A hearty, healthy alternative to sleeping pills
A big, delicious dinner leaves you pushing back from the table, loosening your belt and dreaming about bedtime. Nice on Thanksgiving but deadly for every day. Other than the need for expando-pants, the bigger the meal, the longer it takes to digest it, which will interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Sleep deprivation and obesity are epidemic in the United States. In our opinion, they’re unholy bedfellows who are much too cozy with each other. The later we go to bed, the poorer our food choices. If we’re already sleep deprived, we tend to reach for sweet and salty snacks during the day, which can lead to weight gain and increased risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
But what if your diet could help you sleep better, which in turn would help avoid weight gain? Sleep and diet experts suggest eating your biggest meal before midafternoon and enjoying a light evening meal of 500 calories or less. Chicken, fish or extra-lean meat will make you feel fool and curb middle-of-the-night munchies. Sounds easy, right?
7 ingredients for a meal that sets the stage for sweet dreams
While eating more earlier in the day sounds like a good idea, we often crave savory, flavorful meals at night as we reconnect with our loved ones and wind down from the stress of the day. So what can you eat at night that won’t kill your diet? Start with the ingredients below and then move onto our suggested recipe. Bon appetite and sweet dreams all at once!
- Begin with milk. Your mom was right when she nudged you to drink milk before bed. It’s loaded with the amino acid, tryptophan, which helps you produce melatonin and serotonin (both are necessary for sleep).
- Throw in some beans. One cup of soybeans provides your daily dose of tryptophan. One cup of cooked black, navy, lima, kidney or pinto beans and you’ve got half your daily intake. Don’t forget that beans are a great source of fiber and protein so you’ll feel full all night long. Pasta with edamame or maybe a bowl of chili, anyone?
- Grab some nuts. All nuts have a little tryptophan but walnuts take over-achieving to a new level. What’s more, they’ve got melatonin too. Sprinkle them on pasta or a salad for a flavorful crunch.
- Make a salad. Chop up some spinach, a vitamin B6 powerhouse that also contains tryptophan and calcium. Enjoy your spinach raw in a salad (with soybeans and nuts) or sautéed alongside your favorite fish. Of course a bedtime smoothie sounds good too!
- Find your fish. Cod, halibut, tuna, salmon and snapper are all good sources of vitamin B6, which promotes the production of sleep hormones. Fire up the barbeque and enjoy!
- Or maybe chicken. Chicken has more tryptophan than turkey and paired with rice or quinoa, provides a healthy balance of protein and complex carbohydrates to help you sleep better.
- Sweeten with cherries. Cherries (especially tart ones) contain melatonin and studies show one glass of tart cherry juice can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. But cherries and low fat ice cream might be more to your liking – delish!
Our favorite bedtime snacks
Not snacking after your evening meal is the goal – but going to bed hungry isn’t going to work either. If you must snack before bed, a smaller, milder snack that’s lower in fat and fiber likely won’t interfere with your sleep. Try something from this list and start sleeping better – tonight.
- String cheese. No recipe required! One serving delivers a delicious and balanced serving of protein and fat, the perfect combo to leave you satisfied for a good night’s sleep.
- Non-fat chocolate pudding in a cup. Chocolate is always appropriate and at approx. 90 calories per serving you’ll enjoy the party in your mouth – without any guilt.
- Bananas. At approx. 100 calories, these high-fiber gems are loaded with satisfying fiber and tryptophan. banana fruits isolated on white background
- Cereal. Grab a whole grain or bran cereal and enjoy a healthy, satisfying snack that’s low in sugar. For a delicious twist, enjoy your cereal with low-fat Greek yogurt that’s super-high in protein.
- Mini turkey sandwich. Turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a role in the sleep-inducing process. Load a thin slice of whole grain bread with a couple pieces of turkey and a pickle. Don’t forget the mustard.
- Small bowl of rice. Researchers say high glycemic index foods like rice can aid tryptophan and melatonin production, both of which are associated with better sleep. Unlike bread and pasta, which can disrupt sleep.
- ½ ounce of your favorite cheese. Cheese is high in fat but it’s also a good source of protein and can fill you up without making you feel over-full. Pair with a whole grain cracker for some added crunch.
- Savory popcorn. At just 30 calories a bowl, popcorn is the unsung hero of late night snacking. Sprinkle on some paprika or cinnamon to give your metabolism a boost.
- Trail mix. Stir in unsalted walnuts, almonds, cashews – whatever nuts you enjoy most – and mix with dried cranberries for a healthy, tasty treat.
- Banana smoothie. Blend milk and bananas and you’ve just gifted yourself with a healthy serving of magnesium and B6, which will help your brain produce serotonin (a relaxing neurotransmitter).
- Soup. Warm food is comfort food, which is perfect for a bedtime snack. Pick an easy-to-digest soup (butternut squash or broth-based ones like chicken noodle) and avoid tough-to-digest lentil or bean soups.
- Apple & peanut butter. Crunch into a yummy apple slathered in peanut butter, which is rich in protein. You’ll fill up without feeling like you just ate a 4th meal of the day. Less than 100 calories, depending on which brand of peanut butter you choose.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Reduce stress, sleep better
- Wake up happy without a prescription
- Is there a difference between weekday & weekend sleep?