Should You Eat at Night Before You Sleep?
There are plenty of tips for what we should do to obtain a good night’s sleep. These include turning off our devices, having a "nightly routine", making sure it’s dark, and also avoiding food prior to sleep. However, research has shown that eating right before bed might not affect your sleep as much as we are led to believe. It largely depends on the individual, but there are some snacks that we can choose if hunger strikes before bed.
Why People Eat and Don’t Eat Late and Why it Matters
Many people choose not to eat at night before bed due to the fear of weight gain. Although not enough research has been conducted to conclude the correlation between late-night eating and weight gain, it’s good to point out that these fears could be true in some instances. For the past few years now, scientists have begun researching the effects of food consumption late in the day. Many of these studies discovered that eating before bed can, in fact, cause high blood sugar and those calories are more likely to be stored as fat rather than burn it for energy. It is important to note though, that these studies were done regarding high-carb, sugary snacks.
It’s common for people to snack between dinner and bedtime, especially if they leave a lot of time between the two. This can be a time when it is tempting to grab that sugary or carb-heavy snack. Although we may be looking for something comforting and filling, these choices have been shown to have negative effects from negatively affecting your health in the long term (weight gain, insomnia) and the quality of your sleep in the short term (affecting circadian rhythms and REM sleep). So, if you are feeling hungry late at night, is there a safe solution?
Foods To Avoid Eating At Night
Caffeine & Alcohol – Although not foods, they are worth a mention since they are the culprit for many people. As a stimulant, caffeine can cause you to stay awake long after you consume it (even up to 12 hours!). Alcohol on the other hand will affect the quality of your sleep by interrupting REM, or deep sleep when your brain works to retain memories and emotions.
Refined Carbohydrates – Not all carbs are the enemy, in fact, carbs are converted into glycogen which is stored in the muscles. However, it’s those snacks mentioned earlier (those sugary, carby ones) that your body processes much quicker, meaning they won’t provide lasting energy, and they can cause blood sugar to spike. Spicy Foods – Studies have shown that spicy foods may keep you tossing and turning through the night. Furthermore, they are often more difficult to digest and can increase energy levels, again making you restless.
Foods To Eat At Night
Foods that are high in magnesium might also be a good option, as magnesium is not only used to produce melatonin but has the ability to combat stress by calming the mind.
Look for foods that contain tryptophan
, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin used for the production of melatonin
, the sleep hormone. Foods that are high in magnesium
might also be a good option, as magnesium is not only used to produce melatonin but has the ability to combat stress by calming the mind. Also, foods that are already high in melatonin. Both have been shown to improve sleep efficiency and potentially assist sleep. Over the last few decades, melatonin has been widely researched and found in numerous foods ranging from fungi to animals to plants.
Below are just a few of the many food sources that contain either melatonin or tryptophan.
- Fruits – Bananas, kiwis, and tart cherries are some of the few known fruits that are rich in tryptophan which your brain converts to serotonin that is then used to convert into melatonin.
- Nuts – Almonds and almond butter as well as pistachios are other examples of foods that will supply you with some melatonin. Almonds are also a great source of healthy fat, magnesium, and vitamin E, and only a handful of pistachios can contain the same amount of melatonin as a dietary supplement!
- Meats + Fish – You can find tryptophan in turkey as well, and although it takes a lot for these amino acids to reach the brain, it is quickened when carbohydrates are added into the mix. A good solution would be to eat something that provides both, such as a small bowl of turkey and rice or stir fry. Additionally, oily fish packs vitamins B6 and magnesium both of which are used to produce melatonin.
- Oats + Grains – Oats, barley, and rice are more natural sources of melatonin. Since they typically take longer to prepare it might not be an ideal option unless you think ahead or have some already left over.
What to Drink At Night
When it comes to having a drink close to bed, tea is the clear winner. Herbal teas like chamomile and lavender have relaxing properties and green tea is a healthy choice at night, as long as it is decaffeinated. If something colder is more up your alley, a glass of plant-based milk or regular milk works, as does tart cherry juice. Take care not to drink too close to bedtime so that you don’t need to get up in the night!
One last note
It bears mentioning that what you eat throughout the day can also affect your sleep at night. Lisa Bryan of Downshiftology mentions this in her blog post 10 TIPS TO SLEEP BETTER NATURALLY AND FALL ASLEEP FAST “If you keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the whole day with a mix of healthy protein, fat, carbs, and fiber (ie – no processed food), you’ll have more restful, restorative sleep overall.”
Everybody is different. How their body is going to react and treat the food consumed at different times of the day is largely dependent on the individual. The most important thing is to ensure you are eating a well-balanced diet so your body can get enough nutrients to make the melatonin it needs to help you sleep. But, it’s good to know what to avoid and what might actually help you if those cravings do hit late at night.
For more sleep tips, check out these posts:
First published January 24, 2021.
Updated November 16, 2022