Late Night Snacking: The Good, the Bad and the Sleepy
We all know late-night eating is not the healthiest choice, but sometimes, hunger strikes anyways. Whether you’re up late for a study session or an after dinner movie, chances are you’ll find yourself craving a midnight snack every once in a while. In today’s post, we investigate just how healthy (or unhealthy) late night snacking is. Then, we’ll tell you which foods to reach for…and what to avoid.
When hunger strikes
It can be annoying or just plain baffling. You eat three square meals a day…so why are you hungry again right before bed? There are tons of reasons we often crave something late at night. Maybe you’re watching the Food Network and they’re making your favourite dish. Maybe you didn’t get enough fibre and healthy fat during the day. And maybe you’re just a little bored.
Another culprit? Self deprivation. Anyone who’s tried to stick to a super strict weight loss diet knows what we’re talking about: you had a piece of fruit for breakfast, a small salad for lunch, a half-sized dinner, and you’re feeling pretty good about it. Then 10pm rolls around…and you’re totally famished. If you’re not getting enough calories during the day, you’re not taking in the energy your body needs to function. This can lead to late-night hunger pangs that disturb your sleep – and more often than not, to midnight snacks that totally undo all your hard dieting work from the day. Your best bet? Try and find a more balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional and caloric needs.
Is it really so bad?
Unfortunately, yes. Late-night eating has been linked to a number of health concerns, from weight gain to severe acid reflux. Plus, calories consumed at bedtime are way more likely to be stored as fat. In a 2009 study, mice that received high-fat foods during sleeping hours gained more weight than mice that got the same food during waking hours. Not ideal. That said, ignoring those hunger pangs isn’t the greatest idea either. Going to bed hungry can disturb your sleep and make you feel groggy the next day.
So what can you do? If you often find yourself craving a snack at night, you might want to make some common sense changes to your eating schedule. Generally speaking, it’s best to eat something every four to five hours during the day. So, if you like to stay up until midnight or 1am, don’t eat dinner at 6. Try and move your last meal to 8 or 9pm, and you’ll be less likely to reach for the snacks before bed. Just make sure your last meal is at least two hours before you go to sleep, so you have enough time to digest it properly.
What to reach for
Even if you do everything “right,” you’re still bound to crave some late-night eats every once in a while. And it should be no surprise that what you eat can make a big difference in your sleep quality and overall health. A good rule of thumb? Keep it low calorie and try to include some complex carbohydrates. Here are some of your best options…
Eating a small serving of complex carbs is actually good for sleep. So it’s hard to go wrong with a bowl of a whole grain or fortified cereal. Bonus: milk is also supposedly good for getting you to sleep, as it contains the amino acid tryptophan (the same thing found in turkey!). There is likely not enough tryptophan in a serving of milk to make a noticeable difference, but hey…it can’t hurt.
According to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating jasmine rice four hours before bedtime helps you fall asleep faster. Why? It ranks high on the glycemic index, meaning your body digests it slowly and releases glucose gradually into your bloodstream. So a small bowl of steamed rice and veggies might just be the perfect nighttime meal.
Bananas aren’t just a great pre-workout snack; they’re also perfect to munch on in the evening. Why? They’re high in magnesium and potassium, natural muscle relaxers that will help you get to sleep faster. They’re also high in carbs, which will help make you sleepy.
Not into bananas? Try a baked sweet potato instead. These tasty tubers have a similarly relaxing mix of complex carbs and potassium. Plus they’re packed with other good-for-you vitamins and minerals. What’s not to love?
We already know they’re high in fibre, heart-healthy fats and plant-based protein. So is it really surprising that nuts are also a great choice for a nighttime snack? Almonds are a terrific source of sleep-enhancing tryptophan and magnesium, making them the perfect bedtime treat for anyone dealing with insomnia. Just don’t overdo it – a small handful should suffice.
Did you know? Cherries are one of the only foods that naturally contain melatonin, the chemical that controls our internal clock. Although the research is still limited, one study found that a glass of tart cherry juice improved sleep quality for people dealing with insomnia. Oh, and it’s DELICOUS. Score!
What to avoid
Now for the less fun part: what are the worst things to eat in the evening? Unfortunately, a lot of traditional “late night” foods are just about the worst things to eat in the wee hours. Fatty, rich foods like French fries and burgers? Total sleep killer. Fat kick-starts the production of stomach acid, which can cause major heartburn and keep you awake. Another culprit? Spicy foods, which can lead to heartburn and indigestion in the night. Not exactly relaxing… Finally, one of the worst things to consume right before bed is also possibly the most common: alcohol. While a drink or two might help you drift off, having alcohol in your system prevents you from falling into a deep sleep – meaning you’re more likely to wake up exhausted the next day.
So there you have it. Is it a good idea to snack late at night? Not exactly. But as long as you stick to sleep-beneficial snacks, and get your munching in at least 2 hours before bedtime, it can totally be done.
Did we miss your favourite bedtime treat? Let us know! Write us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: shutterstock.com/OlgaDubravina