By Nina Radcliff, MD
We have all been there. It is late, and our stomach is growling and preventing us from falling asleep. However, we have heard over and over again that snacking before bedtime is bad (but so is having food cravings that are keeping you awake).
Late night snacking has been blamed for causing nightmares, acid reflux, and packing on the pounds. There is some good news: you can satisfy those hunger pangs without those side effects depending on what you eat and how much you eat.
Packing on the pounds?
Snacking before going to sleep does not have to pack on the pounds. Foods are no more fattening when they are eaten at 10 pm than if they are eaten at9 am. It is the total number of calories that you consume throughout the day that will add inches to your waistline. Experts recommend keeping your bedtime snack to less than 200 calories to avoid this.
Blame it on the Hormones
We have hormones in our body that signal when the body is full and when the body is hungry. They act in a see-saw fashion and counterbalance each other. Having a small snack can decrease the “hunger” hormone and increase the “full” hormone allowing you to get some zzz’s.
Interestingly, a lack of sleep warps the way these hormones are released and increases your appetite for high-calorie and dense foods. In other words, sleep deprivation can contribute to weight gain. This is another reason to choose a healthy snack that can get you off to sleep.
Bedtime Snack “No Nos”
- Caffeine: Chocolate, sodas (even caffeine free drinks contain small amounts). As you get older, you may become more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
- Spicy or acidic foods: Can give you acid reflux and keep you awake
- Fatty foods or high protein foods: Take a significant amount of energy to digest, can make you feel full and uncomfortable, and can give you acid reflux
- High sugar or simple carbohydrate: Foods like cookies and candy can give you a sugar high and make you feel wired. This can then be followed by a “let down” where you feel hungry shortly after.
- Preserved and smoked meats (ham, bacon, sausages): Contain high levels of tyramine, an amino acid, which causes the brain to release norepinephrine, a stimulant
Minerals and vitamins
There are a number of minerals and vitamins that are necessary for the complex cycles of sleep that involve melatonin and serotonin: Vitamin B6, tryptophan, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. By snacking on items rich in these nutrients, not only can you satisfy your munchies but you may also be able to get a better night of sleep.
What does bedtime snacking have to do with breakfast?
Break the fast, or in other words eat your breakfast. Skipping breakfast has been shown to result in poor eating choices later in the day and close to bedtime. Heavy late night snacks may make it more likely that you will skip breakfast and repeat the nighttime binge.
Start off with:
- Whole grain crackers
- Whole grain bread
- Cottage cheese
- Lowfat yogurt
- Peanut butter
- Almonds and seeds
Whatever food you choose, keep the portion small and low in calories. Too much of any type of food can interfere with sleep by making you uncomfortable, causing acid reflux, weight gain, or even choking. Consider an “Elvis Sandwich” with peanut butter and bananas on whole wheat bread for a yummy treat (but avoid the bacon). A small glass of warm milk to accompany the snack can be the perfect night cap.