What midnight snacks should you be avoiding?
We’ve all been there before – you’re lying in bed, trying to get to sleep and your stomach starts to grumble. Resisting temptation can be difficult so most of us will give in and reach for something quick and easy to satisfy our stomach and allow us to get back to sleep.
And to an extent this almost makes sense – after all, evening is the time of day when we are most likely to feel hungry, particularly if you skip breakfast or suffer from sleep deprivation. However, eating before bed is a controversial and widely debated topic – many feel it may cause unnecessary weight-gain while others argue that it could potentially improve your sleep quality.
While no proof exists that eating before bed can directly cause weight-gain, it can fuel an unhealthy lifestyle which can then lead to you piling on the pounds.1 What’s more important, though, is what you eat before bed – if you overload on sugary, carbohydrate heavy foods, not only will you find your sleep disturbed by fluctuating blood sugar levels, your digestive system definitely won’t thank you either!
However, it isn’t just the usual suspects you need to watch out for – some of the foods on this list, in any other context, would be perfectly healthy and normally I’d be encouraging you to include more them in your diet!
1 – Raw vegetables
Carrot sticks and hummus – sounds like a sensible snack before bedtime doesn’t it? You might want to put down the broccoli and step away from the asparagus though, as it turns out raw vegetables are hiding a dirty secret – despite their rich content of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they’re terrible for getting you to sleep at night!
This is mainly due to their impact on your digestive system – raw vegetables are difficult for your body to breakdown and your digestive system will be working overtime while you sleep to get the job done. This may interrupt your down time, not to mention consuming raw vegetables can sometimes result in side-effects such as bloating and flatulence, which definitely won’t improve matters.
Raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are the worst offenders, so I would definitely make a point of steering clear of them at least 3 hours before you usually go to bed. Instead, you could opt for fresh fruits such as bananas, which are a great source of magnesium, a crucial mineral that helps to regulate melatonin, the sleep hormone.
2 - Cereal
Who hasn’t felt a bit peckish before bedtime and tucked into a bowl of cereal? Most of us assume it’s a light, healthy option compared to a sweeter treat or something stodgier.
However, many of our favourite breakfast cereals are unfortunately loaded with added sugars. Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut, for example, contains around 11g of sugar per bowl while granola with fruit contains around 10.8g.2
As I discussed in my article, ‘Is your lack of sleep causing you to overeat’ sugar can have a negative impact on your sleep patterns due to its effect on your blood glucose levels. When your blood glucose levels fluctuate it can drag you out of deep sleep, causing you to feel drowsy and disorientated the next day. If you really have to have cereal, I would opt for a light, low-sugar option such as Shredded Wheat or Bran Flakes.
3 – Spicy foods
A homemade curry or a Thai soup might sound like an inviting option for a late dinner, but surprisingly, spicy, acidic foods can take their toll on your sleep habits.
This is mainly due to their effect on your digestive system as spicy foods can give rise to symptoms associated with acid reflux and, in more extreme circumstances, side-effects such as diarrhoea. Scientists have also theorised that capscaicin, an active ingredient in chilli peppers, could also impact your sleep by changing your body temperature during the night.3
This doesn’t mean that spicy foods are inherently bad – spices such as turmeric are believed to be chockfull of beneficial health properties while most dishes normally contain an abundance of vegetables. Provided it doesn’t come from your local takeaway, I’m not suggesting you cut spicy foods out altogether, but instead of having them as your evening meal, perhaps consider them for lunch instead!
4 - Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate? Isn’t that better for you than milk chocolate? Doesn’t it contain antioxidants and magnesium, an essential mineral for sleep and your mood? Yes, dark chocolate is definitely a better option than its milkier counterpart, and I’d definitely recommend munching on it as a snack….during the day.
Tucking into a bar of dark chocolate before bed, on the other hand, is different. While raw chocolate made using cacao might be rich in nutrients, it also contains caffeine. In fact as the percentage of cacao increases, so too does the caffeine intake with a 1.5 ounce serving of 80% cacao chocolate providing around 40mg-75mg, which is quite impressive when you consider that coffee contains between 100-300mg of caffeine per 8 ounces.4
So while it is definitely a delicious and nutritious alternative to conventional chocolate, just make sure you keep it away from your bedtime routine!
5- Dried fruit
Similar to dark chocolate, you probably think of dried fruit as a sensible snacking option and it is, during the day. However, it’s impossible to ignore that while dried fruit is high in dietary fibre, it also contains significant amounts of natural sugar, fructose.
In small amounts, fructose shouldn’t have any adverse effects, however, if you’re digging in to a bag of dried apricots before bed, don’t be surprised if you find your sleep disturbed during the night. Too much fibre can easily upset your digestive system while sugar, as I’ve mentioned, is not ideal for your blood glucose levels.
6 – Yoghurts
Don’t get me wrong, yoghurt before bedtime isn’t necessarily a bad option but the problem is that not all yoghurts were created equal and, not unlike cereals, most pre-packaged yoghurts are bursting with refined sugars and sweeteners.
Everyone’s favourite, Muller Corner has over 17g of sugar in some of their yoghurts5 while even purportedly ‘healthy’ yoghurts such as Rachel’s Organic Low Fat Vanilla Yoghurt still has around 13.9g. I’m sure that by now you can see the disadvantages of tucking into one of these before bedtime.
However, as I’ve mentioned, the right type of yoghurt isn’t a bad option as yoghurt does contain tryptophan, an amino acid that’s important for the production of melatonin.6 Plain yoghurt or Greek yoghurt might be a better option – try to choose carefully and avoid sweetened options!