It’s strange to find yourself awake at 3 a.m., when the world is dark, your stomach is grumbling and the kitchen is beckoning. You’re hungry for something. It’s not breakfast — it’s not any meal — so chips and salsa are just as much an option as the leftover steak from several hours earlier.
What can you eat that won’t absolutely wreck your chance to sleep for the rest of the night? And just as importantly, which options won’t make you feel like garbage the next day? HuffPost talked with several registered dietitians to get their advice on some solid midnight snacks and what makes them the ideal combo to get you back to sleep.
The best midnight snacks
Sliced turkey breast
“There is a reason you feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey is rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is known for encouraging a sleepy, relaxed feeling,” said Marissa Meshulam, a registered dietitian. Deli-style turkey breast is a great choice to satisfy a midnight craving, either rolled up on its own or made into a half-sandwich. The protein from the turkey should stave off hunger till morning, and tryptophan is a great way to get back to sleep. Meshulam recommends Applegate Organics herb turkey breast, because it has no preservatives or sugar added.
Cheese and crackers
According to Meshulam, any snack we choose should contain protein and fiber to keep us satiated for the rest of the night. This classic combo provides satisfaction from the protein in the cheese and crunchy, fiber-filled crackers.
Another major benefit? “Cheese contains some tryptophan, which also converts to melatonin and can help with sleep,” Meshulam said. Choose a cracker with a bit of fiber (you can even go for an almond flour cracker) to ensure your blood sugar stays stable.
Vegetables and hummus
Refreshing and crunchy, veggies like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers paired with your favorite hummus are an ideal quick and easy midnight snack. Amanda Frankeny, a registered dietitian and the program director for the Food Dignity Movement, explained: “I swear people forget that they often like eating vegetables. If you missed your dose of produce throughout the day, squeeze it in at night. Two spoonfuls of hummus provides protein, fiber, and complete satisfaction.”
Tart cherries and pistachios
Numerous studies on tart cherries have demonstrated that snacking on the fruit can lead to better overall sleep. Because tart cherries naturally contain melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep, they’re a great midnight snack. Meshulam recommends pairing tart cherries with pistachios. “The pistachios ensure you are satisfied with the fat/protein, plus they give you some melatonin,” she said.
Banana and nut butter
Choosing blood sugar-balanced snacks like a banana and nut butter can be essential for high-quality sleep, as sugary diets, especially before bed, are linked with the opposite. Frankeny explained: “The fruit contains potassium, helping to relax your muscles, and complex carbohydrates, which regulate blood sugar spikes that might keep you up. Combine it with peanut butter, a healthful, filling fat and tryptophan source, inducing sleepiness. This combo is made easily in the middle of the night and a total winner in my book.”
Cereal and milk
A warm glass of milk may be ideal for sending little ones off to bed, but it can also be perfect for getting us back to sleep after waking. Pair milk with a whole-grain, low-sugar cereal to create a blood sugar-balanced snack, according to Frankeny. “Add milk for calcium, a mineral that helps your body produce and use melatonin,” Frankeny explained.
Protein or snack bars
A protein bar is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a snack accessible from your bed. (I’m thinking of all the nursing moms.) Sweet, crunchy and a little salty, protein or granola bars are the ultimate midnight snacks, whether nut- or oat-based. “Walnuts, almonds, and pistachios offer natural melatonin, protein and magnesium to fill you up and induce sleep,” Frankeny said. She warns to stay away from chocolate or coffee-flavored bars, as those could keep readers awake. If you’re wondering how to look for a healthy bar, check out our complete guide.
How to ensure you don’t wake up hungry
Getting enough good quality sleep is essential to health. While a midnight snack every once in a while is fine, waking up every night hungry could indicate some other issues. Registered dietitian Barbara Ruhs recommends readers consider their habits. “Are you eating enough food (obtaining adequate calories/energy for your daily routine)? Are you eating too early and not eating enough before bedtime because of a fitness routine later in the day?” she asked. Try adding an extra snack before bed or planning more mini-meals throughout the day to ensure you’re reaching your daily requirements.
Anxiety or discomfort could be other reasons for waking up in the middle of the night. “Sometimes, anxiety can wake us in the middle of the night, and we confuse it as hunger,” Ruhs explained. “If you think this might be the case, waking up and making a nice cup of herbal (non-caffeinated) tea to soothe the nerves isn’t a bad idea.”
Ensure that your sleep space is dark and quiet and that your bed is as comfortable as possible to prevent nighttime snacking. Meshulam said, “Lots of times we get into habits of eating at certain times (i.e., we wake up and think we need a snack) and instead we want to really check in with our bodies on what is going on.”
If all else fails, it may be time to visit a doctor to determine if other medical issues are at play.