You made it! It’s 10 pm and the kids are in bed, dishes are done, and you even managed to bake two dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale. Now you’re starving and that bowl of leftover frosting is calling your name! You’ve done well all day – but no matter how many fruits and vegetables you eat, you can’t curb those late-night cravings.
Don’t stress! We’ve all been there.
As a Holistic Nutritionist, one of the most common questions I get is about healthy eating choices at night. Is snacking at night going pack on the pounds? Are there any foods that can help you sleep?
Just like everything else in life – it all comes down to balance. It turns out that eating a nighttime snack may not be as evil as everyone thinks, as long as your midnight snack doesn’t turn into a midnight buffet.
See what science has to say, or if you’re super hungry, go ahead and check out our round up of the 17 best healthy late-night snacks!
17 Healthy Late-Night Snacks
If you’re looking for some inspiration for late-night snacks, check out these 17 healthy recipes. All of these delicious recipes were chosen because they contain sleep-promoting ingredients that are also easy on the waistline. 01
Tart Cherry Walnut Trail Mix
This homemade trail mix recipe features multiple sleep-promoting ingredients including dried tart cherries, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried coconut, and dried banana chips. The combination of healthy Omega-3-rich fats and melatonin from the banana chips and dried cherries should keep you sleepy and satisfied until the morning.
Greek Yogurt with Almonds and Honey
Many people grew up drinking warm milk with honey before bed, but this grown-up version takes it one step further with the addition of slivered almonds. Unsweetened Greek yogurt is topped with just enough honey to satisfy your sweet tooth without sending your blood sugar soaring. The combination of healthy fats, protein, calcium, magnesium, and tryptophan should have you sleeping like a baby.
Cinnamon Chickpea Blondies
If you’ve never heard of a blondie, it is very similar to a brownie but without the chocolate (and caffeine) that could keep you up at night. This version is packed with protein-rich chickpeas, cashew butter, and lots of other tasty ingredients. These blondies are nutritious and delicious – as long as you eat just one.
Bedtime Green Smoothie
This bedtime green smoothie is full of nutritious ingredients like spinach, rolled oats, chamomile tea, tart cherry juice, bananas, and almond butter to prevent a rumbling tummy overnight. With fiber, protein, and a silky-smooth finish, this calming smoothie should put those sheep to bed in no time.
Spinach and Turkey Pinwheels
You’ve likely experienced a turkey hangover after Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey has tryptophan, an amino acid that has calming properties. This recipe features lots of healthy ingredients and protein to keep you full and to help send you into dreamland.
Oil-Free Baked Veggie Chips
If chips are your thing, you’ll love this recipe for oil-free baked veggie chips. Made with real vegetables like beets, zucchini, carrots, sweet potato, and turnips, these homemade chips are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep you full all night long. Unlike their traditional counterparts, these chips are low in calories but still have that satisfying crunch you’re craving. Find Recipe Here
Nu-Churn Vegan Pistachio Ice Cream
You may be shocked to see ice cream on this list, but pistachios are full of magnesium, protein, and vitamin B6, all of which contribute to better sleep. This vegan recipe can be made in a blender, so you don’t need any complicated equipment. It even features avocado and is sweetened with dates, but don’t let those healthy ingredients fool you – this ice cream is loaded with flavor!
Tart Cherry Bedtime Bites
These delicious bedtime bites are an easy no-bake snack that you can make in minutes. With almond butter, oats, dried cherries, and dark chocolate, these bite-size treats are full of healthy ingredients that promote rest and relaxation while still satisfying your sweet tooth.
Kale Pesto Pizza
Some nights, nothing but pizza will do at 2 am. Unfortunately, heartburn from the tomato-based pizza sauce could keep you up a lot longer than you intended. This yummy pizza is topped with kale-based pesto instead, with mozzarella cheese for the ooey-gooey goodness you’re likely craving.
Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Cucumber Bites
If savory snacks are more your style, you may love these cucumber bites topped with smoked salmon and avocado. The combination of buttery avocado and salty salmon paired with crunchy cucumber creates an orchestra of textures and flavor in your mouth. Healthy fats and loads of protein make this an excellent pre-bed nosh.
Beet Hummus with Tart Cherry Topping
This beet hummus with tart cherry topping not only looks amazing with its vibrant hue but this tasty treat is also loaded with ingredients that should have you sleepy in no time. Hummus is made from a base of protein-rich chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and in this recipe – roasted beets. The crunchy topping adds texture and lots of omega-3s for a healthy body and mind.
Kiwi Kabobs with Sweet Yogurt Dip
Kiwis have calcium, magnesium, and melatonin, which make them a great option for a nighttime snack. The yogurt dip is made with Greek yogurt, which is high in protein and has many sleep-promoting elements too!
What Not to Eat at Night
Just like there are a variety of foods that can help you sleep, there are also many foods that should be avoided before bed. Some choices, like those containing caffeine, might be more obvious, but others like alcohol are not.
While many people know to avoid chocolate, coffee, and tea in the evening, a nightcap has long been associated with helping people fall asleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it could disrupt your sleep cycle and impact REM sleep. Even just one single drink may be enough to harm sleep, according to the latest research1.
Cravings for starchy snacks are highest in the evening hours, but carbohydrates break down into sugar. Not only can sugar cause your blood glucose levels to spike and make you feel more alert, but it also sends you crashing later in the night and could disrupt your sleep.
Find Out More: How Alcohol Affects Sleep
Likewise, salty foods before bed will make you thirsty. Hydration is a great thing for your body, but not if it means waking multiple times in the night because you need to pee. It’s best to limit beverages in the evening hours, taking small sips of water or herbal tea if you feel thirsty.
Certain foods may make you more likely to experience heartburn and indigestion. Spicy foods are at the top of the list, but acidic foods like tomatoes, oranges, and vinegar-based items are culprits too (bye-bye salt and vinegar chips).
Read More: Drinking Water Before Going to Bed
Similar to spicy foods, eating a big meal before turning in for the night is probably not the best idea. When your stomach is full and you lay down flat, gravity is no longer working on your side. This makes it harder to digest your food and increases the likelihood that you’ll experience that dreaded heartburn and acid reflux.
Midnight Cravings:Why We Get Hungry at Night
Chances are you’ve had the midnight munchies at some point in your life. Do you eat salads and apples all day long only to transform into a ravenous creature, consuming an entire pint of Rocky Road after Twilight? Why is it that cravings for sweet and salty snacks seem to skyrocket when the sun goes down? According to science, your circadian rhythm may be to blame! A study2 published in the journal Obesity found that the body’s internal clock increases hunger and cravings in the evenings, usually for foods that are higher in salt and starch. While our hunter and gatherer ancestors may have benefitted from one large nightly nosh after a long period of daily fasting, we do not.
In the study, 12 healthy adults were kept in a dimly lit environment for a 13-day period and had activities like meals and sleep evenly scheduled. Across the board, individuals were least hungry in the morning and most hungry in the evening, an internal mechanism that promotes efficient nutrient storage for times when food is scarce. The problem is, in our present society – food is plentiful, readily available, and calorically dense.
Thanks to artificial light, it is easy to stay up late into the evening and skimp out on sleep. However, being awake when our sugar cravings are peaking may lead us to eat some of the very foods we usually avoid and more of them.
Another reason that your cravings may be worse in the evening hours could be because you skimped out on food all day. If you frequently skip breakfast, eat a handful of nuts at your desk for lunch, and sit down for your first real meal of the day at dinner, your body will be screaming for calories around 9:00 p.m. Fueling your body with small, healthy meals throughout the day may prevent the desire to feast on chips and chocolate before bed.
Those nighttime cravings can also be problematic considering the body’s digestive system. Your body needs a constant supply of energy to be able to function, and the main source is glucose. As you go about your day, your body is burning through glucose constantly for nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and to regulate your body temperature. Overnight, your energy expenditure drops, so your digestive system slows to a crawl.
Most of the advice on avoiding eating late at night is because sleeping puts your body in an inactive state, preventing enzymes and stomach acids from converting food into energy. Your body also relies on gravity to help the process of digestion happen smoothly. Some of the telltale signs of an inability to digest foods (aka ‘indigestion’) are bloating, heartburn, and acid reflux. Therefore, if the foods you’re eating are unhealthy and your body’s not digesting them as efficiently, you’re essentially creating a perfect storm for indigestion.
Pros and Cons of Late-Night Snacks
If having a glass of milk with a warm cookie has been part of your bedtime routine since you learned to talk, it may be hard to fathom making a change. If you sat down with a panel of experts including nutritionists, fitness advisors, and sleep doctors, you’d likely hear a variety of opinions on whether or not you should eat before bed. Let’s look at both the pros and cons so you can decide for yourself.
Going to bed with some food in your stomach may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, according to some research3. Certain foods may help to induce sleep and could prevent you from waking up hungry in the night.
If you are prone to the midnight munchies, having a small, healthy snack after dinner may help to prevent cravings for sweet and salty foods later on.
Improve body composition:
Some new research4 suggests that protein before bed may increase muscle mass and resting metabolism in healthy, physically active individuals.
Similar to dieting, telling yourself you aren’t allowed to eat before bed could lead to a restriction mentality and feelings of deprivation. Not only can this lead to depression and anxiety, but it also contributes to binging and possibly weight gain over time.
For More Information: Anxiety and Sleep
Blame it on your Paleolithic ancestors, but you are much more likely to choose unhealthy foods that are higher in starch and sugar late at night. For some reason, carrot sticks with hummus is not as appealing as salt and vinegar chips are after sundown.
Our bodies work best if we eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. Consuming most of your calories in the evening hours means you are more likely to wake up full, skip breakfast, and repeat the same unhealthy eating habits again the next day.
Indigestion and heartburn:
While that large slice of cheese pizza and spicy chicken wings may have tasted amazing going down, they certainly won’t feel that way at 3:00am when your esophagus feels like it’s on fire. Eating large amounts of food before laying flat in bed is a recipe for the telltale symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
Thanks to those increased cravings late at night, you are more likely to eat more calories than your body needs in the evening hours. Nighttime is also when most people reach for sugar-laden snacks that are calorically dense and could pack on the pounds.
Read More: Obesity and Sleep
Bedtime Snack Ideas for Kids
If you are looking for some late-night snack ideas for your little ones, we’ve got you covered. These recipes are all full of ingredients that are calming and should help your kids fill the grumbles in their tummies before bed.
Peanut Butter Banana Yogurt Popsicles
Most kids love popsicles, but they are often full of artificial ingredients and sugar that could keep them awake long past bedtime. These homemade popsicles feature protein-rich Greek yogurt, bananas, peanut butter, and just a few chocolate chips for fun (optional).
Tart Cherry Fruit Leather
If you’ve never made fruit leather before, you may be surprised at how easy it is. This homemade version of fruit-roll-ups is made with just dried tart cherries, cherry juice, and a little honey. Loaded with melatonin, this fruit leather is a great pre-bed snack for children.
White Night Insomnia Cookies
These white-night cookies feature a multiple sleep-promoting ingredients like Greek yogurt, walnuts, flax seeds, dark cherries, and rolled oats. With spices like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon that are reminiscent of gingerbread, kids will likely gobble up these insomnia cookies and be begging for seconds.
These delicious homemade gummy bears are made with just 5 ingredients and are full of calming magnesium, melatonin, and amino acids to help calm the nervous system. With no artificial colors or ingredients, these gummy bears are a tasty treat you can feel good about feeding your children.
Tart Cherry Granola Bar
Your little ones will likely fall in love with these homemade granola bars made with ingredients like oats, almonds, dried cherries, tahini, and chia seeds. With lots of crunchiness and a drizzle of dark chocolate for added sweetness, this recipe is sure to please.
If you’re anything like me, having a snack before bed is just part of your routine. Unfortunately, most snacks are full of sugar, salt, and other ingredients that are likely to keep you up way past your bedtime. Even worse, eating calorie-laden snacks before turning in is a sure-fire way to pack on the pounds you’ve been trying to lose.Sources and References:
- Pietilä, Julia., Helander, Elina., Korhonen, Ilkka., Myllymäki, Tero., Kujala, Urho M., Lindholm, Harri. “Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study”. JMIR Publications. https://mental.jmir.org/2018/1/e23/. 2017.
- Scheer, Frank A.J.L., Morris, Christopher J., Shea, Steven A. “The internal circadian clock increases hunger and appetite in the evening independent of food intake and other behaviors”. Obesity Journal. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.20351. 2013.
- Kinsey, Amber W., Ormsbee, Michael J. “The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives”. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425165/. 2015.
- Madzima, Takudzwa A., Panton, Lynn B., Fretti, Sarah K., Kinsey, Amber W., Ormsbee, Michael J. “Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college-aged men”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23768612/. 2014.
RN, RHN, Certified Health Coach
Raina Cordell is a Registered Nurse, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Health Coach, but her true passion in life is helping others live well through her website, www.holfamily.com. Her holistic approach focuses on the whole person, honing the physical body and spiritual and emotional well-being.