Blame your midnight refrigerator raids and before-bed snacks on your circadian rhythm, or inner time clock…or come up with any other excuse that you can possibly think of, but how many of us find ourselves raiding the refrigerator in our pajamas before we go to bed every night or while anyone in their right mind would be asleep?
Honestly does it really matter why we find ourselves nibbling away, but instead which snacks should you choose at night?
Thankfully not all midnight or before-bed snacks are that bad for you, and some snacks can actually help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
So exactly which “health-conscious snacks” should you grab first when raiding the fridge at night?
In order to make sure that your bedtime snack can actually help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, there are certain ingredients to look for. These ingredients, as well as sources for these ingredients, include…
- Why carbs?…Carbohydrates boost the production of serotonin and melatonin and help reset your circadian rhythm. Carbs also increase your insulin levels, which in turn affects the levels of the crucial sleep-regulating gene PER2 so that you’re drowsy when you should be.
- Bananas…Bananas are the perfect bedtime snack…not only because bananas contain not only healthy, complex carbs…but also abundant amounts of potassium and magnesium, two minerals which help your muscles relax, and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin….(more on this below)…
- Popcorn…Air-popped popcorn contains only thirty calories per cup and is an ideal late-night-TV-watching snack food.
- Whole-Grain Crackers…The high-fiber content and low glycemic index of whole grains create a steady stream of glucose in your system throughout the night.
Why folate? Folate helps to regulate sleep patterns, especially in older people.
- Hummus...The main ingredient in hummus is chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, which are not only rich in folate, but also vitamin B and tryptophan.
Why magnesium?…Magnesium is a muscle-relaxing mineral that plays a key role in regulating sleep. Yet studies have shown that nearly 70% of adults do not get enough magnesium in their daily diets. Magnesium deficiency has been linked not only to insomnia, but muscle cramps, which can also disrupt sleep.
- Almonds and Almond Butter…Almonds are a great source of magnesium…so grabbing a handful of almonds or enjoying a tablespoon of almond butter before bed may help you fall asleep — and stay asleep longer. (more on nut butters next post)…
- Granola…Granola, oats, and other whole grain foods not only contain those all-important snooze-promoting carbs mentioned above, but also contain magnesium.
- Lentils…Lentils are a superfood that are not only a great source of magnesium, potassium, and protein…but also are high in fiber and low in fat, so you can enjoy them without worrying about gaining weight.
- Why melatonin? Melatonin is a sleep-regulating hormone that regulates your internal clock and basically tells your body when it’s time for bed. We talked about melatonin as a supplement in an earlier post, but there are foods that actually contain natural melatonin as well, such as…
- Cherries and Cherry Juice…Cherries and cherry juice, especially the tart variety, are rich sources of melatonin, as well as antioxidants and carbohydrates. Studies have shown that people who drink eight ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily fall asleep sooner and then sleep an average hour-and-half longer than those who don’t.
- Walnuts…Walnuts another natural source of melatonin….not to mention that they’re just plain good to eat.
Why protein? Protein helps create tryptophan, the sleep-promoting amino acid (see below)…
- Edamame...Edamame is high in fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
- Cheese and Cottage Cheese...Cheese is full of casein proteins, which provide sleep-inducing tryptophan. Actually cheddar cheese contains more tryptophan than turkey, gram for gram. Eating cheese thirty minutes before going to bed not only will help you fall asleep faster, but has also been shown to improve your metabolism.
- Why tryptophan? Tryptophan is a sleep-promoting amino acid that the brain uses to make serotonin and melatonin, hormones that promote relaxation and control sleep and wake cycles.
- Cereal and Milk…Milk already contains tryptophan, but adding the carbohydrates of a good whole-grain, low-sugar cereal makes this tryptophan more easily available to the brain.
- Greek Yogurt…Not only does Greek yogurt contain tryptophan, but Greek yogurt is also a rich source of protein and calcium, both of which can help regulate melatonin production and help you get your sleeping habits in check.
- Peanut Butter…Most of us grew up loving peanut butter, and my Dad would always peanut butter before bed every night when I was growing up. Wonder if he knew that his favorite night-time snack was rich in tryptophan…(or if he really cared?).
- Pumpkin Seeds...Pumpkin seeds are packed with a variety of essential nutrients,including substantial amounts of tryptophan.
Three final important tips as far as midnight snacking…
- Avoid sugary snacks at bedtime because these will cause a quick glucose spike that can interfere with sleep quality.
- Be sure to keep these midnight or pre-bed snacks light. Keep your selection as a 150 to 200 calories actual snack, instead of another complete meal in itself.
- Eat no later than thirty minutes before bed so that your body has enough time to digest the food and absorb the nutrients before you go to sleep.