We’ve all been there. It’s after dinner, time for bed (you’ve already brushed your teeth) and yet you just can’t seem to fight off that craving for that half-finished bag of potato chips in the kitchen cabinet. Midnight munchies are an inevitable part of life. But whether they’re a once-in-a-blue-moon deal or a nightly occurrence, there are certain late night snacks that can have a bigger impact on your health than others. If you’re not careful, some seemingly harmless treats can wreck your diet and ruin your sleep later on.
“It works both ways. A healthy diet improves the quality and duration of your sleep. And adequate sleep improves the quality of your diet by curbing hunger hormones,” explained registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD to Cleveland Health Clinic.
Here are some of the worst late night snacks to avoid right before bed (and some healthier alternatives for when you just can’t seem to kick those cravings):
Although it might be hard to resist, leftover pizza and greasy foods loaded with carbs are a hard no-no. Not only can it cause heartburn, but the seemingly small snack is loaded with calories that can ruin your diet.
If you’re fishing for leftovers, a half eaten turkey sandwich or another snack that’s under 200 calories and has less grease is a much better option for both your diet and your stomach, in the long run. It’s even better if the bread is whole wheat; your body digests whole grains slower so it’ll satisfy your midnight hunger longer. Turkey also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to make you sleepy. Not a fan of turkey? Try nut butter, like almond or peanut butter instead. The healthy fats in the spread can provide your brain with a nice boost of serotonin to help you feel calm and relaxed right before bedtime.
Right before bed, one of the worst things you can do to disrupt your sleep is consume foods that elevate your energy levels. Sugary snacks like cookies, ice cream, and candy bars stimulate the body, reducing your serotonin levels, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
Still need something to satisfy that sweet tooth? Try a low-carb granola bar instead. High in protein and fiber, granola bars can be a good stand-in for a cookie. Just make sure to read the nutrition label first!
If you’d rather something with less sugar, you can try a banana or a handful of almonds instead. Both snacks are good sources of magnesium and tryptophan to help your body wind down.
Another infamous culprit, potato chips have long been known for their health side effects. Especially so close to bedtime, the combination of fat and salt not only can be a bad combination for your stomach; furthermore, chips are notorious for being difficult to limit. Since it’s too easy to have too many, the snack may not be the best choice for your waistline.
As an alternative, hot air popcorn that isn’t drenched in butter and salt can is a good way to satisfy that dry food craving, without breaking your belt. The snack also has some health benefits; high in fiber, the snack is more satisfying than chips and will tie your stomach over for longer.
Research shows that alcohol right before bed can have disruptive effects on your sleep. As a central nervous system depressant, the drug has been known to make people feel sleepy, which can explain why nightcaps are so popular. On the downside, though, alcohol right before bed has been linked with poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration, which makes it not the best beverage right before a good night’s rest.
As an alternative, a cup of almond milk, which is high in tryptophan, can help calm down the brain and lull it sleep, without all the negative side effects.