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Midnight snacks that won't mess with your sleep

Eating before bed gets a bad rap, but it can actually promote better sleep if you eat the right foods.

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Yep, cheese and fruit are healthy bedtime snacks.
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Many of us have been taught that eating before bed is a bad idea. But what should you do if you wake up in the middle of the night with a growling stomach, or you can't fall asleep because you were already hungry before bed? Or, sometimes you're just craving a snack while binge-watching Netflix, even if you're not that hungry. Whatever the reason for snacking, some bedtime snacks are healthier than others. 

"Bedtime snacks can be healthy and can help you sleep better," says Tony Castillo, a registered dietician and performance dietician at Nutrition for Performance. He says people who work out regularly and are active in particular can benefit, since you can add in nutrients that can help muscles repair and recover while you sleep. 

But there are some foods you may want to avoid eating before bed because they may disrupt your sleep. You'll want to avoid food that contains lots of sugar and processed carbs, since those can work against helping you get a good night's sleep. "The fast-digesting carbs could cause a boost of energy," says Castillo. 

Something else you'll want to avoid before bed? Spicy foods, since those can cause acid reflux, and no one wants to wake up to digestive issues throughout the night. Another common heartburn trigger is chocolate, because it's high in fat and contains other ingredients that can mess with digestion at night. 

Keep reading to find out what you should eat before bed and how some late-night snacks may even help you sleep better.

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Peanut butter and bananas or peanut butter on whole-grain, high-fiber toast are examples of balanced night-time snacks.

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Focus on high-fiber carbs and protein 

"I recommend a slow-digesting protein and high-fiber carbohydrate," Castillo says. "You want the slow-digesting protein to keep the muscle-building switch on while you sleep. You want a high-fiber carb because a fast-digesting carb can cause a blood sugar spike and keep you awake."

Slow-digesting and high fiber carbs are ones that tend to be easier on your blood sugar, helping avoid spikes or subsequent crashes. Examples of slow-digesting carbs are whole grains, oats, brown rice, fruits and veggies. Slow-digesting proteins include casein, which is found in dairy, such as yogurt and cheese, and is available as a protein powder. Peanut butter is also useful to eat before bed because it contains tryptophan, which helps your brain and muscles relax.

Healthy bedtime snack examples:

  • Protein shake 
  • Peanut butter and whole grain/high fiber bread 
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • Almond butter and fruit 
  • Cheese and fruit
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Almonds contain melatonin and magnesium, which can help you sleep better.

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Foods that help you sleep

Certain specific foods can promote better sleep, for reasons other than helping you feel full. Certain foods naturally contain nutrients that promote sleep like melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

Foods that can help you sleep:

When should you stop eating before bed?  

Besides snacking on healthy and nighttime-appropriate foods, you should also consider timing your snacks in a way that does not interfere with sleep. This can vary from person to person, but typically you will want to avoid eating immediately before falling asleep. 

"There are some individuals that can eat something right before bed and have no issues. Others may have to have a cutoff time of two hours [before bed] because eating the food may cause acid reflux," Castillo says. It may take some trial and error, but giving yourself room to digest before bed can help prevent problems.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.