In an ideal world, we would all eat a hearty, healthy dinner and then a few hours later, we would curl up in bed and sleep all night, our stomachs perfectly full until the next day. The reality is more complicated. Whether we stay up later than we should, eat a small dinner or we’re hungry without a good reason (it happens), a lot of us end up craving a bedtime snack. What you choose to eat before bed could impact your weight over time, along with your ability to sleep soundly.
So if you know that skipping a bedtime snack will leave your stomach rumbling, what should you reach for?
A rumbling stomach at night is your body’s way of telling you that it’s craving more calories and nutrients. So you should aim to eat foods that give you the most nutritional bang for your buck without being high maintenance. That’s what makes walnuts such an excellent option. The nutritional profile of a walnut is plentiful, contributing to calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, protein and heart healthy fats like plant-based omega-3s. Because walnuts hit on so many helpful nutrients, research has found that consuming walnuts can help stave off Type 2 diabetes and other cardiometabolic risk factors.
Besides being delicious, bananas can actually help you fall asleep. Bananas contain potassium, which is a natural muscle relaxant, helping to aid in a good night’s sleep. They also low-key have tryptophan, which not only improves mood but can assist in a restful night’s sleep. One thing to note is that bananas do contain a decent amount of sugar, at about 15 grams per banana. While too much sugar can disrupt sleep, the sugar found in a banana is natural and will have less of an effect on your blood sugar than refined sugars. And bananas have enough other benefits to still make it a worthwhile bedtime snack — and one that’s unlikely to disrupt your sleep. That being said, if you’re particularly sensitive to sugar, you might want to skip this one.
Let’s face it: Most of us crave something sweet before bed. You can’t go wrong with dark chocolate and nuts to satisfy hunger before bedtime, thanks to the blood-stabilizing protein and healthy fat coming from the nuts.
One caveat here is that dark chocolate does contain caffeine — one bar of 70% to 85% solid dark chocolate has about 80 milligrams. For context, one cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams. If you’re eating a handful of dark chocolate-covered nuts, it’s very unlikely that you’ll consume a whole bar’s worth of caffeine, but caffeine affects all of us differently — so if you know your sleep takes a hit when you consume even the smallest amount, another option might be better.
Rice cake with almond butter
This is another great bedtime snack, because almond butter has protein and fat and rice cakes have carbs. As mentioned above, that trio is great for keeping blood sugar balanced throughout the night. Just do your best to skip the sugary almond butter options!
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Sure, you probably don’t have these lying around the house just yet. Shiitake mushrooms are one of the best sources of plant-based vitamin D, which is integral to achieving a good night’s rest. Vitamin D plays a role in melatonin production and we want to ensure this hormone is locked and loaded before bedtime to ensure high quality shut-eye.
How to avoid that bedtime hunger in the first place
I recommend consuming a sufficient amount of calories earlier in the day. Don’t wait until dinner to eat two-thirds of your food. Aim to have 25-30 grams of protein at your main meals, and three to five servings of cruciferous or high-fiber vegetables at lunch and dinner.
Our bodies take “nutritional inventory” at the end of the day and then decide what they may have missed out on. That’s why we may experience a second wave of hunger pre-bedtime if the body doesn’t feel fully nourished and balanced with the right vitamins and minerals. And if that happens, don’t fight it ― just offer your body some food. After all, there’s a lot of joy that can be found in a really delicious bedtime snack!