Woman lying in bed under covers with wide eyes
Should you Snack Before Bed? According to Dieticians Probably Not, but Maybe.

If you snack at night, you are not alone. A recent survey by the International Food Information Council showed that a significant majority of U.S. adults snack after 8 p.m. We’ll walk through the bads (and potential goods) of late-night snacking, and offer a few alternatives to maintain healthy eating habits.

Why Not Snack at Night?

Most nutritionists generally recommend against snacking at night for a number of reasons, however, quality and quantity of food consumed over the course of the day are major variables. When desiring a late-night snack, one should consider it might be due to stress, boredom or physical hunger.

One reason not to snack late in the day is that metabolism slows at night. During sleep, your body undergoes a prolonged state of physical inactivity and cues your body to slow its metabolic rate to conserve energy. According to a Harvard medical study, “Eating later in the day increased participants’ hunger, decreased the number of calories they burned, and promoted fat storage.” Eating more calories than your body requires can lead to weight gain over time.

“When we eat late at night, the muscles that digest and metabolize our food have to keep working when they should be resting,” says Kate Watts, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, a Dietician with the Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Management Center. “This can delay your ability to fall asleep and can prevent you from getting the deep, restful stage of sleep you need to feel refreshed the next day.” In addition, a bad night’s sleep may result in a lower production of hormones that help to control appetite, increasing feelings of hunger and leading to overconsumption the following day.

If you’re craving a snack late at night, your body may be trying to tell you something… that it’s tired and you should be going to sleep instead. To stay awake longer, your body requires extra energy, which may signal a desire for high-calorie food. Thus, it may be best to skip the snack and allow yourself to get to sleep.

And finally, cravings at night for salty food could be an indication that you are dehydrated, not a sign of hunger. Ensure that you are drinking enough water throughout the day and not too late into the evening.

Several Potential Benefits

Some nutrition experts suggest a different approach. “If you’re hungry at night, you should eat something,” says Sarah Pflugradt, M.S., RD. “Do a mental inventory of what you’ve eaten throughout the day and see what you’ve missed. Most often, it’s going to be fruits, vegetables or dairy. If that’s the case, get in that extra fiber and calcium.”

Certain nighttime snacks may actually help you sleep, either because they contain sleep-inducing properties, or because if you don’t eat, you may lie in bed listening to your stomach rumble. For tips on what to eat, see below.

For those that work out at night, a post-exercise snack can help your body. According to Very Well Fit, “Refueling with protein-rich foods supports workout recovery”, by building and restoring muscle while you sleep, recovering from fatigue and supporting weight loss.

Lastly, for some and certain situations, snacking may help your metabolism stay regular. If you tend to eat several smaller meals, rather than three main meals, or if you haven’t eaten in many hours, a nighttime snack may be beneficial. It does appear that if one goes hungry on a regular basis it can lead to weight gain, as the body may enter starvation mode, opting to store more fat to protect against a future caloric deficit.

What to Eat or Drink at Night

“Certain teas, such as chamomile and valerian root, may help you relax before sleep,” according to Healthline. And teas may be a great option for someone that enjoys having a little something after dinner, sans calories.

Studio Pilates offers their list of high-protein post-workout snacks, including sliced banana and peanut butter, Greek yogurt and strawberries, hummus and veggie sticks, a handful of raw nuts and dried fruit, and more.

Turkey contains tryptophan, a chemical that has been proven to promote relaxation. For those that have trouble falling asleep, sliced turkey could be a good dinner or nighttime snack option. Hey, we tend to get drowsy after Thanksgiving, right?

Certain foods contain melatonin, a hormone that assists us in managing our sleep/wake cycles. Sleep Doctor recommends milk, pistachios, tart cherries, oats, and rice, among others, as containing melatonin.

Universally, sleep and nutrition experts suggest to avoid eating large, heavy meals, foods high in calories, ultra-processed foods, sugar, alcohol and/or foods or drinks containing caffeine before bed.

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