Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.
Choosing a nighttime snack can be complicated. Not only is research inconclusive about which are the best foods for sleep, but there is also discussion about whether or not it is healthy to eat too close to bedtime.
It is traditionally recommended to avoid eating too late at night. Some studies show that eating before bed can contribute to obesity, and a few studies also suggest that eating high-fat or high-carbohydrate meals close to bedtime might make it harder to fall asleep.
However, emerging research suggests that eating certain foods before bed may have some benefits. We share recommendations for some healthy bedtime snacks.
For many people, the ideal nighttime snack may consist of a simple 150-calorie option that is high in nutrients. One study showed that consuming a low-calorie carbohydrate or protein snack 30 minutes before sleep helped boost metabolism in the morning. You can choose from a variety of healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, seeds, and oatmeal that require minimal preparation.
Almonds and bananas are excellent sources of magnesium. Magnesium is believed to play a role in regulating the timekeeping system of plants, animals, and humans, and it may have benefits for sleep. A serving size of a banana and one ounce of almonds provides just over 100 milligrams of magnesium. Bananas are also rich in potassium, which can improve sleep quality in women especially.
For athletes, drinking a protein smoothie before bed may help with muscle repair. Research suggests that drinking whey or casein protein shakes before bed can spur a higher rate of muscle synthesis. These benefits may be even more pronounced when paired with an exercise routine earlier in the evening.
Most health food stores have a variety of protein powders to choose from. There are usually vegan options as well for those who do not want to consume dairy. If you are worried about eating too much before bed, you may want to try mixing your protein powder with almond milk or water for a lower-calorie option.
Hot or cold oatmeal might help prepare your body for sleep and keep you full throughout the night. Oats contain magnesium as well as melatonin, the sleep hormone. Consider making a batch of overnight oats with dried fruits and seeds for a simple nighttime snack option.
Fruit is another way to get in your essential vitamins and minerals. Eating certain fruits before bed may also help you sleep better.
One study found that consumption of pineapple, oranges, and bananas increased melatonin production about two hours later.
Kiwis have also been shown to have some sleep-inducing properties. In one study, adults with self-reported sleep problems were instructed to eat two kiwis an hour before bedtime. After four weeks of eating kiwis, participants were able to fall asleep faster, sleep for longer, and experience better sleep quality.
If you prefer to keep sugar consumption to a minimum, you may still find some fruits adequate for a bedtime snack. Tart cherries (and tart cherry juice) have been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms of insomnia. This is because they contain melatonin and other compounds that contribute to better sleep. You may want to try drinking a glass of tart cherry juice about an hour before bed, or you can add tart cherries to your protein smoothie, oatmeal or yogurt.
High-sodium diets are linked to poorer sleep quality. Unsalted nuts and or seeds might be a good substitute for salty snacks like potato chips.
Pistachios contain the highest amount of melatonin within the nut family. Pistachios also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is related to sleep quality. Tryptophan helps improve sleep by helping make melatonin and serotonin. Pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds also contain tryptophan. Sprinkling pumpkin seeds on your oats or yogurt give an added crunchy texture.
Cashews and walnuts are also considered good nut options for sleep. Cashews have high levels of potassium and magnesium, and walnuts may help synthesize serotonin.
Yogurt is rich in calcium, and some research suggests that including calcium in your diet can make it easier to fall asleep and lead to more restorative sleep. A 100-gram serving of plain whole milk yogurt contains about 121 milligrams of calcium.
Yogurt also contains protein, as well as vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and magnesium, which can all contribute to sounder sleep. Additionally, yogurt contains gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter that helps calm the body in preparation for sleep.
Try to find a plain or reduced sugar option as some yogurts can have high amounts of added sugar. You can also top your yogurt with berries or nuts.
Some foods could cause an upset stomach or keep you from falling asleep.
Although meals that spike blood sugar might shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, research suggests that diets low in vegetables and fish but high in sugar and carbohydrates are generally linked to poor-quality sleep.
Individuals who experience acid reflux should have their last meal several hours before bed and avoid common trigger foods such as mint or foods that are spicy, fatty, or highly acidic.
Caffeinated drinks such as soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks have been shown to negatively impact mood and sleep in both adults and children. Try to limit caffeine to 400 milligrams or less per day, and avoid drinking caffeine too close to bedtime.
Alcoholic drinks may help you fall asleep initially, but alcohol can shorten your overall sleep duration, affect sleep quality, and potentially exacerbate symptoms of certain sleep disorders.
Try switching to herbal teas or water a few hours before bed.