Most sleep advice suggests not eating dinner too close to bedtime, but what to do you if find your stomach growling when you hit the sheets? While a full meal can keep you up due to indigestion, an energy spike, and even by raising your core body temperature, a light snack may actually be a good thing.
We now know that certain nutrients support dozing off, and often, going to bed hungry can make it hard to get comfortable and fall asleep. If you do forage for late-night nibbles, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your snacking doesn’t cut into sleep.
1. Mind Your Macronutrients
Carbohydrates consumed in the hours before bed reduce the time needed to fall asleep according to one study, especially with high glycemic foods like white rice. In the study, the most impactful result was with carbs eaten four hours before bed but it was also shown that if carbs were eaten one hour prior to bedtime, there was still a modest improvement in sleep quality.
Another study found that high fat diets may negatively impact rest, while other research has shown that special diets in general (low- or high-calorie, high-fat, low-carb, and others) may be associated with worse sleep.
For a good late night snack, aim for a small serving of carbohydrates, possibly with a little protein to keep you sated, but skip excess fat and greasy foods.
2. Keep It Light
Large meals take energy to digest, and some experts suggest that big meals too close to bedtime could contribute to or worsen acid reflux. Eating dinner four to five hours before bed (by 7 p.m. if you sleep at 12 a.m., for example) is generally seen as best, as is not overeating late at night.
If you are planning a before-bed snack, aim to eat about an hour before sleep and keep portion size small. If you’re watching your weight, factor the snack into your overall energy intake. As an example, one cup of cooked rice, one-half cup of cereal, a handful of crackers or one piece of toast represent a snack-size serving between 100 and 200 calories.
3. Make It Mild
Spicy foods are best left for breakfast and lunch, not late dinners or evening snacks. Anecdotally, you might recall a time when spicy foods or peppers led to a little heartburn or indigestion, and anything that affects comfort can affect rest.
One study tested the theory on young men, finding that mustard and Tabasco sauce eaten at dinner resulted in reduced slow wave sleep and longer time needed to fall asleep. One interesting thing they observed was an elevation in body temperature during the first stage of sleep. It’s been established that a drop in temperature precedes drowsiness and that cooler temperatures result in better sleep, leading the researchers to suggest that capsaicin affects sleep via increased body temperature.
Related: A 10-Minute Meditation for Deep Sleep
4. Choose Foods That Support Sleep
These eight snacks pair common ingredients that bring sleep-supporting nutrients without anything that might compromise your rest.
● Pretzels and Peanut Butter: Pretzels are a lower-calorie, high-glycemic carb that can satisfy hunger and most people find them easy on the stomach. Whole grain versions tend to pack a decent amount of fortified vitamins and minerals, but opt for unsalted when available. Pair with a satisfying partner like unsweetened peanut butter or even cottage cheese.
● Rice and Veggies: Microwave leftover (or frozen pre-cooked) jasmine rice with a handful of frozen mixed veggies, or pair it with a little lean protein. Skip the soy sauce (it contains tyramine, which increases alertness) and hot sauce (the spice might cause indigestion), opting for a squeeze of lime or little hummus instead if you need a flavor boost.
● Fresh Popcorn: Popcorn is a natural whole grain and a relatively healthy carbohydrate when homemade. Try an easy microwave method or use an inexpensive air popper. Avoid too much salt or butter close to bedtime, but feel free to drizzle on a little coconut oil for its sleep-supporting lauric acid.
● Small Sandwich: Use one piece of bread cut in half, or a small flat bread or wrap. Add in a serving of low-sodium turkey or tuna, baby spinach, tomato, a couple pickles, and cheese, if you like. Skip the onions and spicy condiments, though.
● Cereal and Milk: A glass of milk is an oft-suggested sleep-inducer, but there isn’t much research to back it up. A serving of low-sugar cereal provides carbs though, which are shown to help sleep. If you don’t do dairy, feel free to swap for an unsweetened nut milk of your choice.
● Banana Roll Up: This quick snack has carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Bananas are also rich in potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamin B6. All you need is a tortilla, a banana, and some nut butter (almonds and sunflower seeds are both rich in sleep-friendly minerals and melatonin).
● Yogurt and Granola: Yogurt is typically high in protein and low in fat, providing a good snack close to bedtime. Just be mindful of the sugar count (some can exceed candy bar levels), and swap for coconut or soy-based if dairy upsets your stomach. Lighter granola or cereal sprinkled on top adds a dose of carbs to keep you sated.
● Oatmeal with Flax: Oatmeal is a pretty easy to prepare, and it brings healthy carbs and minerals. Flax seeds offer melatonin and healthy omega-3s, and fruits like blueberries or bananas can add a little sweetness without giving a strong sugar buzz. You can also try savory oatmeal as well, seasoned with a little salt and olive oil.