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How Your Eating Schedule Affects Sleep
Whether you’re snacking before you lay down to sleep, or you’ve woken in the middle of the night with a growling stomach—we’ve all been there. It’s times like this where there’s a disconnect between your brain and your stomach. Your brain is winding down and is trying to direct you to the healthier options, but your stomach could be craving a high fat, high sugar snack.
Does it matter what you eat late at night? Yes. Your midnight snack choice can impact your sleep quality that night, your metabolism, comfort, and even your dreams. Add “how will this impact my sleep?” to your consideration set when choosing the best midnight snacks.
Is It Bad To Eat Snacks At Night?
A study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders found that when food is consumed late at night — any time after dinner or outside your typical sleep/wake time — the body is more likely to store those calories as fat and gain weight rather than burn it as energy.
Other studies have suggested that the way food is processed by the body changes at different times of day. This could be due to physical activity level, hormone changes, biochemical reactions or even changes in body temperature. So much of our daily lives is built around routine—when we’re tired, when we’re hungry, so it makes sense for our body to process on a routine.
Of course, it’s not appropriate to make the blanket generalization and say it’s bad to snack at night. It all depends on your diet, goals, exercise routine, genetics, schedule, and so many other factors.
What Midnight Snacks Should I Avoid?
These guidelines are pretty broad, but also fairly obvious. Midnight snacks to avoid include those that are really high in sugar, really spicy foods or ones that are really high in fat. Sugary foods can of course keep you awake at night, but so can spicy foods. They can cause heartburn, indigestion and just general discomfort because they’re a shock to your digestive system (especially at this time of night). Snacks that are high in fat cause your digestive system to work overtime to break them down.
A general rule of thumb is to remember the word “snack” when making your choice. Satisfy your hunger, but don’t overdo it. A midnight snack can quickly turn into a fourth meal, making your digestive system work harder than it normally would during your waking hours.
What Are Healthy Midnight Snacks?
When choosing a healthy midnight snack, it’s all about balance. We all know that protein can help you feel fuller, so you’ll stop that hunger pang. Complex carbohydrates can help induce sleep (that’s why we feel so tired after a carb-heavy meal).
Here are some good options to keep on hand if you’re a midnight snacker:
Cottage Cheese: A ½ cup serving is low in calories, and contains casein protein and amino acids. Specifically, casein protein releases over time, leaving you full throughout the night. Amino acids also work to benefit your body by building and repairing muscles overnight.
Peanut Butter: One tablespoon is only about 95-100 calories and can solve a number of cravings. It’s sweet, but has healthy fats that leave you satisfied. Add this to an apple, banana, or a piece of whole wheat toast for a boost. Peanut butter slows digestion and can reduce future hunger throughout the night.
Cherry Juice: This is a great way to satisfy your taste buds and go right back to sleep. Cherry juice contains melatonin, a natural hormone that eases you into sleep. Eight ounces is about 130 calories and you’ll get a serving of fruit, too!
Bananas: Another sleep booster—the potassium in bananas can activate melatonin in your body, helping to ease you into sleep. Bananas are also a good source of carbohydrates, making you feel full and stopping that hunger pang.
Nuts—Almonds, Walnuts, Pistachios: In general, nuts are good for you because of their ability to lower cholesterol, and their quantity of Omega-3 fats and antioxidants, both good for your heart health. These are filling, yet low in calories. Almonds contain both magnesium and tryptophan, which help relax the muscle and nervous systems. Walnuts are packed with melatonin, that natural sleep aid, and pistachios contain magnesium.
Sweet Potatoes: This does not include mounds of brown sugar or marshmallows on top. Sweet potatoes are low in calories and are better for you overall than regular potatoes. They contain both complex carbohydrates and potassium, both of which can help you fall asleep.
Cheese & Crackers: This can satisfy that salty craving you have, but also packed with protein and good carbs. Cheese is a good source of calcium and whole grain crackers provide extra fiber that benefits your body.
Improve sleep quantity and quality.
If you’re finding yourself hungry night after night, it’s important to assess your entire day’s eating habits. Are you staying hydrated throughout the day? Are you eating healthy, regular meals? Are you getting enough sleep at night?
So many parts of our lifestyle and habits impact parts of our health and wellbeing. Making sure you have healthy foods on hand will ensure that when that midnight craving hits, you have the right tools to satisfy it.