There are some foods that you should try to avoid before bedtime: anything high in sodium or saturated fats are obvious examples. But what about snacks that actively encourage a good, restful sleep? Here are five hand-picked examples recommended by science.
Sleeping woman picture from Shutterstock
#1 Light Carbs
Despite what you might assume, most research on the subject points to carbohydrate-rich foods being the best to snack on before bed, as they are easier and slower to digest than those containing protein. Small amounts of fat can also help to slow your absorption of carbohydrates, making you far less likely to wake up hungry or tired in the middle of the night. With this in mind, look for something light like crackers or toast with a bit of peanut butter, or a small serve of popcorn with some melted margarine. Even a simple bowl of cereal with milk can make an ideal bedtime snack.
While fruit is a staple guilt-free snack for most people, it turns out that not all fruits are created equal when it comes to helping you sleep -- one type of fruit you should definitely consider reaching for when the late-night munchies hit are cherries. Cherries are one of the few foods that naturally contain melatonin -- a hormone that helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, which is even taken as a supplement to help prevent jet lag. One study has found that drinking tart cherry juice can even rival the soporific effect of other natural sleep aids like valerian.
#3 White Meat
Although most of the science around eating before bedtime would advise you to stay away from protein, a small amount of turkey or chicken could actually benefit your quality of sleep. Stephanie Maxson, a senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, points to these white meats as being particularly beneficial for athletes, with protein aiding muscle repair during the night. For the rest of us, turkey and chicken are also loaded with an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which research has suggested can promote good quality of sleep.
Despite the old myth that eating cheese before bed causes nightmares, an in-depth study from the British Cheese Board has proven quite the opposite. As it turns out, eating a small serving of cheese before going to sleep can not only aid sleep, but also cause you to have different types of dreams. These curious effects include Stilton causing the most unusual dreams, cheddar eaters having dreams about celebrities and British Brie giving women relaxing dreams while in men it causes more cryptic dreams.
#5 Herbal Tea
Whilst not exactly a food, herbal teas can be a great option when you’re not quite hungry, but still find yourself craving something warm before bed. Tried and tested, herbal tinctures were an answer to insomnia long before modern sleeping pills existed, and their efficiency hasn’t decreased over time. Chamomile tea is the most well-known of these herbs, but other options which have proven to be at least mild sedatives include lavender, hops, lemon balm and passionflower.
Got a better tip for sleep-friendly snacks? Let us know in the comments!