Snacking before bed can be a tricky business. Eat too much, and get ready for a night of tossing and turning. Eat too little, and you might find yourself devouring your entire kitchen at three in the morning.
It’s no secret that steering clear of refined carbs and junky foods before bed is one of the best ways to avoid a sleepless night. But ask anyone who’s a sucker for cheese: noshing on healthy p.m snacks can still mess with your sleep quality if you’re not careful.
The key to successful bedtime snacking? Balance. “Being overly full or starving is more likely to lead to sleep issues than any one particular food,” says St. Louis-based registered dietitian Alex Caspero, R.D.
If you’ve yet to find your snacking sweet spot, one of these seven mistakes could be why—and we’ve scored the intel you need to turn things around:
1. Getting Carried Away With Portions
Even when you eat healthy snacks before bed, such as pretzels and hummus or cheese and crackers, it’s easy to overdo it in the portion department. This sends the body into digestion mode, which can make it difficult to fall asleep (and stay asleep). “We don’t need to fuel our bedtime, just offer enough satisfaction that we don’t wake during the night hungry,” says Caspero. The trick is to be strategic with your snack choices.
The Fix: Choose snacks that are harder to overeat, such as pistachios. “Not only are they a good source of plant-based protein and fiber, but the empty shells serve as a visual reminder of how much you’ve eaten, potentially helping curb your intake,” says Caspero. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, try a serving of fruits like grapes or berries—these eats still provide a sweet taste, but make it easier to pace yourself, since you can only eat one or two at a time.
2. Ignoring Your Cravings
When you’re craving dessert and attempt to resist it by snacking on healthier alternatives, you might find yourself consuming more calories in the long run, says Connecticut-based registered dietitian Alyssa Lavy, R.D. Because the healthy snack isn’t satisfying your craving, you might keep snacking to fill the void—only to end up hoovering the dessert you were trying so hard to steer clear of in the first place. This might lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment, which can stress you out before bed and, ultimately, disrupt the quality of your sleep.
The Fix: Indulging in your dessert craving is perfectly alright if you decide that’s what you’d like to eat, says Lavy, so long as you stick to a reasonable portion—such as one or two cookies or 1/2 cup of ice cream. If you’re concerned about feeling guilty, “meeting in the middle by pairing a food that’s less nutritious with a food that delivers more nutrients can be a helpful way to promote balance and satisfaction,” she says. For example, topping a small scoop of ice cream with berries or nuts.
3. Choosing a Protein-Heavy Snack
Most people can forgo protein before bed and stick with a small amount of carbs and healthy fats to satisfy their hunger. “Protein revs up our metabolism, which is great during the day, but not so great when you’re trying to wind down,” says Minnesota-based registered dietitian Leah Kleinschrodt, R.D. However, she adds, some people do need some protein at night to help stabilize their blood sugar.
The Fix: Aim for about 2 ounces of protein (15 grams) before bed, says Kleinschrodt, and then increase or decrease the amount of protein from there. An example might be a slice or two of nitrate-free deli meat rolled up around 2 tablespoons of cream cheese and a pickle, or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of tuna or egg salad on a Wasa cracker.
4. Munching in Front of the TV
When you’re snacking and distracted by something else, such as your fave show or Instagram feed, you may miss out on important satiety cues and eat way more than you planned, says Texas-based registered dietitian-nutritionist Brooke Zigler, R.D.N. Even snacking on healthy grub can put the quality of your sleep in jeopardy, thanks to pesky side effects like indigestion and heartburn.
The Fix: Instead of bringing the entire bag of popcorn or package of almonds with you to the couch, measure out a serving or buy your go-to snack foods already portioned out, says Zigler. This might encourage you to stretch out the portion, giving your satiety cues a chance to catch up—and leaving you more satisfied before bed without going overboard.
5. Drinking Too Much Water
Many of us crave salty snacks at night, and even if you go the healthy route—say, with salted popcorn, nuts, or pumpkin seeds—the next logical step would be to chug a bunch of water to stay hydrated, says Zigler. As a result, the quality of your sleep might plummet from the uptick in late-night bathroom visits.
The Fix: Ensure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day to keep you well-hydrated into the night, says Zigler. If certain snacks are still making you feel extra thirsty, try switching up your snack to a less salty option. For example, a serving of veggies or fruit with a piece of cheese offers a one-two punch of satiety and hydration.
6. Snacking Right Before Bed
Getting your snack on just before bed can delay your ability to fall asleep, since your body will be busy digesting the grub. And if you’re lying down as your stomach’s doing its thing, gravity can’t help mosey the digested food through the digestive tract, which can cause an upset stomach during the night, says Kleinschrodt.
The Fix: Make sure you have your bedtime snack no later than 30 minutes before you turn in, says Kleinschrodt. A few apple slices and some peanut butter (topped with cinnamon if you’re feeling fancy) should do the trick to keep blood sugar stable and late-night cravings at bay.
7. Going to Bed Hungry
Much like being too full can mess with your ability to fall asleep, so can being too, well, empty. Hunger is a sign that your blood sugar is trending downward or already low. “A low blood sugar state sends stress signals to your brain that you are low on energy and need food now,” says Kleinschrodt. Not exactly an ideal state when you’re trying to score some shuteye.
The Fix: Munch on 1/2 cup of berries with 2-3 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream, suggests Kleinschrodt. This snack will provide just enough carbs to bring your blood sugar up without going overboard, as well as healthy fats to keep it stable throughout the night.