There’s an old wives’ tale about wellness that goes something like this: Any food eaten after dinner is more likely to disrupt your sleep and cause weight gain. In fact, most experts agree that as long as you’re not practicing intermittent fasting, there’s no reason to fear a bedtime snack. In fact, the right snack can help your sleep, not disrupt it.
Why you shouldn’t go to bed on an empty stomach.
First, a quick reminder of why you don’t need to avoid eating after dinner: Going to bed on an empty stomach can cause your blood sugar to drop in the middle of the night. In response, your body produces a number of hormones to help restore balance, including cortisol, an important hormone in the stress response. Too much cortisol can disrupt your sleep by throwing off your sleep-wake rhythm and causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
With this in mind, psychologist and behavioural sleep medicine specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, tells mbg that “if you are someone who wakes up in the middle of the night feeling hungry, a light snack is all you need before bed.”
However, Harris adds that while you don’t want to go to bed hungry, you don’t want to go to bed too full either. “Eating heavy meals in the three hours before bedtime can cause sleep problems for some people,” she says.
As well as avoiding heavy meals, you should avoid fatty, spicy and acidic foods after dinner, as these can also affect sleep quality.
Instead, Michael Breus, MD, a certified sleep specialist, generally recommends a light snack (about 200 to 250 calories) about 30 minutes before bedtime. While everyone is different, a combination of carbohydrates, protein and/or healthy fats will be satiating – but not stimulating – for most people.
A sleep specialist’s favourite snacks.
The next time you feel peckish before bed, Harris recommends the following healthy snacks. All of them, she says, “will help regulate your blood sugar throughout the night, so you won’t wake up as hungry.
Half a banana and peanut butter
1 or 2 whole wheat crackers and cheese
A small portion of Greek yoghurt
Opting for these healthy, hearty nibbles before bed can limit hunger while you sleep, which can be beneficial for your diet when you wake up. Recent research confirms that people who get enough sleep tend to eat a healthier diet and are less likely to overeat. So a healthy snack in the evening could be just what you need to resist unhealthy snacking during the day.
The bottom line.
If you occasionally wake up hungry in the middle of the night, you might want to try eating a light snack before bed. Keep some yogurt, cheese and crackers, or a banana and peanut butter on hand to keep your blood sugar—and your sleep—steady through the entire night.