In a perfect world, a filling, nutrient-rich dinner would keep you satisfied throughout the night. Sometimes, though, this is not the case: You may feel a bit peckish before bed, and that’s A-OK! It’s important to listen to those hunger cues, rather than curl up in bed counting down the hours to breakfast. As clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., also known as ‘The Sleep Doctor’ says, “You don’t want to go to bed full, but you also don’t want to go to bed hungry.” Consider it a case for a modest bedtime snack.
However, not all snacks are created equal. Of course, there are those that can rile you up and keep you from reaching high-quality sleep (sugary sweets and junk foods), while others contain just the nutrients you need for a deeper snooze. Below are a few expert-approved sleepy-time snacks for any late night craving.
1. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are rich in melatonin, the hormone produced naturally by the body that’s essential for sleep. One randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study even showed that participants who drank tart cherry juice had increased melatonin levels, which in turn improved sleep quality and sleep duration. Another randomised, double-blind, pilot study found that tart cherry juice was just as, if not more, effective at managing insomnia than both valerian and melatonin products.
You don’t necessarily need to have a juicer on-hand. “Buy tart cherries and have them as a snack,” says Uma Naidoo, M.D., board-certified psychiatrist, professional chef, and author of This Is Your Brain On Food.
2. Avocado On A Rice Cake
According to Breus, the perfect bedtime snack emphasises carbs, with about “70% carbs and about 30% either fat or protein.” Although, he’s not talking about a piping bowl of pasta, whole, complex carbs stimulate the release of serotonin, which actually converts to melatonin in the brain’s pineal gland. As for the protein and/or fat, that’s what keeps you satiated all night long, so you don’t wake up in the middle of the night to spiked blood sugar levels.
“What I like to tell people to do is take a couple of slices of avocado and put it on a rice cake,” Breus notes. “That’s a perfect snack.” Or, if you have more of a sweet-tooth craving, you can swap the avo for a spoonful of almond butter.
Registered dietitian Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, likes to whip up a batch of crispy, whole roasted chickpeas to snack on before bed. For a couple of reasons: First, chickpeas fall under the complex carbs umbrella, which again can stimulate serotonin.
Chickpeas also contain high levels of magnesium, which has been shown to support restorative, deep sleep, specifically by maintaining healthy levels of GABA—a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and a good night’s rest.
Finally, chickpeas are naturally chock-full of tryptophan, the amino acid that’s a precursor to serotonin.
4. An Omelet
A candidate for breakfast-for-dinner, Naidoo recommends you “Have an omelet at night.” That’s because eggs contain a significant amount of melatonin (which can help you fall asleep faster and longer), as well as L-ornithine, an amino acid that has been shown to help improve sleep quality. Feel free to throw some veggies into the scramble as well—asparagus and broccoli are also rich in melatonin.
If you’re experiencing hunger pangs before bed, don’t ignore them! As experts will tell you, it’s best to listen to those cues (assuming you’re not attempting a fast) so the blood sugar kick won’t wake you up in the middle of the night. A quick, no-fuss bedtime snack is key, and some can even enhance the quality of your sleep.