We can’t always control when hunger strikes. And sometimes when the sun goes down, we find ourselves drawn to the light of the fridge. When that happens, we can choose foods that satisfy our appetites and support better sleep, too. Rest assured, there’s more than a warm glass of milk that can send you on the path to dreamland — but yes, that childhood classic is still on the list.
There are many reasons you might find yourself hungry before bed. Maybe dinner didn’t hit the spot. Or maybe food is a comfort in times of stress or anxiety. However you got here, you might remember advice you’ve heard against eating before bed and be tempted to go to sleep hungry. But if your body is telling you it wants food, listen to it. What’s more, research shows that consuming nutrient-rich foods at night can also be beneficial for heart health and even muscle recovery after exercise. It’s all about choosing foods that support restful sleep and taking a mindful approach to eating that late-night snack.
Learn how to savor your snack or meal with this mini-meditation.
When you add eating to your nighttime routine, it’s all the more important to bring awareness to each act. To start, we recommend creating habits that promote sleep hygiene as you wind down for the night. That can mean sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and not using your phone before bed. It also means putting extra thought into the foods you choose to eat, and when you choose to eat them. If it’s less than 2 hours before you plan to go to sleep, you’ll want to stay away from a heavy meal and focus on a wholesome snack instead.
There are plenty of foods that won’t get in the way of your Zzz’s, and even some that might help you sleep better. Before you dig in, remember to practice mindful eating. Focus on the food in front of you, taking your time to savor flavors, aromas, and textures. No self-judgment, just a moment to be present while you give your body what it needs.
So you’re ready to answer those hunger pangs. Now what? Most nutritionists and sleep specialists agree that some foods are better than others. Certain foods are rich in ingredients that can promote a good night’s sleep, while others can have the opposite effect, setting us up for a restless night.
When thinking about the best foods before bed, look for snacks that are a good source of these key nutrients: tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body regulate sleep and mood, and magnesium, an essential mineral with lots of health benefits — deeper, more sound sleep being one of them. Both tryptophan and magnesium help produce and regulate melatonin, a hormone that’s a vital component to our sleep-wake cycle, and helps prepare our bodies to wind down.
Now, let’s start with 5 of the best, and worst, foods to eat before bed.
1. Cherries. Cherries, especially the tart Montmorency variety, are a natural source of melatonin. Studies have found that the fruit can help you stay asleep longer and improve the quality of your sleep.
2. Bananas. Bananas are rich in magnesium and have been found to significantly increase melatonin. They’re also a good source of carbohydrates to fill you up, making this peel-and-eat snack another easy food to enjoy before bed.
3. Walnuts. Renowned as a good source of healthy fats, walnuts also have a high melatonin content that can lead to a longer night of uninterrupted sleep.
4. Turkey. One of the most famous sources of tryptophan (as all those who have nodded off after a big Thanksgiving dinner can attest), turkey is often recommended as being among the best foods to eat before bed. If a serving of fruit or nuts won’t do the trick, consider a simple turkey sandwich instead.
5. Milk. Okay, it’s a drink. But we couldn’t complete this list without mentioning this classic pre-bed ritual. The benefits are real, with tryptophan and calcium both helping us to sleep more soundly. Plant-based eater? Look for a non-dairy milk that’s high in calcium for similar benefits.
1. Citrus fruits. Oranges and grapefruits might be a go-to snack, but save them for drinks and meals earlier in the day. They can be tough on the digestive system and trigger indigestion that disturbs sleep.
2. Spicy foods. Among the worst foods to eat before bed are spicy foods, which can be tough to digest and cause heartburn, making it difficult for you to lie down and relax. If you decide on a turkey sandwich, skip the hot sauce if it’s close to bedtime.
3. Chocolate. It’s the dessert of choice for many of us, but because of its caffeine content, chocolate is not the best thing to eat before bed. Consider this a good reason to eat chocolate for breakfast instead.
4. Fried foods. A burger and fries might be your dream late-night order, but a heavy meal of fried foods — and all fried options — can cause indigestion and are best avoided.
5. Alcohol. While alcohol might make you feel sleepy initially, that nightcap has other plans for you. Even one glass of wine can interfere with the quality of your sleep, leading to a restless night and next-day fatigue.
Feel ready to head for the light of the fridge? Eat your way to a better night’s sleep, and give “sweet dreams” a whole new meaning.