While eating right before bed is not recommended and can even make you pack on the pounds, sometimes you can’t help but crave a snack. But giving in to your late night munchies isn’t always a bad thing — in fact, some snacks can help you sleep.
Even more surprising — snacks rich in carbohydrates may make you sleep better. Carbohydrates break down into sugar in the digestive system, which then enters the blood. As blood sugar rises, the pancreas produces insulin — a hormone that can impact your metabolism — in order to turn the blood sugar into energy.
“Insulin can influence a sleep regulatory part of your circadian rhythm,” Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told The Huffington Post. “Eating something that promotes insulin secretion, such as carbohydrates, might help promote a healthy circadian pattern.”
The rise in insulin can also help tryptophan — which the body uses to create serotonin — enter your brain and induce sleep.
However, it’s important to keep the snack small, between 150 to 300 calories tops. In addition to a bit of carbohydrates, make sure that it also has some protein. Some protein-rich foods, like dairy, contain tryptophan.
Here are some late night snacks you don’t need to feel completely guilty about:
An Apple with a Spoonful of Peanut Butter
It’s easy to go overboard with peanut butter, so it’s important to eat only a spoonful for this snack. Peanut butter is full of protein as well as other beneficial vitamins and nutrients, but it’s also full of fat and high in calories. Apples are packed with satisfying fiber and a great crunch.
Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Nonfat greek yogurt is not only filling, but also full of gut-healthy probiotics and protein. Add a little bit of healthy granola for some extra crunch.
Smashed up avocado on a piece of whole grain toast is a delicious snack — no matter the time of day or night. The complex carbs in the toast can help the production of melatonin, a hormone your body naturally produces that regulates sleep. Plus, the healthy fats and protein from the avocado will keep you full.
A Small Bowl of Cereal and Milk
Don’t get too excited — Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs are still not healthy cereal options. Instead, opt for a whole-grain cereal that’s high in fiber, low in sugar and is easier to digest. Add a splash of milk for some extra tryptophan and protein.
A banana is a great nighttime snack. Not only are they loaded with satiating fiber, but also relaxing tryptophan which will help you get to sleep faster. It’s only about 100 calories for a medium-sized banana.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.