It’s strange to find yourself awake at 3 a.m., when the world is dark, your stomach is growling, and the kitchen beckons. You are hungry for something. It’s not breakfast – it’s not just any meal – so chips and salsa are just as much of an option as leftover steak from several hours earlier.
What can you eat that won’t completely ruin your chance of sleeping for the rest of the night? And just as importantly, what options won’t make you feel like trash the next day? HuffPost spoke with several registered dietitians to get their advice on solid midnight snacks and what makes them the perfect combination to get you back to sleep.
The Best Midnight Snacks
“There’s a reason you feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey is rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, known to promote a feeling of sleepiness and relaxation,” said Marissa Meshulam, registered dietitian. Deli-style turkey breast is a great choice for satisfying a midnight craving, whether rolled up on its own or made into a half sandwich. The protein in the turkey should keep hunger at bay until morning, and the tryptophan is a great way to help you get back to sleep. Meshulam recommends Applegate Organics Herbed Turkey Breast because it has no preservatives or added sugar.
According to Meshulam, any snack we choose should contain protein and fiber to keep us full for the rest of the night. This classic combo delivers satisfaction with protein from cheese and crunchy, fiber-rich crackers.
Another major advantage? “Cheese contains tryptophan, which also converts to melatonin and can help with sleep,” Meshulam said. Choose a cracker with a little fiber (you can even opt for an almond flour cracker) to ensure your blood sugar levels stay stable.
Refreshing and crunchy, vegetables like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, paired with your favorite hummus, make a perfect, quick and easy midnight snack. Amanda Frankeny, registered dietitian and program director of the Food Dignity Movement, explained, “I swear people forget that they often like to eat vegetables. If you miss your dose of product throughout the day, take it in the evening. Two spoonfuls of hummus provide protein, fiber and complete satisfaction.
Cherry and pistachio tart
Many studies studies on tart cherries have shown that snacking on this fruit can lead to better overall sleep. Because tart cherries naturally contain melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep, they make a great midnight snack. Meshulam recommends pairing tart cherries with pistachios. “Pistachios ensure you’re satisfied with fat and protein, and they also give you melatonin,” she said.
Choosing blood sugar-balanced snacks, like a banana and nut butter, can be essential for quality sleep, as sugary diets, especially before bed, are linked to the opposite. Frankeny explained: “The fruit contains potassium, which helps relax your muscles, and complex carbohydrates, which regulate blood sugar spikes that might keep you awake. Combine it with peanut butter, a healthy, satiating, drowsiness-inducing source of fat and tryptophan. This combo is easily done in the middle of the night and is a total winner in my opinion.
A glass of warm milk can be great for sending the little ones to bed, but it can also be perfect for getting us back to sleep after waking up. Pair milk with low-sugar whole grains to create a blood sugar-balanced snack, according to Frankeny. “Add milk for calcium, a mineral that helps your body produce and use melatonin,” Frankeny explained.
A protein bar is a great choice if you’re looking for an accessible snack from bed. (I’m thinking of all the breastfeeding moms.) Sweet, crunchy and a little salty, protein or granola bars are the ultimate midnight snack, whether they’re nut or oat based. “Walnuts, almonds and pistachios offer natural melatonin, protein and magnesium to keep you full and asleep,” Frankeny said. She warns to stay away from chocolate or coffee bars, as these could keep readers awake. If you’re wondering how to find a healthy bar, check out our complete guide.
How to make sure you don’t wake up hungry
Sufficient, good-quality sleep is essential for health. While a midnight snack every now and then is okay, waking up hungry every night can indicate other problems. Dietitian Barbara Ruhs recommends that readers think about their habits. “Are you eating enough food (getting enough calories/energy for your daily routine)? Are you eating too early and not eating enough before bed because of a fitness routine later in the day? she asked. Try adding an extra snack before bed or planning more mini-meals throughout the day to ensure you’re meeting your daily needs.
Anxiety or discomfort may be other reasons for waking up in the middle of the night. “Sometimes anxiety can wake us up in the middle of the night and we mistake it for hunger,” Ruhs explained. “If you think this might be the case, waking up and making a nice cup of herbal tea (caffeine-free) to soothe the nerves isn’t a bad idea.”
Make sure your sleep space is dark and quiet and your bed is as comfortable as possible to avoid nighttime snacking. Meshulam said: “Often we get into the habit of eating at certain times (i.e. we wake up and think we need a snack) and instead we really want to check with our body what happens.”
If all else fails, it may be time to see a doctor to determine if other medical issues are at play.