The best time to eat for a good night’s rest

Do you wake up because you’re hungry in the middle of the night? Some people do – while others (annoyingly) – can slumber for the full eight hours. Don’t worry. You’re not strange, you just have a different way of processing food than others, and might need a small snack just before turning in for the night.

The accepted wisdom about the required time lapse between a sufficiently nutritious evening meal and getting a good night’s sleep used to be at least a couple of hours. But it turns out that’s not right for everyone.

Acceptable nighttime nutrition

According to research published in the peer-reviewed open access journal of human nutrition: “Data is beginning to mount to suggest that negative outcomes may not be consistent when the food choice is small, nutrient-dense, low energy foods and/or single macronutrients rather than large mixed-meals.”

If you have diabetes, you’ll know that eating something small before bed is essential for survival. Otherwise your blood sugar levels will dip into dangerous territory. MedicalNewsToday explains that glucose levels shift during certain time periods:

  • The Somogyi effect: 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.: Glucose levels drop significantly then.
  • Dawn: Between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., blood sugar levels surge as part of the process of waking up.

To combat this, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends having a high protein, healthy fat but limited carbs option – something like this:

  • Almonds (small handful)
  • Single-serving cheese portion with carrot sticks
  • Slices of apples with a small spoonful of nut butter (without sugar for best results)
  • Yogurt pot (plain, unsweetened, with probiotics)

What if I don’t have diabetes?

These snacks might help you anyway. Especially if you’ve been waking up hungry because your blood sugar is off. The research from the journal “Nutrient” highlighted the fact that many people who can’t sleep are using “compensatory food behaviors” to try and knock themselves out, having a heavy evening meal, instead of eating a proper lunch, then a light supper, followed by a small bedtime snack.

Investigating metabolic hormones

Experts from the Institute of Sports Science and Medicine have also revisited the received wisdom on when (and what) to eat before bed:

“Consuming large meals or the majority of daily nutrients late in the evening may increase susceptibility to obesity and other cardiometabolic diseases. While this may hold true when large quantities of food intake occurs at night, data is beginning to mount to suggest that this finding is not consistent if the food choice is altered to favor small, nutrient-dense, low energy foods and/or single macronutrients (<200 cals).”

Their work focuses on the new research around the metabolic hormones leptin and ghrelin. The former signals when the body has enough food to function correctly, while the latter stimulates hunger. If by eating small snacks before bed, your body creates enough leptin to suppress the secret of ghrelin, you’ll sleep through the night. As the researchers conclude:

“From this perspective, it appears that a bedtime supply of nutrients can promote positive physiological changes in healthy populations.”