherry, including Richmond and Montmorency, contain melatonin, as well as antioxidants that increase tryptophan production. Tryptophan helps make you sleepy. Several studies indicate that eating these fruits or drinking tart cherry juice can improve sleep quality.
• Herbal tea: Herbs such as valerian, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm are natural sedatives, and enjoying a cup of caffeine-free tea made with these herbs may help you get to sleep. At the very least, enjoying a cup of tea before bed can help you relax and prepare for sleep.
• Oats: Whole grains like steel-cut oats are packed with fiber, which helps stave off hunger, while also supporting melatonin production. If you're starving before bed, enjoy a small bowl of oatmeal with almonds. Be careful to avoid refined grains, though, which can reduce serotonin production, and in turn reduce your melatonin levels.
• Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are magnesium-rich -- one ounce of seeds provides a third of your daily recommended intake. Snack on a handful of delicious seeds, or sprinkle some on your oatmeal to naturally increase melatonin production.
• Turkey: Turkey may be an obvious choice for this list, as it's known to induce naps thanks to its high levels of tryptophan. Make a small sandwich with a few slices of natural turkey and whole-grain (not white) bread to help support healthy sleep.
• Warm milk: Grandma always recommended warm milk to help you sleep, and it turns out that she wasn't wrong. Milk contains both melatonin and tryptophan, which support sleep. As a bonus, you may subconsciously connect warm milk and sleep, so even just a small glass can have you feeling sleepy and ready for bed.
Don't Eat These Snacks Before Bed
Opting for a sleep-promoting snack can help you get plenty of rest -- and choosing the wrong food can keep you awake. If you struggle to sleep, avoid anything with caffeine a few hours before bed (this includes coffee, some tea, chocolate, and most carbonated sodas). Avoid eating anything too spicy before bed too. Spicy foods can give you an upset stomach and heartburn, which may keep you awake. And while you might think that alcohol's sedative effect is helping get to sleep faster, you're more likely to get poor-quality sleep and wake up repeatedly. Skip the nightcap, and enjoy your cocktail or beer a few hours before bed so the alcohol is metabolized before it's time to sleep.
There's no reason to ever go to bed hungry, but that doesn't mean you should mindlessly eat anything you can find. Be thoughtful about your nighttime snacks, choose foods with real nutrition that are known to support sleep, and make good choices to get the best sleep possible.