Insomnia: The Best Bedtime Snacks for Insomniacs

by in Anxiety, Depression, Holistic Nutrition Tips, Kitchen Sink, Sleep December 5, 2010

insomnianuts.jpgBy 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.

Additional Tips:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Kitchen Table Cliffnote: Protein + Fiber + Minerals= Sound Sleep

What is your favorite bedtime snack?
Recommended Reading for Insomniacs: Sleep, Stress, The Low Glycemic Index Diet, Hypoglycemia, Fiber, Amino Acids and Mood Disorders, Anxiety

Reference: “Medical Nutrition from Marz” by Dr. Russell B. Marz

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table!

~ Dr. Nicole Sundene

Naturopathic Physician

  1. So McDonalds is out? Laughs. Great list of food stuffs that will allow us to sleep and not push the number on the scale up. Is the cheese based on the milk-based product idea?>

  2. Great article. I’m starting to hear a lot about flax seed. I recently tried out the metabolic diet, but had to quit because I cant live without bread it seems. However I found a great flax meal recipe for bread that is only 1 carb per serving. Seems there’s nothing flax seed cant do!

  3. Hi
    thanks for the great article,besides hummus which I never tried I wish I was at your house come snack time;)
    I signed up for your new articles at 42 I better start paying attention

  4. Hi Benny! Dairy is high in tryptophan, cottage cheese actually being the best source. Cottage cheese is one of my favorite superfoods because it is really high in essential amino acids that make us HAPPY! 😀

  5. Hi Louis- I am not a fan of super low carb diets for the average Joe. They are too tough and just unrealistic. Slow carbs is the best way to go. Learning to eat high fiber and protein with every meal will lower the glycemic load of the meal so that you get the same type of effect as on the Metabolic Diet. You will be more apt to stick to it for the long term as well. Flaxseeds are one of my favorite superfoods because they are dirt cheap and packed with all the right stuff. Be sure to grind them fresh before eating to take advantage of the delicate omega 3 oils. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Hi John- Glad you signed up! We’ll have you down to a 32 by next year I am sure. 😀

  7. I have been a poor sleeper for years. Initially it was stress and now I think I’m just too excited. I love what I do so much that I’m always pondering ideas and stuff and can’t wait to get up and get going.
    This can be as problematical as being stressed and I’m looking at ways of dealing with it including doing more meditation. We also eat our evening meal too late (it’s usually about 8.00/8.30pm) and I think that’s a very European habit that we adopted years and years ago. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I thought that was just from a weight gain perspective, are there other reasons Doc that I can use to persuade my wife that we NEED to make changes 😉

  8. Thank you for these great ideas.
    So many people can use help falling asleep these days with the stress we impose on ourselves in our pace faced world! This can often cause difficulties with our sleeping patterns!
    Doc KC

  9. hmmm….my favourite bedtime snack??…..2 to 3 plain biscuits and a glass of water.

  10. Hi Tim! I suffer from those same insomnia issues. I think when we lay down and are quiet finally in our day that is when the best ideas come to us. I have gotten out of bed in the middle of the night and on to my computer to write and article many too many times. I think lunch should be one of the bigger meals of the day. You could try eating dinner earlier and then have a light snack later on. Although I do have to admit that being a night owl it is tough not to have dinner at 8-9pm at times.

  11. Hi Dr. KC- Yes, stress is the number one cause of insomnia. These meals will help keep you asleep but until you work through the bugs with counseling and stress management, you will still be lying in bed twiddling your thumbs wishing you can sleep. I typically prescribe exercise to everyone with insomnia. I think both the mind and body have to be worn out in order to ensure a good night’s sleep.

  12. Oh dear Sangeeta! That is a Low Glycemic Index nightmare! Biscuits! 😉

  13. Yay! I’m on track. Woah! I guess that’s because you formulated my diet for me … lol 🙂 Thanks for another outstanding post.

  14. This is all good stuff to eat anytime, too, right? You rock, Doc!

  15. Hi Doc, good to be here again. Great article on sleep-foods! I printed out the list as there were things on it I’d not thought of…and I eat really healthy. I’ve been doing the apple and almond one for some time now…not because I knew it was good for sleeping but just because I love it SO much. There are some other good suggestions here as well. This is such a delightful site…I’ve missed you. Will have to look through some of your other posts. I like your writing style: warm, friendly and chatty, which makes reading factual information much more fun and retain-able. Great Job! 🙂

  16. Hi Timethief- Hooray you are making good progress! Keep it up. Maintenance is work that deserves to be rewarded too.

  17. This information is very helpful. My favorite snack is yogurt, maybe because I was born in a country that worships it haha.

  18. […] Dr Nicola Sundene has a brilliant health blog. Check out this interesting and informative posts: The Best Bedtime Snacks For Insomniacs Brad Brown is another one I met on StumbleUpon. He is funny and witty and you can check out his […]

  19. i really need to try this. i sleep at 4 AM everyday. huhuhu.

  20. My favorite is warm apple pie. I always buy apple pies at the store and then microwave them late at night before I go to bed or if I can’t sleep and once I eat them, I’m pretty tired again.
    Milk is also good as well.

  21. […] forget to have your pot of tea with one of my favorite “Bedtime Snacks for Insomniacs.” Also if you tend to be one of those that gets troubled by having to use the restroom in the middle […]

  22. Hi Doc,
    I’m a newbie to your site and I am thrilled to have come upon you researching ways to relax with herbs.
    My question to you is, if one tends to have a slow heart beat with bouts of racing and or palpitations is their any particular herb to relax I should stay away from. I would like to sip on something in the evening to take the edge off and relax enough to sleep.
    Thank you so much for this web site and all the great reading.

  23. Milk is not for me what can I drink insted. Thank you

  24. i love fillets of flounder before bed
    or blueberries.

  25. Hi Doctor,
    I am 29 years old and I am facing a sleeping problem from more that one year,i consulted a Doctor and did not get any result so i decided to go through the net to find solution to my problem and I find by chance this interesting website.Let me tell you about my problem: sometimes i can not sleep all night and sometimes i can sleep only few hours (3 to 4).I go to bed around 10 pm in general and if i fall asleep i will wake up at around 2 am in the morning and can not sleep after.I tried many things,from sport every night walkinig for one hour,or running for half hour ,from light dinner at early time 6 pm and many other things.
    Do you think my body needs more vitamins and metal?is there any supplement rich in triptophan that i can take and will help or need to rely on food better?
    Is Centrium multivitamins pills helpful?what about magnesium B6 pills?
    Appreciate your help.
    Note: For the time being i will start your food recommendation and hope this help me.

  26. Fresh and dried cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin, which helps your body regulate sleep cycles and supports healthy cellular replication and restful sleep

  27. […] forget to have your pot of tea with one of my favorite “Bedtime Snacks for Insomniacs.” Also if you tend to be one of those that gets troubled by having to use the restroom in the […]

  28. What you eat can drastically affect how you sleep, so in order to get a good night’s rest, it is essential to choose foods that calm your mind and body rather than those that stimulate you. Certain types of foods will naturally promote rest and relaxation, particularly those that contain tryptophan – the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that slows nerve activity within your brain.
    Since tryptophan is a precursor of other neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and melatonin, eating foods that are rich in tryptophan will help you feel relaxed and sleepy. Foods such as turkey, hummus, lentils, and kelp are naturally high in tryptophan and also contain nutrients that provide a host of other health benefits. In addition, bananas not only contain tryptophan, but also potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants. Fresh and dried cherries are also one of the only natural food sources of melatonin. Read more of my healthy diet recommendations by visiting

  29. […] forget to have your pot of tea with one of my favorite “Bedtime Snacks for Insomniacs.”Also if you tend to be one of those that gets troubled by having to use the restroom in the middle […]

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