Sleep Tips

Put Late Night Snacking to Bed

If you snack better, will you sleep better? Most of us have found ourselves indulging in a pre-sleep nibble at one time or another, but the question as to whether or not we should have that late-night munch is a difficult one. Research on this topic is varied; fitness guru Jilian Michaels states that it doesn’t matter what time you eat, it only matters the amount of calories you consume, while physician Jamie Koufman says late-night eating can become a big problem for someone’s overall health.

I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy an occasional late-night snack. Between a long day juggling a busy work life and an active family, right before hitting the pillow can often be the only time of the day I get a chance to eat. A study in the journal Obesity concluded that our internal clock is one of the biggest reasons we crave sweet and starchy foods at nighttime. It originates in our ancestors’ need to store fat in order to survive when food was scarce, and the best time to eat was whenever food was available. For those of you in similar situations as mine, in which late night snacks can sometimes be a necessity, there are things we can do to insure that our pre-bed munchies are not detrimental to our sleep health:

Cravings vs. Hunger

I often find myself thinking, “Boy, I’m really hungry right now,” in the afterhours when the kids are in bed and my husband and I have a quiet second to ourselves. The problem is I’m not actually hungry for food; instead, I am craving food. Big difference! According to fitness guru Cathe Friedrich, hunger is a physical need for nourishment, while cravings are psychologically motivated and usually have an underlying emotional component, like stress. Men and women tend to crave different kinds of after-hours foods -- women tend to choose sweet foods, such as chocolate, while men gravitate toward salty snacks or foods that require preparation, such as a steak or pizza. .

Pick the Right Bedtime Snack

The key to choosing a smart bedtime snack is to pick one that not only exercises portion control and calorie intake ( experts suggest somewhere between 150-200 calories), but one that is also filled with the proper vitamins and nutrients that can help you get a better night’s sleep. Snacks such as cherries, bananas, oranges and rice contain melatonin, a natural chemical that helps us fall asleep. Avoid foods that contain large amounts of fat, like fried or naturally fatty foods. These tend to stimulate the production of acid in the stomach, which can spill into your esophagus and cause heartburn that will disrupt your normal sleep cycle.

Curb the Need for a Late-Night Snack

The obvious way to prevent bedtime snacking from interrupting sleep patterns is to not snack before bed. While this is easier said than done, there are steps you can take throughout the day to help curb your late night appetites. A three-meals-a-day regular eating habit is one of the best ways to keep from craving a bedtime snack.  Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner helps our bodies keep a regular schedule, which can help reduce late-night cravings, as well as not “drinking” large amounts of calories via sugary sodas, juices or coffee beverages. The need to relieve stress or boredom by snacking can be curbed by finding something else to occupy your time. Instead of snacking, take a nighttime walk, take on a simple around-the-house project, read, or take a relaxing bath or shower.

While it’s important to fuel your body to give you energy throughout your day, we all need to be mindful of both what we use to fuel our bodies and when we fuel our bodies. Life is hectic. Between work and family, it can sometimes be difficult to take care of ourselves the way we should. However, if we take the extra time to watch what we eat and when, our sleep health will be greatly improved, in turn improving all other aspects of life.

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