We’ve all been there: dinner’s all done but hunger creeps in and you find yourself craving a little something sweet or salty to end the day. Late night snacking can be a big contributing factor in achieving fitness goals, so if you’re worried those post-dinner indulgences are sabotaging your success, learn how to select healthy bedtime snacks.
Why do bedtime snacks have a bad rap?
Snacking late at night makes it harder for our body temperature cool down (which helps induce sleep) and interferes with the release of melatonin, a hormone necessary for a good night’s sleep.
Digestion also slows down by about 50% while you’re sleeping, so that late night nibble won’t be properly digested, and is more likely to be stored instead of burned because you’re not active in sleep (dancing in your dreams doesn’t count as cardio, unfortunately!).
Why do you crave a bedtime snack?
You’ve skipped meals
If you find yourself hungry after-hours, it might be because your body is trying to make up for energy it didn’t get during the day due to an irregular eating schedule. Skipping meals leads to unstable blood sugar levels, which causes carb cravings. Keep your body well-nourished throughout the day and you’re likely to see those cravings disappear.
It’s a habit
One reason you might be craving a snack is simply it’s been part of your routine for forever. If you’re used to going straight to dessert after dinner or watching TV with something salty after a meal, make an effort to practice mindfulness when choosing foods and eat without distractions. You’ll likely eat more slowly and savor flavors more, satisfying the craving before it even strikes.
When we are stressed or sleep-deprived, our stress hormone cortisol shoots up in our system. Long-term, elevated cortisol levels interfere with metabolism. To counteract this we then crave carbs, which releases insulin – the opponent to cortisol – and can assist in aiding sleep. No wonder your body craves them, right? To break this vicious cycle, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Also, try a relaxing activity like yoga or stretching before bed to help prevent late night cravings and promote quality sleep.
So what to do if you’ve had healthy, wholesome meals all day, you’ve gotten enough sleep, you’ve started to wind down from the day, and you still find yourself hungry? Listen to your body! Simply snack smart if you need to eat before bed.
Good bedtime snack choices
- Slow carbs (in moderation): Easily digestible carbs whole grains, quinoa or legumes are least likely to interfere with sleep.
- Easily digestible veggies: Cook or steam veggies. If raw veggies are your only option, go with green peppers, tomatoes, onions, zucchini or cucumbers.
- Lean protein: Combining lean protein with carb-dense foods results in more stable blood sugar levels than carbs on their own.
- Foods rich in tryptophan or melatonin: Foods that contain these natural, healthy sleep inducers are cherries, dairy, poultry, and fish.
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils or beans are full of slow-to-digest carbs and protein.
Poor bedtime snack choices
- Raw veggies: Hard to digest and can worsen sleep, unless you eat the veggies listed in the ‘good choices’ list above.
- Fatty foods: Fat takes several hours to digest and can cause heartburn.
- Big meals: No need to fuel up before winding down.
- Caffeine: This one’s obvious, steer clear of coffee, non-herbal teas, and even chocolate. Tip: the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content.
- Alcohol: Alcohol and a good night’s sleep are a big no-no.
8fit’s top 5 healthy bedtime snacks
- Greek yogurt with cherries is a great pre-bedtime snack. Try our Chocolate Cherry Parfait without the chocolate.
- Cottage cheese with veggies will give your body the nourishment it needs without overwhelming your digestive tract. Try our Cottage Cheese Over Tomato Slices snack. You could use green peppers, zucchini and cucumber instead of tomatoes if you like.
- Whole grain bread with some avocado and turkey breast is another helpful bedtime snack. Swap the brie out for ¼-½ avocado in our Turkey and Brie Sandwich recipe.
- Hummus with cucumber sticks will fill you up and won’t weigh you down. Substitute the carrots for cucumbers in our Hummus, Carrots and Walnuts snack in the 8fit app.
- Make our Salt and Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas, adding sliced zucchini on the side.