If you eat a healthy dinner and your stomach is still growling when bedtime nears, don't go to bed hungry. A light, healthy nighttime snack is important for kids and adults who experience late-night or middle-of-the-night hunger pangs. The key is knowing what foods make the best nighttime snacks.
Carbs, Protein and Calcium
To relax your mind and settle down for a good night's sleep, eat nighttime snacks that contain protein, complex carbohydrates and calcium. Protein contains trytophans, amino acids that convert to serotonin and melatonin, which are both believed to calm the brain. Complex carbohydrates and calcium help the brain use tryptophan more efficiently. Combination is key, as carbs, protein and calcium eaten alone may have the opposite effect, stimulating the brain and keeping you awake.
A bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk provides complex carbohydrates, protein and calcium that makes a good nighttime snack. Other carbohydrate, protein and calcium combinations include nuts and cheese; peanut butter on a whole-grain cracker, rice cake or toast; a slice of turkey on a bagel; a small apple and a piece of cheese on a cracker; a boiled egg and toast; and a spoonful of granola stirred into yogurt. Make a bowl of oatmeal with pecans or walnuts and milk or eat an oatmeal raisin cookie with milk.
Keep your nighttime snack light and small, as large snacks keep your digestive system busy into the wee hours. A heavy snack may make you fall asleep faster, but the workings of your tummy may cause you to awaken during the middle of the night, or to sleep fitfully and wake feeling unrested. A light snack 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime keeps you satisfied through the night without overworking your digestive system.
What to Avoid
Avoid late dinners and don't eat heavy meals within four to six hours of bedtime. Forgo coffee, tea, cola, or nighttime snacks containing chocolate or other stimulants that may keep you awake. Skip spicy foods or foods containing onions or garlic, which may cause heartburn and other digestive upsets.