by Rachael Berman
”It’s okay to have a snack before bed, especially if it’s been many hours since dinner. This will prevent you from going to bed hungry, which can interfere with sleep. However, now that you know it’s okay to eat before bedtime, that doesn’t give you free reign to finish off that carton of ice cream or leftover lasagna!
Greasy or salty foods are tough on your bedtime digestion. Same with any food that’s spicy or acidic, like tomato sauce or citrus fruits, which can increase heartburn. In addition, although ice cream is a popular late night and refreshing treat, the simple sugars can cause an increase in energy, or alertness which offsets that sleepy feeling.
The old adage about having a glass of warm milk before bedtime isn’t a myth! Warm liquids make you sleepy by increasing body temperature. Also, dairy contains tryptophan plus calcium to boost your sleep-well chemicals.
The ideal snack before bedtime is about 200 calories and is a combination of carbohydrate plus a bit of protein. That’s best to help you get to your happy place.
- Tryptophan: An amino acid in turkey that purportedly increases sleepiness helps your body produce serotonin, or the feel-good hormone, which makes you feel calm and promotes good sleep. It works best when the stomach is empty or there’s not too much protein in your system — so with turkey, the effect is somewhat dampened. Protein perks you up with the amino acid tyrosine, which is another reason why you don’t want a protein-dense snack pre-bed. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your snack accordingly. Best sources for sleep: Whole grains and seeds.
- Melatonin: The same stuff that’s affected by light and regulates your internal sleeping clock is also found naturally in some foods. Best sources for sleep: Oats and cherries.
- Calcium: Calcium can convert tryptophan into melatonin. Calcium is also important for nerve impulses, and a deficiency may interrupt your sleep. Best sources for sleep: Low-fat milk and yogurt.
- Magnesium: Helps decrease the production of cortisol, your stress hormone, that thwart a good night’s sleep. Magnesium is also key for muscle contraction so that your legs aren’t cramping up in the middle of the night. Best sources for sleep: Almonds and bran cereal.
- Potassium: Important to prevent muscle cramping and Restless Leg Syndrome, which can keep you up when you’re trying to power down. Best sources for sleep: Banana and sweet potato.
Ten great bedtime snacks
- Oatmeal with sliced banana
- Air-popped popcorn
- Bran cereal with soy milk
- Whole wheat crackers with hummus
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
- Cherry smoothie (frozen cherries plus skim milk)
- Low-fat yogurt with ground flaxseed
- Whole wheat toast with almond butter
- A calming cup of chamomile tee