We've all been there: standing in the kitchen with the only illumination coming from the open refrigerator as we contemplate which of our midnight snacks will satisfy our hunger pangs the fastest. However, if we left it all up to our heart in the wee hours of the night, we'd find ourselves reaching for the chocolate or that unopened bag of chips.
But somewhere in the back of your head there is a nagging reminder that this indulgence would be an immediate regret as soon as you stole back underneath the covers to enjoy a deep night's sleep.
So what are you to do when those uncontrollable waves of hunger come over you when you know you should be doing anything but eating?
The short answer is to snack responsibly.
The Dark Side of Midnight Snacks
While going to bed hungry can make for a poor night's sleep, so, too, can going to bed after enjoying a snack. Your body needs to be able to digest whatever you've consumed or you won't be able to sleep soundly.
Why? Digestion takes energy which can keep you awake just by virtue of its required energy expenditure if not because of the indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn it can potentially cause.
A poor sleeping habit, in turn, can have a long list of side effects, none of which we want to risk experiencing because of our midnight snacking!
Side Effects of Poor Sleep
Bedtime Snacks to Avoid
In a nutshell, if you are snacking right before you climb into bed you should avoid foods that are fatty, spicy, sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic. Spicy food is obvious as it can easily cause indigestion and discomfort. Sugary food will spike your blood sugar and increase your energy only to be followed shortly by the inevitable crash.
Similarly, caffeine will stimulate you, but identifying food with caffeine can be tricky. Dark chocolate, green tea, and ice cream can all have trace amounts of caffeine that can disturb your sleep. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol too can cause you to spend a restless night tossing and turning when you should be deeply dreaming.
Sleep Soundly After You Snack
Instead of choosing foods that will disturb your precious hours of shut eye, pick out something that will lull you back into dreamland. A good rule of thumb when choosing midnight snacks is to search for something that is rich in complex carbohydrates and protein.
Protein has staying power and will help you feel full throughout the night. At the same time, complex carbs release serotonin as you digest them, which will help calm you down.
Good options include: high-fiber cereal with milk, cheese and crackers, whole grain toast with avocado or almond butter, cottage cheese, or a handful of dried fruit and nuts.
If you don't have any of these options in your house, another great way to simulate a full stomach is to sip on a cup of non-caffeinated tea or drink a large glass of water.
To Keep in Mind
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1. Regardless of what you snack on, make sure to keep your portions small. Your body will not immediately register that it's full so it can be tempting to eat more. However, wait a few minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. You'll be grateful you did and you'll get a better night's sleep for it.
2. Don't crawl back into bed immediately after your snack. Instead, give your body a few minutes to digest.
3. Make sure you brush your teeth after snacking!
4. If you are a chronic midnight snacker, start preparing your snacks before you go to bed. That way you'll be sure that you always have a healthy option on hand.