7 Healthy Late Night Snacks
When hunger strikes before bed, you might want to reach for some junk food to satisfy your craving. Such foods are tasty and require little to no preparation. However, these foods not only lack the necessary vitamins and minerals but might prevent you from drifting off if they contain high amounts of sugar or carbohydrates.
The right foods can promote better sleep instead of preventing it. Make sure to keep your snacks light, as a heavy meal can cause indigestion and acid reflux.
Before reaching for a snack, consider a glass of water first. Sometimes we confuse thirst with hunger signals, so you might overeat and avoid addressing the real issue.
The amount of water we need daily varies. Women require about 11.5 cups of water every day, while men have to drink about 15.5 cups of water. We get about 20 percent of our daily water intake from food and other beverages such as milk.
Should you drink a glass of water before bed? While having a glass before bedtime might mean a late-night bathroom run, a dry throat and thoughts of water can keep you from falling asleep. If your thirst is distracting, it’s better to sate it.
“The ideal amount of water for those prone to waking up in the middle of the night is only a couple of sips. Otherwise too much water can trigger you to wake up at night to use the bathroom, disturbing sleep quality,” says Brittany Ford, RHN.
Instead of sugary and fatty food like ice cream, try a protein shake if you crave something chilled, filling, and slightly sweet. A protein shake before bed can maintain muscle mass and encourage muscle growth.
We advise against a protein powder with too much sugar, since that can keep you up past your bedtime. Aside from that, feel free to get creative. Toss in a handful of almonds or tart cherries—both are rich in melatonin and on our list of the best foods for sleep.
A good yogurt has a mix of protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B12, and fatty acids to keep healthy. Yogurts with a high amount of protein, at least 5 grams of protein per serving, help satiate your appetite, and prevent overeating.
Try unsweetened varieties to avoid loading up on added sugars. If you have a sweet tooth, top some plain yogurt with berries or other fresh fruit.
If you want to feel full before you go to bed, consider Greek yogurt, which contains around twice as much protein as normal yogurt. Some varieties may contain as much as 16g protein.
Be careful when it comes to frozen yogurt. There’s no restrictions or government standards on the term, so many frozen yogurts aren’t actually yogurt. While there are healthy frozen yogurts, other varieties are just sweet creamy treat with little nutritional value.
Apples are one of the top fruit choices worldwide, ranking in the top three. The fruit is a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Apples fill you up without greatly increasing your caloric intake, thanks to the fruit’s water weight.
If you don’t want to take the time to cut up an apple or lack the fridge space for fresh fruit, try baked apple chips, a packet of freeze-dried apples, or a cup of unsweetened applesauce.
You can also dip your apple slices in cinnamon almond butter or plain old peanut butter. Not only do you get more protein with your snack, but peanut butter and other nuts are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Cottage cheese is another potential dip that’s high in lean protein.
Eating almonds may alleviate symptoms of insomnia. Almonds contain high amounts of melatonin, a hormone involved in our sleep-wake cycle.
A 2019 study observed almost 450 students, the majority of whom reported insomnia symptoms. The students ate 10 almonds a day for two weeks, and a significant percentage reported better sleep. An earlier 2016 study with rats noted that almonds could have sedative effects.
You can eat plain almonds as a snack, or try a cup of unsweetened almond milk or a couple of spoonfuls of almond butter.
A jar of almond butter can be expensive, but you can save money by making some at home.
Take about a pound of dry roasted and grind them in a food processor or blender on low speed. Gradually increase the speed, pausing occasionally to make sure there are no large pieces.
After a few minutes, you should have a paste. The paste will become smoother the more you blend it, so feel free to experiment for the perfect consistency. You can also add spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, curry powder, or a few drops of vanilla extract. Almond butter is good on toast, fruit, and oatmeal.
While you might think of oatmeal as a breakfast food, it’s also an excellent healthy snack to cap off your day. Oatmeal’s high amounts of fiber will keep you feeling full, and you can sweeten it up with some fresh fruit or spice it with a dash of cinnamon. We recommend steel-cut oatmeal, which is relatively unprocessed without any added sugars and flavorings.
Whole-grain oats are also a complex carbohydrate. While simple carbs aren’t bad, complex carbs are preferred because they take longer for your body to break down into fuel.
If oatmeal isn’t for you, consider another whole-grain food. Try a cup of unseasoned brown rice, whole-grain crackers with light cheese, or toasted whole-grain bread with a simple spread or a drizzle of olive oil, linked to a healthy heart.
You don’t have to hike to enjoy some trail mix, and a custom-made trail mix is a great way to combine our other snack ideas. A well-balanced trail mix contains proteins, healthy fats, a good amount of carbs, and natural sugars.
Many people start with nuts, grains, and dried fruit. Raisins are a good choice—melatonin is in grapes and grape-related foods. Other potential ingredients include:
- Almonds, cashews, pecans, and pistachios
- Legumes such as peanuts, chickpeas, and baked soybeans
- Shredded coconut
- Whole-grain cereal
- Small pretzels
- Unsalted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
- Dried cranberries, apples, and banana slices
We recommend plain varieties of nuts and legumes instead of ones labeled “spicy” or “salty.” While tasty, these types can contain added sugars and sodium. Always make sure to read the nutrition facts label.
Don’t add candies or chocolate to a bag of nighttime trail mix. The sugar and caffeine can promote wakefulness instead of sleep.
Should I Eat Before Bed?
The question of when to eat and what to eat at night has received more attention over the years.
According to Brittany Ford, RHN, “Late-night eating is never recommended as it can seriously impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. However, there are times when you either wake up in the middle of the night hungry or feel a sudden pain of hunger before bed.”
Typically, hunger pangs at night are indicative of not eating enough throughout the day. If your dinner is a well-rounded meal consisting of healthy fat, adequate-quality protein, plenty of non-starchy vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, these hunger cues should not arise.
If and when they do, it is recommended to consume foods high in quality fat and protein. A couple of tablespoons of nut or seed butter are perfect for this. Avoid any food with over 5g of sugar and that is either super-fast or super slow to digest. Nut butter works well due to its protein and fat, and easily satiating effects.
In addition to concerns around snacking ruining sleep, some worry a late-night snack is a path to unwanted weight gain. According to WebMD, snacking shouldn’t cause weight gain as long as you avoid excessive overeating. “The conventional wisdom today is that a calorie is a calorie, regardless of when you eat it, and that what causes weight gain is simply eating more calories than you burn,” it says. When you eat isn’t as important as what you eat, how much you eat, and how much you exercise during the day.
A late-night snack can also affect your blood sugar levels, which usually rise and fall as you sleep. “Spiking the blood sugar late at night or in the middle of the night can lead to waking up again as it crashes, so be cautious with any carbohydrate-rich, sugar-filled, and/or processed snacks,” advises Brittany.
If you’re on a normal sleep schedule, your blood sugar levels (or glucose) usually drop between 2 to 3 a.m., which prompts the body to release hormones to raise blood sugar levels back up. If your body releases too many hormones, your blood sugar levels will be high in the morning.
Eating a bedtime snack can keep your blood glucose from severely dropping as you sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
For a good night’s sleep, it’s best to strike a balance between hunger and fullness. You shouldn’t feel so hungry that your empty stomach will distract you from falling asleep, but you shouldn’t be uncomfortably full and bloated. Indigestion can keep you up past your bedtime if you overindulge.
Ask yourself how hungry you are before you eat. Often, we snack because we’re bored or stressed rather than truly hungry. If you choose to have a bedtime snack, try to keep it light and under 200 calories.
We don’t have an exact answer because no study would starve humans to learn the answer. Research suggests that the average person can go without food and water for 8 to 21 days, based upon accounts from people who were trapped or buried alive. A person may survive as long as two months if they’re only deprived of food.
For a good night’s rest, avoid foods likely to give you heartburn or indigestion. Fatty foods should be avoided because they take longer to digest, irritating your system. Other foods to stay away from include:
- Spicy foods such as peppers, garlic, and onions
- Citrus fruits
- High-fiber vegetables that take time to digest, such as broccoli and cauliflower
Do not eat foods and drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate products. Not only can these products cause heartburn, but caffeine lingers in your system long after you stop feeling its effects—caffeine taken 6 hours before bed has been linked to sleep disruptions.
Drinking milk may actually help you lose weight. A 2012 study observed that including milk products in weight loss diets "might accelerate weight reduction.” A glass of milk doesn’t represent a significant source of calories and shouldn’t greatly affect your sleep-wake cycle or weight.
So if a warm cup of milk before bed helps you relax, go ahead and take a sip.
For more information on milk’s nutritional makeup, check out our Carbs in Milk and Nutrition Facts guide.
After you’ve eaten a large meal, you might find it helpful to take a quick walk. While walking won’t necessarily burn what you’ve just consumed, it can aid your digestion. Plus, there are other benefits to a daily walk, such as improved mood and boosted brain function.
Avoid lying down after you’ve eaten. Whether you’re lying down to sleep or just relaxing, the position can cause indigestion.
Did We Help?
A light bedtime snack can keep your hunger manageable and allow you to squeeze in a few more nutrients before sleep. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium for a good night’s rest and better health.
If you’re interested in our daytime snack recommendations, check out our Healthy Snacks for Work guide.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.