Sometimes, you completely knock dinner out of the park, but still find yourself staring into the fridge an hour later looking for something to nosh on. You’re only human, after all—and the nighttime snack attack is a very real thing.
If you want to indulge your taste buds without messing with your sleep, though, not just any evening snack will do. Eating the wrong thing too close to bedtime can leave you tossing and turning. Here, health coaches and dietitians explain how certain foods impact sleep and share some solid after-hours snack options.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Robin Fischman is a certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Michelle Darian, M.S., M.P.H., R.D., is a registered dietitian with InsideTracker. Chris Henigan, R.D.N., is a registered dietitian with Simple Start Nutrition.
Foods That Can Negatively Impact Sleep
Whether by dysregulating your blood sugar or simply demanding too much of your digestive system, there are a couple of ways that the wrong foods can negatively impact sleep quality when eaten too close to hitting the hay.
Anything high in sugar is an obvious no-go. “High-sugar foods and drinks can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, which can disrupt the body’s sleep-wake cycle,” shares Robin Fischman, a certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. “The energy boost followed by a drop in blood sugar can make it harder to fall asleep and lead to nighttime awakenings.” Cookies, baked goods, sweetened beverages, and the like all fall into this category.
Meanwhile, super-salty foods high in sodium can dehydrate you enough that you may wake up in the middle of the night thirsty, according to Fischman. That means you will want to steer clear of the cheese puffs and potato chips.
Hard-to-digest foods (think anything fatty or fried) can also keep you from snoozing as your body works overtime to process them. “They can also increase the risk of acid reflux and indigestion, and this discomfort can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep,” Fischman says. Spicy and acidic foods can also contribute to reflux when eating too close to bedtime, shares dietitian Michelle Darian, M.S., M.P.H., R.D., of InsideTracker.
Alcohol is another across-the-board no-go, since it’s well-known to disrupt healthy sleep patterns, Darian adds.
Nighttime Snacks That Won’t Mess With Your Sleep
If you can, avoid eating at least three hours before going to sleep, suggests Fischman. However, if you’re hungry in the later hours, stick to whole foods and keep your eats as light as will satisfy you.
Beyond that, dietitian Chris Henigan, R.D.N., of Simple Start Nutrition, recommends snacking on something that combines carbohydrates and some protein. “This combo keeps blood sugars stable throughout the night,” he says. Here are a few good go-to’s.
1. Almonds And A Banana
Craving something crunchy? In addition to providing some protein, almonds are also a good source of magnesium, which can promote muscle relaxation and better sleep, explains Fischman. Just opt for the unsalted variety to keep your salt intake in check.
Pair your nuts with a sweet source of carbs, such as a banana, which also provides potassium, another mineral important for muscle relaxation. “They even contain some tryptophan, a precursor to the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin,” Fischman notes.
Looking for a cozy vibe? “A small bowl of oatmeal can be a satisfying and nutritious late-night snack,” says Fischman. (Oats are a decent source of both fiber and protein!) To keep it sleep-friendly, make your bowl using low-fat milk or water. Darian recommends add-ins like almond butter (for protein and magnesium) and a small amount of fresh fruit.
3. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) can be great at nighttime because they contain melatonin, which promotes sleep, suggests Henigan. To reap the benefits, you can chew on a handful of fresh or frozen tart cherries, sip on eight ounces of regular pure tart cherry juice, or mix an ounce of tart cherry juice concentrate into seven ounces of water 30 minutes before bedtime, Darian says.
To get that balance of carbs and protein right, consider pairing your juice with a handful of almonds.
4. Trail Mix
Those who love the crunchy-sweet combo can also play around with their own trail mix creations, suggests Henigan. One duo he loves: cashews and raisins. Generally, pairing some type of nut with some fruit creates a nice balance of healthy fats, protein, and carbs that will satisfy you without spiking your blood sugar. (That means it’s probably wise to skip the chocolate chips in your nighttime mix!) Other options to consider: peanuts, dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and goji berries.
5. Turkey and Whole-Grain Crackers
If you’ve got some turkey left over from lunch or dinner, transform it into a sleep-friendly nighttime snack by popping it onto some whole-grain crackers. “The whole grains provide a slow release of carbs, while the turkey provides protein and tryptophan to help increase levels of serotonin and support sleep,” Henigan says. It’s a good go-to for people who prefer something savory—and you can always keep some natural sliced turkey stocked in the fridge for this very reason!
The whole “warm milk before bed” thing might not appeal as an adult, but there’s a reason your mom gave it to you as a kid. “The classic warm milk is a great carbohydrate and protein combination that also offers calcium,” says Henigan. “It may help you fall asleep and support a more restorative sleep.”
If you’re into the idea of a mug of warm milk, go for it. Otherwise, swap in some yogurt, suggests Darian. Be sure to choose a variety that’s low in fat and added sugars to keep it balanced.
7. Whole-Grain Toast
Like oatmeal, whole-grain toast can be a good choice at night (it provides complex carbohydrates)—especially if you’re feeling extra hungry. Darian recommends topping your slice with nut butter and strawberry or banana slices for a boost of protein and sleep-supporting minerals.