By: Margo Roth ’15, University of Maryland Health Center, HEALTH Works Peer Educator
Let’s face it, college doesn’t always make it easy for early bedtimes. You’re up until 3 am finishing a paper, sleep for a few hours, and then drag yourself to your 9 am class while gulping down some coffee on the way.
However, sleep is one of the most important things we need to do well in school. Getting enough sleep can improve your mental health, physical health, brain function and daily performance.
You may not realize it, but what and when you eat has a huge impact on your sleep.
You may have heard dieters say that eating at night is a huge no-no. But, is that really realistic? Not in the college world.
We need to refuel every 4 to 5 hours, so it’s natural to feel hungry if you’re up super late.
The best thing to do is to go ahead and grab a small snack, which will actually help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Which foods should I eat before bed?
Going to bed hungry might actually wake you up during the night and make it harder to fall asleep. So, when hunger strikes, go ahead and eat something!
Here are some examples of great midnight munchies:
- Whole grain cereal and low-fat milk. Even though this may sound like your typical breakfast, it’s a smart snack to pick before bedtime. Cereal is a good source of carbohydrates and milk is packed with protein. Pairing a protein with a carbohydrate will keep you satisfied and won’t ruin your sleep. Other great protein and carb pairs are cheese and crackers, hummus and pretzels or peanut butter and banana.
- Greek yogurt, honey and banana. All of these foods are high in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing hormone, and also have other added bonuses. Bananas are a great source of carbs. Yogurt is packed with calcium, which helps your body turn tryptophan into melatonin to help you relax. Other good sources of calcium are cottage cheese, kale, milk and cheese.
- A warm beverage. That warm glass of milk mom always offered you before bed is actually a smart choice! Drinking something hot raises your body temperature and helps you fall asleep naturally. If warm milk sounds gross to you, try decaffeinated tea as another choice.
Which foods should I stay away from late at night?
- Avoid spicy, fried, or heavy foods. Studies have shown that eating spicy, fried, or heavy foods during nighttime hours may disturb your sleep. Eating a big snack or meal before bed may also be a mistake. Your body will work hard to digest the food, so it might prevent you from falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Step away from the caffeine. Skip that evening cup of coffee or caffeinated soda with dinner; even a little bit of caffeine can disrupt your sleep. Watch out for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate and some teas.
It’s important to recognize when your body needs more fuel during those late night studying hours.
Don’t feel guilty grabbing a midnight snack; just make sure to pick the one that works for you.
Try to plan ahead and prepare some snacks for those nights when you know you’ll need a pick me up!
To get additional healthy snack ideas, take advantage of the free diet analysis service offered at the Health Center.