Bonzo, the monkey, knew what to have before bed.
For people, it’s not so simple.
This, in a nutshell, is the hungry person’s bedtime dilemma: if he or she eats something too heavy before bedtime, it’s going to sit in the stomach all night like a rock.
Yet if the hungry person doesn’t eat anything before bed, gnawing hunger could keep him or her up. Food, after all, is a basic need.
Anybody who’s gone to bed hungry before knows it’s miserable.
Tell your stomach to shut up and stop bothering you!
With food, of course. Talking to it will probably not do any good. But what of food?
How do you find that good balance of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that allows you to fall asleep?
How do you avoid spikes in blood sugar that make you feel jumpy?
How do you avoid acid reflux?
Acid reflux is what happens when the sphincter at the end of esophagus can’t contain the food you’ve eaten — like when you eat too much. The food—along with the stomach’s acids—push past the sphincter into the esophagus. When this happens during rest, this causes the sleeper to wake up coughing and gagging. It’s one of the top causes of messed-up sleep in people without diagnosed sleep disorders.
Don’t eat a lot of anything before bed
Moderation is the key.
For a quick bedtime snack, you could try a handful of walnuts or almonds.
In you don’t have any in the pantry, try non-sugared cereals, like Cheerios or corn flakes.
Sugary cereals have one big problem when it comes to bedtime nutrition: simple carbohydrates. They’re loaded with sugar. All that delicious sweetness can play havoc with the digestive system.
Here’s some other ideas:
- Have a banana, maybe a bit of dark chocolate.
- Try some dried cherries or a little kiwi.
- Make an hors d’oeuvre with some turkey meat and a little cheese on a whole grain cracker. There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner is legendary for causing sleepiness: the restful magic of tryptophan.
- Herbal teas (especially chamomile or a nighttime blend) can be an excellent bedtime treat. Other good choices are valerian, lavender, rose hips or a citrus tea (without black tea). If you have some coffee, be sure to make it decaffeinated.
- Be like Bonzo and drink milk, foregoing the chocolate powder. As delicious as those sweet powders — the strawberry and banana ones included — make milk, they have too much sugar. They can make you wired before bed before sending your blood sugar crashing. Milk already has natural sugars in it.
- Try a small serving of cottage cheese.
The main objective in choosing a food is to pick something that provides a slow, stable energy supply to your body’s metabolism.
All the better if it’s loaded with vitamins and minerals.
What not to eat before bed
Perhaps what you choose to eat is not as important as what you don’t eat. Make it a bedtime ritual to avoid heavy meals three hours before heading to dreamland. Your body won’t have the advantage of standing and sitting to digest a meal. When you’re up and moving around, your body is able to process the food through an action called peristalsis. When it’s laying down in bed, the peristaltic action is much less.
Bedtime snack novelty: seaweed snacks
If you want to try something different, something light that gives the stomach something to work on while you rest, try a seaweed snack. For a bedtime snack, seaweed works as part of an hors d’oeuvre, mixed with other vegetables, a bit of cheese, or alone.
Not only are seaweed snacks versatile, nutritionally they’re also a powerhouse. That’s why they call this marine vegetable a superfood. Seaweed is high in Omega 3s, dense in other nutrients like iodine and tyrosine, and has a lot of protective antioxidants. The vegetable also has been positively implicated in helping to control blood sugar and the development of heart disease.
It’s the prototypical nutrient-dense food.
One disadvantage to seaweed, however, is sometimes it can contain relatively high concentrations of heavy metals. If you do develop the habit of snacking on seaweed at bedtime, it’s best to make sure it’s organic.
Of course, there are a lot of different choices in this category. If you’re sampling seaweed for sleep, however, it might be a good idea to skip the ones flavored with spices like wasabi or teriyaki. Save those for an earlier time of the day.
For further reading:
How long caffeine takes to clear your system
The best way to use fake scenarios to fall asleep
There’s only one good universal reason to make your bed each day
Walking is an awesome exercise before bed
How to vaccinate yourself against psychosomatic illness
James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and purchase the item, the Dream Recovery System receives a small commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain our own.