Why is it such a big deal to grab some grub late at night?
It’s late and you’re tossing and turning, craving that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer or a double chocolate cookie on the counter. The whole problem started innocently enough. Maybe you skipped breakfast and then went light on calories for lunch and dinner. By 8 pm, you were hungry. By midnight, you’re standing in front of the fridge eating everything in sight.
Squashing the urge to satisfy cravings post-bedtime can keep us awake and cut into sleep time. But while your stomach might be urging you to go for it, how do those extra sugars and carbs affect your future sleep – and body?
Midnight snacking & how digestion affects sleep
Our bodies are programed to perform multiple functions at the same time, but sleeping and digestion aren’t comfortable bed partners. For starters, our gastrointestinal track operates best when we can use gravity to help the process. Heartburn is most often triggered when we eat and then lie flat for sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lying horizontal instead of sitting or standing means your stomach has to work much harder to keep its contents contained. Heartburn once in a while is manageable but if it’s a regular occurrence in your life, you might want to rethink your dietary choices before bedtime.
Just like Grandma said, when it comes to food, nothing good happens after 10pm. Late at night, people rarely make smart food choices. Instead we reach for our comfort foods, which means they’ll likely be devoid of nutrition and high in saturated fats or sugar. The American Journal of Nutrition reports that people who eat more at night tend to have a higher body mass index and eat 12% more calories than daytime snackers. Late night eating can quickly become a habit, which can lead to rapid weight gain.
If you’re opting for snacks instead of sleep, you might have low melatonin, trigging a cascade of health issues. Studies show nighttime snackers are more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and insomnia. Part of the problem is the way digestion interferes with the production of melatonin, a hormone released by the pineal gland. Melatonin is necessary for healthy sleep patterns, including falling and staying asleep. If you eat too late at night the release of melatonin is disrupted, which affects your body’s ability to cool down – necessary for sleep.
But remember, that all nighttime snacks are not equal. A bigger meal will take longer to digest than a light snack – the fuller your stomach is, the longer it takes to digest what’s in there. And some foods take longer to digest than other foods. If you must snack before bed, a smaller, milder snack that’s lower in fat and fiber likely won’t interfere with your sleep.
3 foods to avoid before you plan to sleep
If you spend your evenings grazing on these foods, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy a bounty of sleepless nights.
- Your body metabolizes it at lightning speed, which can leave you dehydrated and tossing and turning throughout the night.
- Chocolate. Anything high in sugar may spike your blood sugar levels, which is not at all restful.
- Spicy anything. Spicy food can cause heartburn, a backflow of food particles and acid from the stomach into the esophagus.
3 midnight snacks to help you sleep
Modern science has identified some awesome snacks that will not only fill you up but also help you sleep better.
- Oatmeal. Carbohydrates release serotonin, calming the brain to help you relax and fall asleep quickly.
- Milk. Always does the body good and contains an amino acid (which can help induce sleep) known as tryptophan. Milk is also a melatonin superstar – an added bonus.
- Nuts. Natures protein contains magnesium, which has a calming effect on the brain and promotes better sleep.
Our favorite midnight snacks
- 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:
- 10 simple ways to get a better night’s sleep
- Heart health, sleep and how you can live longer
- Wake up happy without a prescription – sleep aids for a better night’s sleep