In an ideal world, we would all eat a hearty, healthy dinner. It would be followed by something small and sweet — a square of dark chocolate, maybe — and then a few hours later, we would curl up in bed and sleep all night, our stomachs perfectly full until the next day.
The reality is more complicated. Whether we stay up later than we should, eat a small dinner or we’re hungry without a good reason (it happens), a lot of us end up craving a bedtime snack.
Although we’ve long heard that eating before bed is associated with weight gain, this is (thankfully) mostly a myth. That being said, what you choose to eat before bed could impact your weight over time, along with your ability to sleep soundly.
So if you know that skipping a bedtime snack will leave your stomach rumbling, what should you reach for? We asked nutritionists. Here are their top picks.
According to Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian, a rumbling stomach at night is your body’s way of telling you that it’s craving more calories and nutrients. So you should aim to eat foods that give you the most nutritional bang for your buck without being high maintenance.
That’s what makes walnuts such an excellent option. “The nutritional profile of a walnut is plentiful, contributing to calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, protein and heart healthy fats like plant-based omega-3s,” Beckerman said. “Because walnuts hit on so many helpful nutrients, research has found that consuming walnuts can help stave off Type 2 diabetes and other cardiometabolic risk factors.”
Besides being delicious, bananas can actually help you fall asleep. “Bananas contain potassium, which is a natural muscle relaxant, helping to aid in a good night’s sleep,” Beckerman said. “They also low-key have tryptophan, which not only improves mood but can assist in a restful night’s sleep.”
One thing to note is that bananas do contain a decent amount of sugar, at about 15 grams per banana. While too much sugar can disrupt sleep, the sugar found in a banana is natural and will have less of an effect on your blood sugar than refined sugars. And bananas have enough other benefits to still make it a worthwhile bedtime snack — and one that’s unlikely to disrupt your sleep. That being said, if you’re particularly sensitive to sugar, you might want to skip this one.
Let’s face it: Most of us crave something sweet before bed. So it should come as very good news that Beckerman is all about chocolate-covered nuts before bed. “You can’t go wrong with dark chocolate and nuts to satisfy hunger before bedtime, thanks to the blood-stabilizing protein and healthy fat coming from the nuts,” she explained. “The dark chocolate is just the right amount of sweet, too.”
One caveat here is that dark chocolate does contain caffeine — one bar of 70% to 85% solid dark chocolate has about 80 milligrams. For context, one cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams. If you’re eating a handful of dark chocolate-covered nuts, it’s very unlikely that you’ll consume a whole bar’s worth of caffeine, but caffeine affects all of us differently — so if you know your sleep takes a hit when you consume even the smallest amount, another option might be better.
Greek yogurt with almonds and berries
If you’re willing to put some work in (and by that we mean mixing a few foods together), registered dietitian Abby Vichill recommends Greek yogurt with almonds and berries.
“This is a great option because it has a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat,” she said. “The carbs are in the berries (and yogurt), the protein is in the yogurt, the fat is in the almonds. Having something carb-based, something protein-based, and something fat-based before bed helps to keep blood sugar balanced and keeps your body from waking during the night due to the need for glucose.”
Rice cake with peanut butter
Vichill says this is another great bedtime snack, because peanut butter has protein and fat and rice cakes have carbs. As mentioned above, that trio is great for keeping blood sugar balanced throughout the night. Just do your best to skip the sugary peanut butter options!
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Sure, you probably don’t have these lying around the house just yet. But Beckerman says shiitake mushrooms are one of the best sources of plant-based vitamin D, which is integral to achieving a good night’s rest. And she says dried shiitake mushrooms are a quick and easy way to get it. “Vitamin D plays a role in melatonin production and we want to ensure this hormone is locked and loaded before bedtime to ensure high quality shut-eye,” she said. “I recommend Pan’s Mushroom Jerky.” If you don’t want to invest in mushroom jerky, you can always saute shiitake mushrooms before bed — or do that ahead of time and keep them in the fridge to reheat.
How to avoid that bedtime hunger in the first place
While eating a bedtime snack is perfectly fine, if you don’t love eating before bed, there’s a lot you can do to prevent hunger from striking.
“I recommend consuming a sufficient amount of calories earlier in the day. Don’t wait until dinner to eat two-thirds of your food,” Vichill said. “Aim to have 25-30 grams of protein at your main meals, and three to five servings of cruciferous or high-fiber vegetables at lunch and dinner.”
Beckerman adds that our bodies take “nutritional inventory” at the end of the day and then decide what they may have missed out on. “That’s why we may experience a second wave of hunger pre-bedtime if the body doesn’t feel fully nourished and balanced with the right vitamins and minerals,” she said.
And if that happens, she notes, don’t fight it ― just offer your body some food. After all, there’s a lot of joy that can be found in a really delicious bedtime snack!