Late night snacking is often blamed as a contributing factor to issues with both weight management and sleep quality.
If you’re hungry, an occasional healthy late night snack shouldn’t negatively impact your health, but keep it to 200 calories or fewer.
If you’re in the habit of raiding the refrigerator late at night, you’re not alone. Many of us crave food — particularly junk food — before or after bedtime. Late night snacking is generally discouraged and often blamed for contributing to thickening waistlines and affecting the quality of sleep.
If you’re genuinely hungry at night, it’s okay to have a snack. However, it’s important to choose your snack wisely.
When it comes to weight management, it’s generally best to eat your biggest meals during the time of day you’re most active. However, keep in mind that the total calories ingested matters more than the timing. Research shows that late night eating of small, nutrient-dense foods does not appear to negatively impact weight loss or health and body composition, and may even be beneficial for muscle protein synthesis and cardiometabolic health. It was also found that obese individuals who balance a small late night snack with regular exercise can mitigate adverse effects from such nighttime eating.
As for the common belief that late night eating affects sleep quality, this can be true if large meals are consumed. On the other hand, small amounts of certain foods might actually help you sleep. If you have the midnight munchies, try eating foods with sleep-promoting compounds. Dairy, for example, contains a nutrient called α-lactalbumin that is rich in tryptophan, a component of serotonin, which gets converted into the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Tips for healthier late-night snacking:
- Ask yourself if you’re actually hungry, and not tired, bored, or stressed.
- If you’re hungry, eat something healthy.
- Don’t eat a big meal right before bed.
- Limit snacks to 200 calories or fewer.
- Choose whole or minimally processed foods.
- Avoid anything fatty, spicy, salty, sugary, or caffeinated.
- Look for foods with sleep-supporting compounds like tryptophan, serotonin, melatonin, magnesium and calcium.
- Don’t go to bed immediately after eating.
- If you’re always famished before bed — which can lead to overeating or giving into unhealthy cravings — you may not be eating enough calories earlier in the day or enough protein to keep you filled up.
- Keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand.
A good nighttime snack should contain 200 calories or fewer, preferably with complex carbohydrates and protein. Try some of our favorites:
- High-fiber cereal
- Low-fat cheese like string cheese
- Avocado or hardboiled egg on whole grain crackers
- Banana with peanut butter
- Fresh fruit and nuts
- Turkey slices on whole grain bread
- Greek yogurt with granola
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Whole grain toast with nut butter
- Low-sodium cottage cheese
- Protein smoothie
- Trail mix without candy
- Whole-grain tortilla wrap with hummus
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