Late-night snacks have a bad reputation when it comes to quality sleep. After all, eating too close to bedtime can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep with indigestion and acid reflux. However, some foods can actually promote sleep, thanks to soothing compounds like melatonin, serotonin, tryptophan, magnesium, and calcium.
“Bedtime snacks are controversial for sure, but a small snack can help you fall asleep if you do it the right way,” says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator and Saatva sleep consultant. What’s more, your hunger bells could be trying to alert you to nutritional deficits a mini-meal could help fill in. If your stomach is grumbling, reach for a small, nutrient-dense snack (think: 150 calories or less) at least 30 minutes before bed, Cralle advises.
The best snacks to eat before bed
Here are a few of the best late-night snacks with ingredients that will help you fall (and stay) asleep.
Half a turkey sandwich
Your post-Thanksgiving food coma may be due to the tryptophan in turkey, says Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, an advisory board member of Smart Healthy Living.
“Tryptophan metabolism and uptake can affect the amount of serotonin and melatonin that circulates in the body,” she explains.
In turn, these relaxing hormones prime your body for sleep. Top a slice of fiber-rich whole wheat bread with a few slices of this low-fat, high-quality protein for a filling, nutritious bedtime snack.
Avocado lovers, rejoice: “Not only are avocados a good source of magnesium, which is helpful in relaxation, but they also contain more potassium than bananas,” says Cralle.
Boosting your potassium intake can help improve sleep efficiency and reduce nighttime wake-ups. Spread a quarter of an avocado on a slice of whole grain toast for healthy, filling complex carbs and fiber to satisfy your hunger before bed. (Here’s what you need to know about eating avocado before bed.)
Warm and soothing, oatmeal can help ease you into sleep. “Oats are a natural source of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycles,” says Cralle.
Eat a quarter cup of plain oatmeal (to avoid the sugar and additives from flavor packets) and top it with banana slices for a touch of sweetness.
“Bananas are good sources of tryptophan and fiber as well as potassium and magnesium, important minerals that serve as muscle and nerve relaxants,” says Cralle. (Read our review of the Sweet Dreams cereal.)
Too tired for late-night food prep? Snack on a handful of pistachios, which have the highest melatonin content of any nut tested, according to a 2017 review in Nutrients.
“Quick and easy, pistachio nuts are fun to eat, high in antioxidants, and rich in melatonin,” confirms Cralle. “They also contain fiber, vitamin B6, magnesium, healthy fats, and protein, all of which contribute to better sleep.”
A small study in the American Journal of Therapeutics finds drinking tart cherry juice may help adults with insomnia sleep longer and better.
To satisfy your sweet tooth without the shock of sugar from juice, eat a handful of dried tart cherries. These tasty morsels are a natural source of melatonin, filling fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C.
“Really, any fruit can be a good bedtime snack since fruit has fiber to keep you full, carbohydrates, and even a high water content to keep you hydrated,” adds Kostro Miller. In particular, grapes and strawberries are natural sources of melatonin as well.
If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or you wake up feeling tired, you may be low on calcium, per a 2015 article in the Journal of Sleep Research.
Rich in calcium and sleep-inducing tryptophan, cottage cheese can help increase your melatonin levels for quality shut-eye.
Protein-rich and low-fat, cottage cheese is a versatile bedtime snack you can pair with fruit, nuts, or crackers, says Cralle.
Is it OK to have a snack before bed?
It’s OK to have a snack before bed as long as it’s small, nutrient-dense, and is consumed at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
What should I do if I’m hungry before bed?
If you’re hungry before bed, opt for a small, low-calorie snack, such as half a turkey sandwich or avocado toast, to satisfy your hunger and help you sleep better.
Nutrition plays a huge role in how well you’re able to sleep. Learn about the connection between nutrition and sleep.