Insomnia: The Best Bedtime Snacks for Insomniacs
By Dr. Nicole Sundene
Can the kitchen table cure insomnia?
It might just be the quick fix for a certain type of insomnia.
Everyone knows that eating a big meal before bed is not healthy.
Food just “sits there” and doesn’t optimally digest when we are inactive, as the peristaltic contractions of our gut are enhanced by exercise and movement. Still some people insist they can’t sleep without a bedtime snack. I actually might argue that some people might NEED a bedtime snack. Those that struggle with low blood sugar issues or “hypoglycemia” typically wake up in the middle of the night because of it.
Once awake, they can’t get back to sleep, and can’t figure out why.
I see insomnia as three different tedious breeds. There is the insomnia typically caused by stress when you can’t get to sleep, the insomnia when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, and the insomnia that wakes you up much earlier than the actual time you care to start your day.
You can also be amongst the “lucky ones” and have a combo pack of the three. This unlucky triad is typically the result of high stress, daytime inactivity, alcohol, too bright of a bedroom, and low blood sugar.
The best bedtime snacks are high in protein, fiber, complex carbs, minerals, and the amino acid tryptophan. To ensure a good night’s sleep, be sure to eat a light snack about 90 minutes before your anticipated bedtime. Shoot for 8:30pm if you typically go to bed around ten.
In the presence of carbohydrates, the amino acid tryptophan is able to pass the blood brain barrier, where it is then made into serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes us happy) and in a dark atmosphere serotonin then converts to melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy). Boosting serotonin levels is also beneficial for those with anxiety or depression.
Using these basic rules of biochemistry, I have craftily put together a list of snacks that should induce relaxation as well as ensure proper blood sugar.
The Best Bedtime Snacks for Insomnia:
- Cottage cheese and fruit.
- A string cheese and a few whole grain crackers.
- A small serving of salmon and brown rice.
- A bowl of oatmeal with almonds.
- Yogurt, fruit, and wheat germ.
- Granola and yogurt.
- Peanut butter on whole grain toast.
- One egg and a piece of whole grain toast.
- A fruit smoothie with protein powder.
- A small bowl of high fiber cereal and milk.
- A handful of raw cashews, peanuts, or other nuts.
- Half an avocado and whole grain chips.
- Half a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread.
- 3 tablespoons of hummus and veggies or a few whole grain chips.
- 2 tablespoons of cashew butter and celery decorated with raisins.
- Rice cakes and cashew or peanut butter.
- Almonds and apple slices.
- 3-6 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds mixed with applesauce or yogurt.
- If you have menopausal hot flashes keeping you up at night you might especially benefit from the ground flaxseeds as the lignans have a phyto-estrogenic effect, and the omega-3 oils are very important for ensuring hormonal imbalance.
- If you are going nuts from insomnia, nuts just might be the answer as they are high in protein, fiber, and minerals. Eat RAW nuts and raw nut butters to avoid the rancid fats that develop in the roasting process. Roasting turns nuts into “Kitchen Table Villains” that pack on pounds and clog our arteries. Raw nuts such as peanuts and cashews in moderate quantities are a great treat to keep on hand.
- The healthiest foods highest in tryptophan are: Cottage cheese, peanuts, salmon, cashews, halibut, shrimp, granola, oatmeal, avocado, turkey, cheese, milk, wheat germ, eggs, collard greens, raisins, chicken, yogurt, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
- Try giving up dessert for a week or two, and see if that helps. Most night-time waking is caused by low blood sugar, because Americans commonly eat a sugary evening dessert that jacks their sugar up super high right before bed. As we sleep the sugar then comes crashing back down. The body always wakes us up to alert us of these kinds of imbalances.
- Keep in mind that excess fluids before bed also wakes us up, so ultimately it is best to not have any food or drink at least 90 minutes before bed. The older you are, the more you may need to restrict your evening fluids to ensure you don’t need a night-time trip to the restroom. Just be sure you drink up upon waking and stay hydrated throughout the rest of the day.
- The ultimate recipe for success is pairing light proteins such as vegetable proteins, turkey, and white cheeses with a high fiber friend such as a fruit, vegetable, or a whole grain choice. These foods also are typically rich in calcium and magnesium, minerals that serve to relax the nervous system and alleviate muscle tension.
- Kitchen Table Cliffnote: Protein + Fiber + Minerals= Sound Sleep
Reference: “Medical Nutrition from Marz” by Dr. Russell B. Marz
Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table!
~ Dr. Nicole Sundene