Studies show that weight gain and poor sleep are linked to late-night snacking. While we don’t encourage eating before sleeping, choosing the right foods can not only fulfill those late-night cravings but may also improve sleep quality. We share a list of our favorite sweet and savory snacks to keep you satisfied, including a few recommendations from sports nutritionist and dietitian James Lucas III, MS RD, CSSD.
- Apple Chips
When you’re craving something sweet and crunchy, instead of grabbing a package of cookies, reach for a bag of baked apple chips. They’re a good source of fiber and not overly sweet.
Apples are easy to digest, and in applesauce form, it makes it fun to consume with a handful of walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Naturally sweet foods like applesauce reduce orexin, a neurotransmitter responsible for keeping the body alert and inducing sleep.
- Blueberries & Low-Fat or Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is rich in probiotics, live microorganisms which improve digestion and contain tryptophan, regulating the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Pairing yogurt with fruit (a carbohydrate), allows tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier.
- Tart Cherry Juice
Instead of soda, have a glass of tart cherry juice—it’s packed with melatonin to improve sleep and polyphenolic compounds to reduce inflammation.
Grapes are a great snack when you’re craving something sweet, plus they contain melatonin. Frozen grapes are also a great snack, especially during warmer months.
- Almond Butter
Instead of reaching for that canister of frosting, have a spoonful of almond butter instead. Almond butter is a healthy fat, which may lower the risk of heart disease.
- Milk & Cereal
Pairing a low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk is a great snack option for late nights. High-glycemic carbs in cereal help individuals fall asleep faster, while the calcium in milk increases melatonin production.
- Fresh Fruit & Nuts
Fresh fruit is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, filling you up without added sugars and further helping your body relax as it prepares for sleep. Nuts, like almonds and walnuts, are a great source of protein.
- Whole Grain Toast & Peanut Butter
Fiber from the bread with protein and unsaturated fats from peanut butter (or any nut butter) stabilizes blood sugar during sleep.
- Apple Slices or bananas with peanut butter
Apples and bananas have healthy carbs for the body and paired with peanut butter help stabilize blood sugar.
- Trail Mix
Trail mix contains a combination of dried fruits and nuts—the perfect combination for a filling snack. Try to steer clear of trail mixes containing chocolate. While dark chocolate, in particular, is healthier, it contains theobromine, a stimulant that increases heart rate and causes sleeplessness even in small doses. If you do prefer some dark chocolate, make sure it’s at least 70% cacao.
- Fruit Bars
Blending fresh fruit and freezing into popsicles is the perfect substitute for ice cream—vitamins from fresh fruit without heavy cream or added sugar is a sweet treat sans the extra calories.
- Cottage Cheese & Fruit
Lean protein of cottage cheese contains large quantities of tryptophan to help you fall asleep. Adding fresh fruit lends extra sweetness to satisfy that sweet tooth.
Oats contain fiber to fill you up and beta-glucan to monitor cholesterol levels. Oats are also rich in melatonin, relaxing the body and encouraging sleep.
- Toasted Nuts
Toasted nuts are a good substitute for those crunchy cravings. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews—any type of nut thrown into a toaster is great to snack on without fear of weight gain.
Pistachios contain high levels of protein and melatonin. Just a handful can help satisfy that late-night craving and induce sleep.
Popcorn, particularly stovetop popcorn, is a great complex carbohydrate snack, filling in those crispy snack cravings. Popcorn is low in calories and can be topped with anything from salt and pepper to cinnamon and honey.
- 1/2 a Turkey Sandwich
A small sandwich with whole-grain bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato, and a little mayo can be just the thing you need to fill you up and induce sleep.
This crunchy vegetable is a filling snack, great with a little bit of sea salt. Edamame is a good source of tryptophan and satisfying for those who like salty snacks.
- Cheese & Crackers
Carbohydrates inside crackers digest slower and the fat and protein in cheese keep us full.
- Veggies and Tortilla Chips & Hummus
Snacking on hummus and fresh veggies or tortilla chips helps boost your immune system with vitamins and minerals from vegetables like carrots and bell peppers, while hummus is a good source of protein.
- Tomatoes & Cream Cheese on Toast
Tomatoes contain small amounts of melatonin—paired with a small amount of cream cheese on whole grain toast, calcium-enriched cream and complex carbohydrates, this snack fills you up.
- Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of tryptophan to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Sprinkle seasonings like sea salt, garlic powder, or cinnamon for enhanced flavor.
- Kale Chips
Kale chips are perfect for when you’re craving a crispy, salty snack. Kale is a source of calcium, a key ingredient in producing melatonin for better sleep.
- Tuna & Crackers
Tuna contains healthy fats, protein, and vitamin B6 which increases melatonin production to induce sleep. Complex carbohydrates of whole-grain crackers boost tryptophan levels in the body too.
- Boiled or Scrambled Eggs
Eggs are packed with nutrients and also happen to be natural sources of melatonin and tryptophan. Plus, with the extra protein, you’ll be able to maintain good blood-sugar balance while you sleep.
Where Do Cravings Come From?
Cravings are strong desires for specific foods, usually high-fat, sugary snacks. These cravings could stem from the circadian rhythm, thirst, and staying up late. It’s also possible that the foods we crave could be a sign that our bodies are lacking in certain nutrients.
Studies show that we eat more at night because that’s when our body is hungriest. Centuries ago, eating more at night helped increase survival, but today, it leads to weight gain, especially since the snacks we consume are high-calorie, sweet, and salty junk foods.
Some cravings may be due to dehydration rather than actual hunger. Before grabbing a snack, drink a glass of water first.
Staying up late after eating an early dinner can lead to late-night cravings. Hunger pains make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep—you could wake feeling intense hunger and possibly nausea.
3 Rules to Late Night Snacking
While we don’t encourage snacking regularly late at night, following these three, simple rules for healthy snacking may encourage weight loss and improve sleep.
Less than 400 calories
Limit snacking to 400 calories or less to prevent excess calorie intake and weight gain.
Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Snacks including fresh fruit and veggies are packed with nutrients and are easier to digest—easier to fall asleep at night.
Snacks low in sugar help stabilize blood sugar levels and avoid sugar spikes which could disrupt sleep.
In case you need further guidance, James Lucas III, MS RD, CSSD recommends, “For late-night snacking, I would suggest sticking with protein/fiber-rich foods versus carbohydrates.”
The best late-night snacks should contain melatonin and tryptophan to induce sleep.
Melatonin is a natural hormone responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, inducing sleep. Light exposure determines melatonin production—highest at night and lowest during the day. Foods rich in melatonin include almonds, walnuts, cherries, bananas, kiwi, turkey, oats, and tomatoes.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that increases melatonin levels. Since our bodies can’t produce it naturally, we need to consume it. Foods rich in tryptophan include milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish, and beans.
Avoid Unhealthy Snacks
Unhealthy snacks are usually high in fat, sugar, and salt. Snacks to avoid include potato chips, ice cream, and fast food. These types of foods are harder to digest, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. For best practice, avoid buying these types of snacks—you’re more likely to give in if you know they’re within reach.
What’s the healthiest food to eat late at night?
Low-calorie snacks satisfy late-night cravings and digest easily. They’re also packed with nutrients.
Is popcorn a healthy snack before bed?
Popcorn is a great complex carbohydrate low in fat and protein—easy for the stomach to digest. Try to avoid popcorn saturated in butter and salt.
What should you not eat at night?
Avoid foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. These types of foods are harder to digest and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Eat Healthier, Sleep Better
For better sleep, avoid junk food high in fat, sugar, and salt, and choose healthier snacks that’ll fill you up without weighing you down.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.