Midnight munchies have a bit of a bad reputation. Blamed for things like causing insomnia and inducing weight gain, bedtime snacks are generally to be avoided at late hours, even if your stomach is growling.
However, not all foods are the same. The right snacks can be healthy and serve as natural sleep aids. If you’re one of the 70 percent of Americans who struggle to get good sleep at least once a month, you may want to consider a bedtime snack. For those who feel hungry or wake up in the middle of the night, there are certain foods that can help you get back to sleep.
To get better sleep quality from our food, we need ingredients such as amino acids, enzymes, and antioxidants. Below we’ll explore 25 bedtime foods that help you sleep as backed by science*.
Munching on the right food two or three hours before bed can provide a boost of nutrition and promote better sleep, especially when paired with a relaxing sleep podcast. Here are some of the best foods to have for dinner or as a post-dinner snack.
Figs pack a concentrated blend of potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron, which can help with blood flow and muscle contraction. These factors are important when it comes to falling asleep. A study conducted on elderly participants found that those who took magnesium had an increase in sleep time and efficiency.
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel have an exceptional amount of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. This powerhouse combination has been shown to increase the production of serotonin. A study found that people who ate salmon for six months fell asleep about 10 minutes faster than those who ate other meats.
This Thanksgiving staple contains the amino acid tryptophan, which has been shown to increase melatonin production. If you have trouble falling asleep, then turkey might just be the meat you want to gobble up.
While lettuce may not sound like the most exciting bedtime snack, it’s a potent one for sleep. Lettuce contains a phytonutrient called lactucarium that has been shown to promote sleep and relaxation. Don’t want to eat salad? Try making some “lettuce tea” by pouring hot water over romaine leaves, seeping them and adding a touch of honey for flavor.
5. Barley Grass Powder
Barley grass is a powerful sleep aid due to its calcium, potassium and tryptophan content. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), a chemical made inside the brain, is also present in the plant, which has been shown to promote sleep and prevent insomnia. To enjoy it as a snack, try adding the powder to smoothies, salad dressings, soups or just plain water.
6. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are not only tasty, but they are also great sources of potassium, magnesium and calcium. Similar to bananas, the sweet potato’s components have been shown to help you relax and lower your blood pressure before bedtime. Try adding some honey and sea salt to your sweet potatoes for some extra flavor.
If you have a sweet tooth, a honey-glazed snack might be just what you need. Honey contains glucose which can help to reverse levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you more alert.
Tofu is a rich source of high-quality protein, calcium and isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen that can increase serotonin. A study found that adults who ate two or more soy servings slept longer and reported better sleep quality.
9. White Rice
Although it contains fewer nutrients than brown rice, white rice is rich in carbohydrates and has a high glycemic index. Studies have found that people who ate food with a high glycemic index, like rice, experienced longer sleep duration.
Like white rice, pretzels have a high glycemic index, meaning they can cause blood sugar levels to rise. The resulting insulin boost transports tryptophan into your brain and helps to increase melatonin, nature’s sleep aid.
Oatmeal is another food that provides a natural source of melatonin. Similar to rice, oatmeal is loaded with carbs and has been reported to induce drowsiness when eaten before bed due to creating a small rise in blood sugar.
Kale is a powerful leafy green packed with antioxidants and calcium. Calcium serves as another trigger for your brain to use tryptophan and unleash the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
Are you often hit with late night hunger pangs? Rather than indulging in classic junk food munchies, here are some snooze foods that are healthier and more effective at inducing sleep.
A midnight munchie to get excited about! Popcorn is a whole grain packed with fiber and carbs. Carbohydrates make tryptophan, an amino acid important for sleep, more available to the brain. A study found that food such as popcorn and nuts provided a longer sleep duration than food such as burgers and pizza.
14. Dark Chocolate
Here’s another sweet bedtime treat. A study at the University of Edinburgh found that the magnesium present in dark chocolate can help a person sleep better at night by keeping their circadian rhythms in check.
Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are rich in tryptophan, folate and vitamin B6. Folate, a B-vitamin, has been shown to help regulate sleep patterns while vitamin B6 can keep your internal clock in check by producing melatonin and serotonin. Hummus also has naturally-occurring melatonin, making it the perfect spread for a late-night snack.
Almonds are a type of tree nut rich in many beneficial nutrients. They are a source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Eating an ounce of almonds can also provide 19% of your daily need of magnesium, which has been shown to reduce stress and help those with insomnia.
Walnuts are another tree nut packed with over 19 vitamins and healthy omega-3 fats. Similar to almonds, walnuts are often suggested to improve the quality of sleep, as they are a natural food source of melatonin. They also provide ALA, a fatty acid that converts to DHA, which helps produce serotonin, another sleep-enhancing chemical.
18. Nut Butter and Toast
Nut butter, such as almond or peanut butter, is the perfect complement for any snack because it is filled with tryptophan-boosting protein. Nut butter also provides a power duo of carbs and protein, which helps to cause drowsiness. Add a dollop of nut butter to some crackers to help you sleep.
Pistachios are another type of nut that can help whisk you off to slumberland. Packing protein, vitamin B6 and magnesium, pistachios contain the central ingredients that can help you sleep. Pistachios also have the highest concentration of melatonin.
Chock-full of water and nutrients, watermelon helps push water through your system and keeps you hydrated, helping to eliminate those post-dinner munchies. Watermelon also contains choline, a nutrient that has been shown to help with sleep disturbances, as well as lycopene, an antioxidant that can make it easier to fall asleep, according to one study.
Low in calories and full of vitamin C and K, kiwi may be one of the best snacks to eat before bedtime. One study found that adults who consumed two kiwis one hour before bed fell asleep 45% faster and slept for 13% longer than those who did not.
Pineapple is another fruit that can help you fall asleep by giving a boost to the melatonin production in your body. Researchers found that melatonin levels increased by more than 266 percent after eating pineapples.
23. Cottage Cheese and Crackers
Cottage cheese is high in lean protein, which packs the amino acid tryptophan. When levels of serotonin are low in your body, it may cause insomnia. Tryptophan may help remedy this by boosting serotonin levels. For an extra punch, pair cottage cheese with carb-rich crackers to help you fall asleep.
24. Yogurt and Bananas
Studies show that the consumption of yogurt can initiate sleep and help cure insomnia. Pair it with some bananas, which are rich in a source of tryptophan, magnesium, potassium. A study found that these properties may help regulate blood pressure and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Along with the nuts, vegetables and carb-filled snacks that we listed above, a glass of these drinks can help you soothe and provide the nutrients needed for sleep.
Chamomile is a soothing herbal tea rich that contains apigenin, an antioxidant that latches to specific receptions in the brain and induces sleepiness. One study found that adults who drank chamomile fell asleep 15 minutes faster than those who didn’t and experienced less waking during the night.
Goji Berry Juice
Goji berries supply a generous amount of antioxidants as well as a bit of melatonin. A study found that 80% of people who drank goji berry juice reported improved sleep quality and 70% found it easier to wake up.
There is evidence to suggest passionflower tea can reduce anxiety due to its antioxidant content and reduce stress due to the production of GABA. A study found that adults who drank a cup of this tea before bed rated their sleep quality better than those who didn’t.
There’s a reason why we often give kids a glass of warm milk before bed. Milk is another source of the amino acid tryptophan. A study in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry found a melatonin-rich milk drink at night helped improved sleep quality among elderly adults.
Tart Cherry Juice
Like whole cherries, tart cherry juice is filled with key nutrients and antioxidants and is a natural source of melatonin. Studies have shown that adults with insomnia reported sleeping for 90 minutes longer when they drank tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While bedtime snacks can help you sleep, there are also foods that can disturb your sleep and keep you awake.
This should be no surprise. As great as chicken fingers sound for a midnight snack, fried foods take a while to digest and may give you heartburn if eaten too close to bedtime.
High Fat Food
Similar to fried foods, high-fat foods such as burgers and pizza also take longer to digest than other foods and could interfere with your sleep.
High Sodium Food
Hold back on dunking your sushi. High-sodium foods such as soy sauce and smoked meats will likely cause you to wake up feeling parched for water.
If you’re prone to heartburn, spicy foods should be avoided right at bedtime. Lying down aggravates the feeling of heartburn, making it harder to fall asleep.
While that plate of leftover pasta might sound tempting, foods with a hearty amount of tomato have a tendency to interfere with sleep by causing acid reflux and heartburn.
Just as there are foods to avoid, you’ll also want to avoid some of these drinks if you want to fall asleep easily and have a good night’s rest.
This one should be a no brainer. The drink that’s gotten you through all-nighters and early 8 A.M. meetings should not be consumed before bed. Research has shown that caffeine can remain in your system for up to 14 hours, which may delay your sleep.
While a night of booze can help you knock out initially, alcohol has been shown to lead to more awakenings, worse sleep quality and less time in deep sleep.
Wait, aren’t teas good for sleep? While herbal teas like chamomile and passionflower benefitted sleep, black tea is a caffeinated drink that should be avoided. Research suggests that caffeine beverages consumed within six hours before can disrupt your sleep.
In addition to caffeine, most energy beverages also contain taurine, an amino acid that increases alertness and elevates your heart rate, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Here’s some food for thought: is it a bad idea to eat before you sleep? Studies show that people who eat before sleep are more likely to gain weight. In addition, munching on food before bedtime can cause us to overdo our daily calorie intake since dinner is when we often feel the hungriest. Those who have acid reflux are also recommended to avoid bedtime snacks.
However, it’s normal to have a craving at bedtime, and for most people, it’s perfectly okay and even beneficial to eat before bed. While midnight munchies aren’t necessarily a bad thing, you’d want to avoid loading up on junk food, which is loaded with ingredients that cause weight gain and interfere with sleep. If you want to eat, go for snacks that can supply melatonin, serotonin and essential vitamins and minerals.
In a nutshell, not all bedtime snacks are bad. In fact, several snacks may help due to their content of sleep-managing hormones and brain chemicals, as well as key antioxidants and nutrients. Whether you’re looking for a post-dinner snack or need a quick bite to ease your late night hunger, healthy and nutritious food can help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, wake up less, and enjoy overall better sleep quality.
After having your bedtime snack, be sure to enhance your sleep by listening to a sleep podcast or buying a comfortable mattress.
*Visit the link following each statistic for its source. Casper has not independently verified the food statistics or sources.