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Eating for Healthy Sleep

Submitted by Laura Chartrand

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Good news for bedtime snackers! Forget what you have heard about disrupting sleep and gaining weight by eating before bedtime.  Studies show that people who go to bed hungry have a harder time falling asleep and may wake during the night.  Weight gain appeared to occur only among people who eat most of their calories in the evening or at night.  So, what does this mean? Eating before bed does not have to cause weight gain and can even improve sleep quality if done mindfully.

Eating certain foods before bed may induce a restful night of sleep. The key is to focus on what and how much you are eating.  Instead of indulging late at night with high calorie foods, it is better to reach for a healthy snack of roughly 200 calories shortly before bed.  This will be enough to keep hunger at bay through the night and is unlikely to disrupt sleep or cause weight gain.

Foods that may help to make you sleepy are rich in protein or in complex carbohydrates; both of which take longer to digest.  They may also contain components like tryptophan and nutrients such as potassium or magnesium, all of which help to promote sleep and relaxation.

Try these pre-bedtime snack ideas (each contains approximately 200 calories):

  • 1 cup of low-fat yogurt with 1 tsp honey or ½ sliced banana
  • 1 cup of whole wheat cereal with ¾ cup low-fat milk
  • ½ of a Turkey sandwich (1 slice whole grain bread, 2 oz low-sodium turkey breast, 1 tbs mustard, ¼ cup spinach)
  • About 20 mixed nuts (cashews, pistachio, almonds)

Foods that may interfere with sleep tend to be high in fat or calories; or, they may contain stimulants. Examples of foods to avoid include items like burgers or french fries; foods or drinks that contain caffeine like chocolate or coffee; and alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, or mixed drinks. Be wary of hidden sources of caffeine such as soda or energy drinks!

Hungry before bed? Grab a sleep inducing snack and remember to keep it around 200 calories.  Sweet dreams!


  1. Baron KG, Reid KJ, Kern AS, Zee PC. Role of sleep timing in caloric intake and BMI. Obesity. 2011;19(7):1374-1381.
  2. Bertéus Forslund H, Lindroos AK, Sjöström L, Lissner L. Meal patterns and obesity in Swedish women – a simple instrument describing usual meal types, frequency and temporal distribution. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002;56:740-747.
  3. The University of Maryland Medical Center. (2016, February 4). Insomnia. Retreived from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/insomnia
  4. Afaghi, A., O’Connor, H., Chow, C.M. 2007. Am J Clin Nutr. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. 85:426-30.

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