Ever stay up past your bedtime and start craving every edible thing you can imagine (especially junk food)?
Yeah, me too! We've all been there.
And it's not something we should take lightly...
Nighttime cravings are caused by spikes in the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol levels drop in the night time as your body begins the production of melatonin to help you get some rest. However, if you stay up all night, binging tv-shows and staring at a blue light screen then this inhibits your body time to rest and heal. The melatonin production stops, inflammation reises and cortisol levels shoot back up, as well as your blood sugar and insulin levels. All of this is a domino effect for your brain to start producing ghrelin, the appetite hormone! Studies have shown that this night time stress not only increases your hunger levels but it also increases your hunger for greasy, fat, and sugary foods in your kitchen.
If you find yourself waking up or still up at 2-3 am hungry, then here are 3 things you can do before going to bed to lower your cortisol level so you can make it through the night without raiding your fridge and pantry!
1. Lower your stress before hitting the sack.
There are many ways you can do this, you can do some light yoga, a light work out, a 10 min guided meditation. A great and simple way to lower your stress response over time is by doing a 3 min gratitude exercise before bed, where you go over everything that you are grateful for from that day, or just in general in your life. This can be a written journal exercise or it can be simply meditated upon, it's the same, but there are hundreds of studies showing that it greatly lowers your cortisol levels over time. Another great way is Yoga Nidra, which is kind of like a guided meditation, but it's soothing and relaxing and 9 times out of 10 it will knock you right out! Here's my fav one: Yoga Nidra Youtube
2. Change your dinner time.
If you know you're going to stay up later than normal to binge some tv or do some work then try moving your dinner time up an hour or 2. As long as you leave a minimum of 2 hours between your dinner and the time that you go to sleep. At my house, we close the kitchen at 8 pm, that leaves us time to eat dinner (any time from 6-8 pm, depending on the meal and day of the week) and maybe have a dessert or light snack, while also giving us 2-3 hours of digestion time before bedtime.
3. Drink a glass of water.
(If you're one of those people that wakes up to pee 100 times, then maybe skip this step.) More times than not, your hunger and cravings are a cause of dehydration so a good rule of thumb is to drink a full glass of water, wait 5 min and see if that curbs your cravings. This step goes for day time cravings as well!
If on the other hand, you're a night owl like me and just find that you focus better during the night and like to stay up (it's still not a good idea to stay up), then here are some healthy snack alternatives that are not only delicious but they are also packed with nutrients that stimulate the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. When eaten regularly, some of the foods mentioned below will increase your production of melatonin and help you regulate your sleep cycle in the long run.
What NOT to do!
1. Don't go over 200 calories. The snack should be light and small, anything too high in calories could have an adverse effect and keep you awake, or make you hungrier.
2. No white bread, white sugars, etc! White refined flours and sugars will cause a spike in your blood sugar and glucose levels. This will be too heavy for your body to digest if you go to sleep less than 2 hours after your body won't be able to lower your blood sugar. Because of this, instead of entering a healing state while your sleep, your bods inflammation will rise. Over time this could lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
3. Nothing too fatty or caffeinated.
Pistachios are the No1 midnight snack I would recommend to anyone. They are tasty, easy to digest, healthy and best of all they stimulate your brain to begin the production of melatonin which helps you fall asleep quicker. This is thanks to all the B6 and magnesium they contain!
Much like Pistachios, this delicious green fruit is incredibly powerful in helping you fall asleep at a decent time, so powerful in fact, that it has been named the 'Superfood for sleep". Scientists discovered that eating a kiwi 1 to 2 hrs before bed will significantly increase your melatonin production and relaxation. This may be due to the high antioxidant properties and Vitamin C.
While kiwis increase the production of melatonin in your body, cherries make their own! Cherries are the only natural source of melatonin and the only food that naturally produces melatonin. Cherries are also rich in serotonin and tryptophan. (Tryptophan is an amino acid also found in milk and turkey which increases melatonin and serotonin.) Tart cherries are best, and they are low enough in the glycemic index that they won't cause a spike in your blood sugar levels which is very important for longterm health. Like kiwi, cherries work best when eaten 1-2 hours before bed.
As mentioned above, most of the time, the reason for our cravings is dehydration, so a nice fresh slice of watermelon will clench your thirst and your nighttime hunger. Being that watermelons are 92% water it won't be too heavy on your stomach, and it's a very low glycemic fruit so it won't cause a spike in your blood sugar allowing you to go to sleep satisfied and quickly.
Popcorn with Nutritional yeast
Popcorn is a whole grain, filled with fiber and is a great midnight snack because it's so low in calories. I like to sprinkle nutritional yeast and smoked paprika on top to give it a little cheesy umami flavor to it, while also omitting the butter to keep the snack under 200 calories.
Peanutbutter contains an amino acid called tryptophan which is converted into melatonin in the brain to help you seep at night. You can also use almond butter like almond butter also contains tryptophan. However, it's important that you opt for whole-grain bread and buy natural nut butter without any added ingredients such as canola oil, high fructose corn syrup, or any other preservatives as they can have the opposite effect on your sleep and your health. For the jam, you can use your favorite jam, but I suggest a natural tart cherry jelly which naturally contains melatonin in it. I like to make my own tart cherry jam with chia seeds! It's delicious and lasts me 2 months, no added sugars or preservatives, just slightly cooked cherries and chia seeds.
I LOVE to eat oatmeal before bed, much more than eating it for breakfast. It's warm, cozy, creamy and deliciously sweet all in one bowl, and it definitely satisfies my midnight dessert cravings and makes me feel full and sleepy. Oatmeal is a whole grain so it contains plenty of fiber and complex carbs which help you feel fuller for longer without causing a spike in your blood sugar or making you feel heavy and disrupting your sleep. Studies show that this popular breakfast dish actually helps you fall asleep faster!
Nuts are always a great snack at any time of the day! They contain protein, healthy fats which help decrease hunger, fight inflammation and regulate blood sugar levels. The National Sleep Foundation recommends almonds and walnuts to eat as a midnight snack. More specifically, almonds contain magnesium and tryptophan which can help regulate your sleep. A handful of nuts will satisfy your urge to eat something crunchy and salty.
Veggies and Hummus Dip and Whole Grain Crackers
Fresh, salty and nutritious, sliced veggies and whole-grain crackers are delicious and filling which makes them great for an after-hours snack. You can make your own hummus and tahini dip. When hummus and tahini are mixed together they form a complete protein that helps your body keep you full and the brain produces serotonin to help you feel more relaxed.
Berries are incredibly nutritious, high in vitamins, melatonin and high in antioxidants which help counteract oxidative stress and inflammation in the body caused by sleep disorders such as insomnia. They are a light snack low in sugar which is good for a midnight snack as it doesn't cause a spike in your blood sugar. Berries are the lowest glycemic index food.
I can not count the times I have craved chocolate in the middle of the night! It should be at least 80% dark chocolate, anything less and its sugar content will be too high and cause a spike in your blood sugar, further disrupting your sleep pattern. Although dark chocolate contains caffeine it is a great midnight snack because it contains serotonin which can reduce your stress levels, relax your mind and body to facilitate your production of melatonin and prepare you for a restful sleep.
Warm, creamy, and delicious for any time of the day! Avocado is filled with healthy fats which can help you burn calories faster in your sleep. It's a great midnight snack because it can offer you a very flavourful meal with very little preparation. Best when eaten with whole-grain bread and a drizzle of olive oil. Both whole-grain toast and avocado are fairly light on the stomach so it won't wake you up or make you feel hungrier than before.
Edamame with paprika
In Japan, Edamame is commonly associated with sleep because studies show that they can help you have a longer, deeper, and more restful sleep, which can reduce your stress levels and inflammation in the following day! Edamame is an immature soybean, and like all soy products contains estrogen, which has been clinically proven to regulate sleep. If you haven't tried edamame before they are a delicious naturally salty snack, you just need to boil them and take them out of the pod and add a sprinkle of paprika.
This snack is great if you're craving something salty and crunchy like chips! Chickpeas are filled with protein and fiber and you can roast them in the oven with any flavors you want and keep them in your pantry for when you want a midnight (or daytime) snack that isn't a back of unhealthy crisps. I also like to add my roasted chickpeas to my homemade trail mix!
Sometimes all you want is something sweet, fresh and delicious, like a smoothie or a milkshake! But this doesn't mean that we should raid the freezer and eat half a tub of ice cream, instead, you could make a quick night time smoothie including some of the fruits and nuts mentioned above and greens some greens. Greens like kale, spinach, arugula contain vitamin K and plenty of fiber to help you feel full, but since everything is blended down, your body can assimilate it's nutrients easily and efficiently without having to overwork your digestive system in the middle of the night!
Tip - Keep peeled bananas in your freezer and add them to your smoothies to give them a creamy texture.