It’s one of the most hotly debated questions in the nutrition world: Can you eat before bed? And, if so, what should you eat? Which foods will keep you up – and which are good foods to eat before bed?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, you shouldn’t make dinner your biggest meal of the day – and you should try to eat about three or four hours before bed. That gives your body time to digest it enough so you don’t have an upset or overly full stomach causing digestive discomfort when you lie down.
But that doesn’t mean you should go to bed with an empty stomach – that, too, can keep you up at night! Let’s look at how sleep and weight are connected before diving into what foods to eat before bed and what to save for another time of day.
What to know about sleep and weight
A good night’s sleep should absolutely be a part of our healthy lifestyle, particularly when we’re working to maintain or lose weight. Sleepless nights can actually makes us crave more fat, sugar and salt! One review of 36 studies concluded there’s definitely a link between gaining weight and losing sleep.
That doesn’t apply only to long-term sleep issues. Sleep can impact hunger and appetite after one night of tossing and turning. In 2019, a study found that women who regularly slept a healthy amount (7 to 9 hours) felt “stronger than normal” food cravings when they only clocked 5 to 6 hours of rest instead!
Sleep (or a lack thereof) impacts your hormones in charge of hunger and fullness, leptin and ghrelin, as well as cortisol. When we’re tired, we make more ghrelin – our appetite increases and it feels like we’ll never be full. We also make less leptin, which makes you feel hungrier. And in addition to being a stress hormone, cortisol also stimulates your appetite. When we sleep less, we make more cortisol the next day!
1. Easy-to-digest carbs
Here’s some good news: Carbs are literally brain food, since glucose (their building block) is the only fuel the brain can use! Here’s more: In 2014, a review of how diets impact sleep revealed that eating more carbs (as in not eating “low-carb”) helped people fall asleep in less time and get more REM rest.
If your belly starts grumbling after a too-early or light dinner, it’s the perfect time for a little cereal and milk – or some rice pudding. Unlike heavy, rich foods, carbs will digest faster so a full belly won’t keep you up. You could also reach for some crackers with a tiny bit of cheese or peanut butter, a banana or some yogurt with berries. (It’s OK to eat more than carbs before bed – read on to learn why.)
2. Lean protein
Sleep is more than a time to rest. It’s when your body undergoes really important repair and recovery tasks. It’s when you recover from that super-hard Peloton class and when your immune system restocks all those cells that defend your body from invaders. To do all that and more, your body needs amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Make sure your evening meal includes a serving of this must-have macro. Later on, we’ll share which ones do double-duty, but include any you like: lean meat, protein, tofu, legumes, etc.
3. Tart cherries and kiwi
Instead of reaching for ice cream when that late-night sweet tooth hits, try dried tart cherries, a cup of cherry juice or some sliced kiwi. In addition to being both sweet and tart, these fruits both have been studied for their ability to help you sleep!
4. Almonds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is sometimes called the relaxation mineral. That’s because it’s needed for hundreds of different cellular processes in your brain, muscles, and nervous system.
Almonds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are three of the best sources of this mineral. Snack on a handful of almonds or pumpkin seeds if you’re craving something crunchy, or stir an ounce of chia seeds into vanilla almond milk (then let thicken) for a tasty chia pudding. Bananas also contain some magnesium, and they’re an easy-to-digest food to eat before bed.
6. Salmon and other fatty fish
Salmon, tuna and other fatty fish contain both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Low levels of both can impact sleep – and studies have found that low levels of the omega-3 DHA are linked to lower melatonin levels. If you eat fish, follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and add at least 8 ounces to your dinners each week.
And you won’t find an easier or better way to supplement melatonin than our Hello Dreams™ sleep strips with Melatonin & Calm Down™ herbal blend to help you sleep deep and awake restored.*
What not to eat before bed:
OK, so not all of these are foods – and some are more of a “long game” approach to nutrition. But, for a good night’s sleep, keep these four off the menu at night.
Say “no” to nightcaps. You might feel sleepy after a few sips, but you’ll impact your REM (deep) sleep. The more you drink before bed, the more you’ll interrupt your sleep cycle.
Obviously you know not to have coffee at bedtime, but did you know that caffeine’s half-life is about 5 hours but it can impact you for almost twice that length of time? Pass on afternoon lattes, and instead have your coffee in the morning.
Spicy or rich foods:
If you love spicy foods and they love you back, go ahead and have the extra jalapenos on your tacos at dinner. But if they give you indigestion, they could keep you up. That goes for any food that “sticks around” – save it for earlier in the day or consider avoiding it.
Fiber is only found in plants, and it benefits your health in countless ways. Back in 2014, a study in Japan found that women reported they slept poorly when they ate diets containing few veggies (and too many sweets and starchy snacks). These simple carbs digest more quickly and, without fiber to help stabilize blood sugar, might lead to energy spikes and crashes.
This list of foods to eat before bed isn’t going to send you off to dreamland immediately. Think of them as foods to include in a healthy diet that might give you a little nutritional boost. If it’s a challenge to think about bedtime snacks – or you’re not one to eat late at night – you’re in luck.
Hello Dreams™ sleep strips are designed to go wherever you do. Keep them next to your bed at home and on the go, them slip one onto your tongue and feel the cool minty, herbal strip melt away as you drift off to sleep.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.