Ask the RD: What’s the Best Bedtime Snack?

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
by Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
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Ask the RD: What’s the Best Bedtime Snack?

Going to bed hungry can often result in poor sleep and an overwhelming urge to raid the fridge at midnight. Sometimes we do this by mistake, and other times it’s because of meaningless rules like “no eating after x o’clock” set forth by diet culture. First and foremost, I’m here to tell you that if you’re so hungry it’s impossible to sleep, then you should eat something, regardless of what time it is. If that time is right before bed, here are some ideas that can nourish you and help send you off to dreamland.

In general, bedtime snacks should be on the lighter side, and ideally consumed at least 30–60 minutes before hitting the hay to allow time for digestion and prevent acid reflux or heartburn. Combinations of carbohydrates and protein can be both filling and sleep-promoting depending on what you choose.

CARBOHYDRATE-, PROTEIN- AND TRYPTOPHAN-RICH FOODS

Certain proteins contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps produce serotonin and melatonin in the body, which both play an important role in sleep. Carbohydrates help make tryptophan more available to the brain, which is why the carb/protein combination can help you get quality shut-eye.

GREEK YOGURT WITH BERRIES

Greek yogurt is a good source of tryptophan — and berries add a sweet and carbohydrate-containing twist. The high-protein content also aids in satiety to quell your hunger. Although Greek yogurt may be slightly acidic, it is not a common cause of acid reflux. In fact, there is preliminary research suggesting its probiotic content may help prevent acid reflux.

BANANA WITH PEANUT BUTTER

Peanut butter boasts a decent amount of tryptophan and, combined with banana for some carbs, is the ultimate sleep-inducing snack.

CHEESE AND CRACKERS

Cheese is the tryptophan star here, and the complex carbohydrates from the crackers help the body produce those sleep-promoting hormones and neurotransmitters.

TOAST WITH ALMOND BUTTER

This is a nice option if you’re craving something warm and comforting before bed, with the added boost of the perfect tryptophan/carbohydrate combination.

HALF A TURKEY SANDWICH

Turkey may be the most well-known source of tryptophan (putting you into that food coma on Thanksgiving), but it can also be consumed as a useful and nourishing bedtime snack in sandwich form.

MELATONIN-CONTAINING FOODS

Some foods are also direct sources of melatonin, and consuming them before bed may also be helpful to boost the body’s own production of the hormone.

TART CHERRIES

The fruit (and its juice) are a common and trendy natural source of melatonin. In fact, some small studies have shown drinking around 8 ounces of tart cherry juice regularly at night can help improve sleep.

NUTS AND SEEDS

Nuts (like walnuts and almonds) and seeds (such as sunflower) are also good sources of melatonin.

FRUITS AND VEGGIES

Other fruits and vegetables contain smaller amounts of melatonin, such as strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers. 

MAGNESIUM-RICH FOODS

Magnesium can also play a role in promoting quality sleep, but many supplements may cause unwelcome GI side effects. Instead of starting with a supplement, try taking a look at your diet to make sure you’re consuming magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis.

Many of the foods and snack ideas I’ve already listed are great sources of magnesium, and the most common ones include:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Black beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Bananas
  • Avocados

THE BOTTOM LINE

Possible bedtime snack ideas that give you the most restful bang for your buck are plentiful. The best way to figure out what works for you requires some experimentation. For example, try a combination of 8 ounces of tart cherry juice with a handful of walnuts or grapes with a handful of almonds. The next time your stomach grumbles after dinner, honor that hunger with some of these combinations for a better night’s sleep.

About the Author

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD
Kelly Hogan, MS, RD

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD is an NYC-based registered dietitian specializing in women’s health, sports nutrition and plant-based eating. She is passionate about helping people develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies, and uses a non-diet, health at every size approach in her practice. When she’s not talking or writing all things nutrition, Kelly can be found running in Central Park – she’s run 11 marathons and counting! – cooking recipes new and old, handstanding at the yoga studio or hanging with friends and/or her rescue dog, Peanut.

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