You always hear that you shouldn’t eat before bedtime. But if you have trouble getting to sleep, a little snack can help. This is especially true if you’re hungry since an empty stomach can keep you awake.
What foods are best before bed? Small amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods. They’re easy to digest and raise your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that helps calm the brain so you can sleep. Complex carbohydrates, such as:
- a piece of fruit or
- some whole wheat crackers
are best because they are digested slowly. Avoid candy, cookies and other high sugar, simple carbs. These types of foods are quickly digested, releasing a jolt of sugar into your blood that can keep you awake.
Foods with tryptophan, an amino acid, are also a good choice. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, which can then make melatonin, the hormone that tells your body to go to sleep. Most protein-containing foods have tryptophan but that doesn’t mean you should eat a steak before bed. A small amount of protein is all you need. And it’s best if that protein is combined with a little carbohydrate. Consider:
- Milk. It contains both nutrients, which explains the old “warm milk before bed” advice.
- Half a packet of instant oatmeal
- Some cottage cheese
- A slice of toast with a thin layer of peanut butter.
Whatever food you choose, keep the portion small. Too much of any type of food can interfere with sleep.
Through her Des Moines-based nutrition company, SK Health Communications, registered dietitian Stephanie Karpinske writes and develops recipes for magazines, books, supermarkets and food companies. She is the author of Read Before Dieting: Your 4-Step Plan for Diet Success and writes a blog about healthy eating, foodnuti.com. She’s coaching the Lehman family through the six-month Healthy Family Challenge.
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