Med thumb late night snacks

When you’re a nighttime nosher, nomnomnom, every food is the best food to eat before bed. Then again, if you’re someone who always grabs a late-night snack but can’t remember the last time you got a good night’s sleep, maybe you need a refresher on the best and worst foods to eat before hitting the sack.

Snacking on certain foods will promote sleep, while other will just keep you tossing and turning (even burping) throughout the night. That's not a recipe for sweet dreams.

Let’s start with the good ones

The best foods to eat before bed are those high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, in turn, synthesizes melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle and promotes sleep.

Some good sources:

  • Lean proteins— Turkey, chicken, pork and fish are packed with tryptophan.
  • Low fat dairy — Cheese, cottage cheese, milk and greek yogurt also have a high tryptophan count.
  • Complex carbs — Fruit (bananas, cherries, kiwi) and whole grains (oats, barley). Whole-grain breads, crackers or pasta combined with a lean protein or low-fat dairy may increase tryptophan absorption.
  • Nuts and seeds — Nuts, peanuts, peanut butter and seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin) all contain high levels of tryptophan as well as magnesium, a mineral that’s been shown to reduce insomnia and help prevent muscle cramps, which can disrupt sleep.

And what shouldn’t we chow down on late at night?

Stay away from foods that are acidic or will increase the acidity level in your digestive tract, as well as anything loaded with sugar and saturated fats, or contain caffeine or spices. Some examples:

  • Spices — Hot peppers, curry, wasabi. These often cause indigestion, which can lead to acid reflux. Research has also found that spicy foods can elevate body temperature, which can disrupt the early stages of your sleep cycle.
  • Chips, cold cuts, ice cream, processed cheese. Researchers believe saturated (unhealthy) fat affects levels of the brain chemical hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that has a part in regulating both sleep and weight. It’s also thought that the high levels of acid needed to break down the fat cause indigestion, which keeps you restlessness.
  • Citrus — Oranges, grapefruit and tomatoes, all citrus fruits, are acidic and can cause heartburn.
  • Caffeine Coffee, tea, soda, chocolate — No surprise. All contain caffeine, a stimulant that will keep you awake.
  • Alcohol — You might initially conk out from a couple of drinks, but chances are your sleep will be lackluster. Alcohol is metabolized very quickly so withdrawal symptoms occur just a few hours later. This means shallow sleep and multiple awakenings, nightmares or vivid dreams, and elevated body temperature. 

Any other snacking tips?

Remember, a snack is a snack, not a meal. Keep the portion size small and the calories in 150 to 200 range. If you’re night-noshing, do it about 45 minutes or so before heading to bed. Larger meals you should be finished at least two to three hours earlier.