What to Eat to Help You Sleep Better
Bedtime snacks can help you sleep better? Conventional wisdom says you’re not supposed to eat right before you go to bed. That’s supposed to be the worst time to eat, the time it all goes to your waistline.
But lately I’ve been hearing that it can be good to snack before bed, especially if you have insomnia. My cousin tells me that Cream of Wheat before bed helps her child fall asleep. And a Tylenol PM commercial claims that adults should have a bowl of cereal before bed to improve their sleep.
I decided to look into this a bit more, and I found two good articles on the topic. One is a WebMD article that explains why bedtime snacks can indeed help you sleep. It has to do with your metabolic hormones. If you don’t have enough leptin, the hormone that signals satiety, your body could wake you up. However, the article says that you can’t snack on just anything; you have to choose your snacks wisely. Light dairy and carbohydrate-rich snacks are the way to go. The second article I found, from MedicineNet, also talks about the benefits of snacking before bed, but this one gets into more detail about what to eat and what to avoid.
Here’s a brief summary of the best and worst bedtime snacks, based on the two articles.
The Best Bedtime Snacks:
- Carbohydrates, like a bowl of cold cereal, oatmeal with honey, a banana, a granola bar, some whole wheat crackers or pretzels, or a piece of bread or English muffin. If you need something sweeter, try a few low-fat cookies or a small muffin. These carbs produce tryptophan, which helps you sleep. Oats, honey, and bananas were mentioned as being particularly good carbohydrate sources of tryptophan.
- Dairy. Dairy is also a good source of tryptophan, especially with combined with some carbs. Try a small bowl of cereal with skim milk, or small pieces of cheese with crackers. I like eating a little hot cereal, or a few cookies, and/or a small mug of warm skim milk—I steam it, so it’s like the foam of a cappuccino, without the espresso. And I sprinkle a little cinnamon on top.
Avoid These Bedtime Snacks:
- Protein-rich snacks, such as protein bars, protein-enhanced drinks, and meat jerky. Foods high in protein are harder for your body to break down and digest, and they can interfere with your sleep. So I guess that although eating turkey makes you tired (as everyone jokes on Thanksgiving…), it might not be as good for your sleep as non-protein-rich sources of tryptophan, like oats and honey.
- Big portions/full meals. These can cause heartburn, acid reflux, or choking, or just make you feel uncomfortable.
- High fat snacks. Same as above!
- Spicy snacks. Same as above!
- Anything with caffeine, including food and beverages that have small or hidden amounts of it, like decaf coffee and chocolate.
- Anything too sugary, like candy or sugary cereal or cake. The sugar high and low can interfere with your sleep.
Unfortunately, many people are having more trouble sleeping than usual these days, with financial stresses and all. If this is the case for you, don’t force yourself to go to bed hungry just because you think you’re not supposed to eat late. Have a small bedtime snack, and maybe you’ll sleep better! It won’t be that many additional calories, and besides, you can always cut down at a different meal if you want. Just take good care of yourself!