In case you missed it, many Americans are starved for sleep. About a third of US adults consistently rack up less than the recommended seven hours per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many factors can drastically affect your sleep quality, including hydration levels, stress, caffeine and alcohol consumption, bedroom temperature, and blanket choice—as can your appetite. Crawling under the covers with a growling stomach sets you up for a night of tossing and turning, but fortunately, there are plenty of bedtime snacks to help you sleep.
Ahead, learn more about how hunger levels might be impacting your snoozing, the best bedtime snacks to help you sleep, and tips for timing your nighttime noshes. Plus, read about the foods and drinks to consider limiting before bed for the sake of better Zzzs, according to registered dietitians.
How Does Hunger Impact Sleep?
Going to bed under-fueled often increases stress on the body physically, mentally, and emotionally, says Laura Ligos, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of The Sassy Dietitian in Albany, New York.
When you go to bed hungry, your blood sugar levels take a nosedive and you likely won’t feel your best. Nocturnal hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar at night, may result in much more than restless sleep. It can also increase the risk of nightmares, lead to clammy or sweaty skin, cause shakiness, or affect your heartbeat and breathing rate.
Still, depending on where you fall on the spectrum of famished to full, going to bed hungry may or may not impact sleep, says Mary Stewart, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas.
“If you’ve had adequate nutrition throughout the day, ate an early dinner, and are slightly hungry before bed, for some, this may positively influence your sleep,” Stewart explains. “For example, you may reduce your chances of indigestion and sleep disturbances, making for a restful night.”
How Bedtime Snacks Can Help You Sleep
On the days where you don’t eat enough, haven’t consumed balanced meals, and go to bed overly hungry, your hormones and blood sugar balance can take a hit, Stewart says. As a result, your sleep can suffer: It may take longer to fall asleep and you may spend less time in bed actually sleeping, Stewart explains. In cases like these, the right bedtime snacks can help offset those harmful effects to your Zzzs.
“Bedtime snacks can absolutely help us sleep better,” Ligos confirms. For many, this can be a “huge game-changer” for sleep quality, she adds.
“Choosing small, nourishing snacks before bed if you’re physically hungry before bedtime will enhance rather than interrupt your sleep,” says Patricia Bannan, RDN, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of From Burnout to Balance. “Eating certain foods or nutrients before bed can promote better sleep, too.” (Keep reading for some specifics.)
But Wait, Isn’t It Bad to Eat Before Bed?
At one point or another, you might have been told that you shouldn’t eat before bed—but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Researchers are currently in a scientific tug-of-war about whether eating late at night in general benefits you or not. Of course, as experts explain above, eating a bedtime snack when you’re hungry will help you score better Zzzs—but there may be additional benefits and drawbacks alike involved.
A 2015 review published in the journal Nutrients, for instance, found that a 150-calorie bedtime snack can improve cardiometabolic health and help your body make the most of its protein stores to build muscle. But a 2023 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition notes that late-night snacking was associated with increased concentrations of triglycerides (a fatty substance in your blood) and blood sugar, in addition to higher levels of HbA1C (which is associated with greater diabetes risk). Meanwhile, other research indicates that eating late at night may be associated with a higher chance of being overweight.
Ultimately, it all boils down to what you eat, when you eat, and why—plus how you factor your bedtime snacks into your overall intake today and tomorrow.
Who Can Especially Benefit from Bedtime Snacks?
Generally, if you feel physically hungry before bed, you should have a bedtime snack. Beyond that, bedtime snacks may be especially beneficial for certain groups, including:
Those who didn't eat enough calories or protein during the rest of the day
Women of reproductive age (about 15 to 44)
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The Best Bedtime Snacks to Help You Sleep
According to a 2022 review in Nutrients, the best bedtime snacks to help you sleep should check one or more of the following boxes:
Support blood glucose balance through fiber, protein, or both
Deliver a dose of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids
Contain tryptophan and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), two amino acids that support the production of sleep-regulating hormones melatonin and serotonin
Offer a natural source of melatonin to cut right to the chase
Include potassium, calcium, and/or magnesium, which are minerals that are associated with improved sleep
Want some help curating your snack menu? Here are some of the best bedtime snacks to help you sleep, according to the registered dietitians we spoke with:
1. 1 Cup Kefir + 1 Sliced Kiwi
Kefir, a fermented dairy product, is a great bedtime snack option due to its ability to help your gut produce GABA. “This can increase sleep efficiency and may reduce sleep delay,” Stewart says. Pair that glass of kefir with a kiwi. When consumed one hour before bedtime, research suggests that this fruit may improve sleep quality due to its serotonin concentration and antioxidant levels.
2. 1 Hard-Boiled Egg + 1 Cup (8 Ounces) Tart Cherry Juice
“Tryptophan, an essential amino acid that the body does not make itself, plays a role in optimizing sleep,” Stewart says. Since we don’t make tryptophan, we need to get it from food, and “eggs are a good source,” she adds. Alongside your egg, sip on a cup of tart cherry juice; it contains melatonin which may improve sleep quality and duration.
3. 1 Cup Plain Full-Fat Cottage Cheese + ½ Cup Pitted, Halved Cherries + 1 Ounce Pistachios
The protein in cottage cheese will satisfy your hunger, Ligos says, “and cherries are one of nature’s natural sources of melatonin.” Top your cottage cheese parfait with a handful of pistachios for a proven one-two punch of melatonin.
4. 1 Cup Plain Greek Yogurt + 1 Small Sliced Banana
Similar to cottage cheese, “Greek yogurt has plenty of protein and carbs to fill you up and help with the blood sugar response,” Ligos explains. It also delivers on the calcium promise. As for the banana, it stacks on those other two MVP minerals: potassium and magnesium.
5. 1 Medium Apple + 1 Ounce Cheese
6. 1 Large Rice Cake + 2 Tablespoons Almond Butter + ½ Cup Raspberries
Raspberries are among the highest-fiber fruits you’ll find in the produce aisle. Mash those berries over a nut-butter-slathered rice cake for a riff on a PB&J that delivers a nice balance of carbs, fat, and protein, according to Ligos.
7. 3 Cups Air-Popped Popcorn + 1 Ounce Walnuts
Tame your nighttime appetite with this voluminous duo. A bowl of fiber-rich popcorn plus a handful of walnuts (the nut with the highest amount of omega-3 fats), “will support blood sugar balance and overall sleep quality,” Stewart says.
8. 1 Cup Oatmeal + ½ Cup Blueberries + 1 Ounce Walnuts
Start with a small bowl of prepared oatmeal, which is “rich in carbs for better, deeper sleep, [and] melatonin and magnesium for better sleep quality,” according to Bannan. Add some walnuts, which are omega-3 all-stars that also provide tryptophan for making serotonin and melatonin. Top things off with a scoop of blueberries, a fruit that comes in clutch with fiber, magnesium, and potassium.
9. 1 Slice Whole-Grain Toast + 2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter + 1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
With fiber, plus a bit of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, a slice of whole-grain toast is a fantastic foundation for a bedtime peanut butter toast. Both peanut butter and chia seeds supply protein, tryptophan, and magnesium, while the chia seeds also pack calcium.
10. 1 Cup (8 Ounces) Chamomile Tea + 1 Ounce Almonds
There’s a reason why chamomile and calmness tend to be synonymous. “Chamomile tea provides flavonoids to promote sleep,” Bannan says. The cozy drink is a traditional go-to to help calm nerves, lower levels of anxiety, ease insomnia, and convey a mild sedative effect. Meanwhile, “almonds provide melatonin for regulating sleep, magnesium for better sleep quality, [and] tryptophan for making serotonin and melatonin,” Bannan adds.
11. 1 Cup Milk (or Alternative Milk) + 1 Small Banana + 6 Ounces Plain Greek Yogurt + 2 Tablespoons Wheat Germ
Blend up a smoothie with big bedtime benefits. As mentioned above, bananas impart magnesium and potassium, while Greek yogurt and milk introduce calcium for better sleep quality and tryptophan for making serotonin and melatonin, Bannan says. Toss in a scoop of wheat germ to thicken and sneak in another source of tryptophan, magnesium, and fiber.
Are There Any Foods and Drinks That Can Disrupt Sleep?
Knowing which snacks experts recommend limiting before bed is just as important as knowing which bedtime snacks can help you sleep. The following foods and drinks may negatively impact sleep quality, duration, or both:
High-sugar, high-carb foods or sugar-sweetened beverages: These may cause a high blood sugar spike followed by a crash, according to Ligos.
Fried and spicy fare: These may lead to digestive distress close to bedtime, Stewart says.
Alcohol: It “can wreak havoc on sleep and may impact blood sugar levels as well as melatonin levels,” Ligos explained. “Yes, it may help you fall asleep faster, but will likely cause poorer-quality sleep overall.”
Caffeine: “Even small amounts of daily caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep, interfere with our sleep-wake cycle, cause ‘rebound’ sleepiness, and create dependence upon it,” Bannan says—so try not to sip your coffee too late in the day. (More on that below.)
Is There an Ideal Time to Eat Bedtime Snacks?
There’s no absolute “best” time to eat bedtime snacks before sleep, as it varies based on your health, digestion patterns, and preferences. With that in mind, your best bet is to wrap up pre-sleep snacking about one to three hours before your head hits the pillow if you can.
This allows your body to digest your food before lying down, which can help reduce digestive issues like heartburn and indigestion—and still allows you to reap the health benefits of the recommended bedtime snacks listed above, Stewart explains.
“I recommend my clients play around with it and see what works best for them,” Ligos says. “As far as alcohol goes, even wrapping up alcohol consumption one to two hours prior to sleep may help.” (Putting down your wine, beer, or cocktail three hours before bedtime may result in even bigger benefits.)
Now about that coffee, cola, or other sources of caffeine: One study found that consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine (about four cups of coffee) even six hours before bed may significantly disrupt sleep. Individual responses vary, but if possible, avoid caffeine-rich items in the afternoon.
Additional Tips for Better Sleep
Beyond what you eat and drink, Bannan advises incorporating the following strategies into your nighttime routine as part of your overall sleep hygiene strategy:
Journal. If you struggle with anxious thoughts, write them down as a way to release them.
Add an aroma. Diffuse lavender essential oils or spritz your bed with a scented pillow spray.
Cozy up. Take a warm bath or shower one to two hours before bedtime. The difference between your body temperature and the room temperature can help your body wind down.
Block out distractions. Slip on an eye mask to block out light. To curb ambient noise, opt for earplugs or turn on a white noise machine.
Ask for help. If you find that your stress and anxiety levels are detracting from your quality of life, at bedtime or otherwise, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Often, we hear “bedtime snack” and think of it as a decadent end to the day rather than another opportunity to fill in any nutritional gaps, Ligos says. Flip the script and take advantage of before-bed bites, and you may notice improved sleep and better overall well-being. Keep in mind that bedtime snacks may not be helpful for every person or situation, though, so test out your individual timing and snack size—or skip it if you’re not hungry and ate enough throughout the rest of the day.
The best bedtime snacks for sleep provide protein, fiber, carbs, and healthy fats. To up the ante, seek out foods and drinks that also offer sleep-supporting hormones and minerals. Dietitians recommend fueling up with your bedtime snack about one to three hours before bedtime.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.