Choosing the right nighttime snack may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
Best and Worst Late-Night Snacks for Your Health
Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD
Bad: Leftover Pizza
It might look tempting, but anything that’s too greasy can cause heartburn, especially if you lie down soon after indulging. A snack that has fewer than 200 calories is a much safer bet.
Good: Half a Turkey Sandwich
When you want something to fill you up, half a sandwich on whole wheat bread is a good pick. Your body digests whole grains more slowly so you’ll feel satisfied longer. And turkey has tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to make you sleepy. If you’re not into turkey, try peanut or almond butter on whole wheat toast. Nut butter has healthy fats that raise your levels of serotonin, a feel-good mood chemical that helps you relax.
Bad: Bean and Cheese Burrito
Chowing down on something fatty and spicy isn’t a great idea close to bedtime. Not only could you end up with heartburn, but you might also have lots of uncomfortable gas thanks to the beans (which would be a healthy add-in earlier in the evening).
Good: Whole-Grain Crackers With Cheese
If you’re craving something cheesy, try a small amount with a few whole-grain crackers. Or go for a scoop of cottage cheese, which also has tryptophan.
The fat and salt are a bad combo, especially as bedtime nears. Plus, it’s easy to have too many, so what starts out as a small treat could turn into a binge that’s bad for your mood and your waistline.
As long as it’s not drenched in butter or super salty, popcorn’s a pretty good choice. It’s a whole grain and it has fiber, so it’ll be more satisfying than chips and tide you over for longer.
Bad: Cookies and Chocolate
Too much sugar will perk you up — at least for a bit — when you should be slowing down. Plus, a sugar high is often followed by a crash that can leave you feeling lousy.
Good: A Low-Sugar Granola Bar
This can be a good stand-in for a cookie, as long as you check the nutrition label. Make sure your bar has some protein and fiber and not too much sugar. Or reach for half a banana and a handful of almonds — both good sources of magnesium, a mineral that can help you wind down. This fruit and nut combo has some tryptophan, too.
Bad: Ice Cream
Ben and Jerry might be calling your name, but try to resist. The fat and sugar can make it harder to snooze. And if you choose a flavor with chocolate, you’ll get caffeine you don’t want at a late hour.
Good: Greek Yogurt
When you want a creamy treat, protein-packed Greek yogurt is a better idea. Top it with some cherries or raspberries, which have melatonin, a hormone that helps lull you into dreamland.
Bad: Sugary Cereal
It’s loaded with empty carbs, so it won’t satisfy you for long. If you’re in the mood for cereal, swap your fruity, frosty, or coco flakes for a low-sugar, high-fiber variety.
It’s not just for breakfast. The warmth can be soothing, and the fiber will help fill you up. Oatmeal also has melatonin, which promotes sleep.
You probably know to stay away from coffee in the wee hours, but watch out for tea and soda with caffeine as well. Try to cut off all caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. And carbonated drinks can be a problem even if they’re caffeine-free. The bubbles can make you feel bloated and trigger heartburn. A nightcap isn’t a good idea, either. While alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it can also make it harder to stay asleep.
Good: Herbal tea
A cup of herbal (caffeine-free) tea can help you unwind before bed. Try chamomile, passionflower, or valerian. Peppermint can be a relaxing choice, too, as long as you don’t tend to get heartburn.
Avoid Mindless Munching
If you find yourself craving something while watching late-night TV, pause and ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Maybe you’re just bored, restless, or ready to turn in for the night? But if you are truly hungry, don’t ignore your body’s signals: It’s hard to fall asleep when your tummy’s rumbling or your blood sugar is low. Choosing the right nighttime snack may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
Think Small and Satisfying
Even if you feel ravenous, don’t overdo it. Going to bed with a too-full stomach can lead to heartburn and bloating, which will make it much harder to rest. Instead, aim for a “mini meal,” ideally one that has a little protein and some complex carbs.