RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Many of us are working longer hours and often bringing work home with us. In many cases, we stay up later than normal and run to the kitchen on the way to bed to grab a quick snack.
Most of our late night choices—ice cream, chips, cookies, sweets—can have negative health effects. Now neuroscientists from Texas A&M University say that certain foods may actually encourage a good night’s sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is tied to a number of important health benefits such as clarity of thoughts, quicker reflexes, and an improved mood. Lack of sleep can have significant negative health consequences such as an out-of-whack appetite that can lead to weight gain and late night snacking.
When we want to stay up later to work and push through for another hour, many people seek high-energy foods, particularly those high in fat and protein. These foods, when consumed in the morning, prepare our bodies for the day ahead and jump start our metabolism, helping us wake up ready for the day.
When we eat these same foods late at night, they have a similar effect and this can prevent us from getting restful sleep (instead of allowing our bodies to wind down for the night). Fat should be avoided—these foods take a long time to digest which keeps the body awake throughout the digestion process. These foods also promote inflammation—inflammation is associated with heart and vascular disease.
We can make healthier late night choices that may both satisfy late night hunger and promote a good night’s sleep. Foods such as milk, turkey and hazelnuts are good choices. They are high in a chemical called tryptophan, which helps the body sleep. Some nutritionists believe that fruits like cherries, bananas and pineapples can increase the production of melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone because it signals that it’s time to sleep. Fruit in general is a good choice for a bedtime snack as most are low in calories and low in fat.
Here are some quick tips for nighttime eating:
– Focus on foods that contain tryptophan (like turkey, eggs and milk), which can help promote sleep.
– Eat a small portion of fruit.
– Avoid caffeine, alcohol and high-fat foods.
– If you have to eat right before bed, eat a small meal or snack.
The most important thing that we can do is to develop a daily routine that is consistent. Try not to skip meals during the day—this will limit nighttime cravings. Stick to a standard bedtime as much as you can. It is important for your health to have a consistent day-night rhythm.