By Lindsey Joe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Welcome to our series, “Ask the RDs.” Our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are answering questions about all things nutrition, food, meal planning and more.

Today's question: "What snacks can I eat before bed, if any?"

Hi everyone! Lindsey here. So, you're nighttime hungry or even hangry? That's no bueno before bedtime! Sleep is very important for your overall well-being, and anything that interferes can instantly put you at a disadvantage and lead to sleep deficiency.

But what do you do when you can't hit the hay because your stomach is growling? In order to figure out the best remedy for you, we have to go to the root of the cause!

Why are you hungry?
  • Is it because dinner was lacking something? A less-than-balanced meal can leave you feeling unsatisfied because your body didn't get enough of the nutrition it needs. Here's a super simple approach to making meals more balanced: fill half of your plate with your favorite fruits and/or veggies, a quarter of your plate with whole grains and a quarter of your plate with lean protein. Learn more about MyPlate here.

  • Is it because dinner was early? The body really is like an automobile. Not only do we need fuel, but we need high-quality fuel that is replenished several times throughout the day. For many, an eating frequency of every 3-4 hours is a good rule of thumb. Let's say, for example, you typically eat lunch at noon, dinner at 4:30 p.m. and don't go to bed until 10:00 p.m. See how there's quite a long span of time in between dinner and bedtime? In this case, you might benefit from planning a satisfying snack before you turn the lights out.
  • Is it because you skipped a meal(s) earlier in the day? Less isn't always more when it comes to healthy eating. As I mentioned, the body is at its best when given fuel throughout the day versus just one or two times a day. (Have you ever experienced missing a meal and then being absolutely ravenous after?) Avoid the nighttime hungries by making sure to eat well-balanced meals in the earlier part of your day.

  • Is it because you just want something? I get it. I know what it feels like when you want something even though you know you're not hungry. The issue is that regularly giving into this desire builds an unhealthy eating habit. And the reality is, if you're not hungry, even a healthy snack won't satisfy what's really going on with you. Instead, try asking yourself what is that you need. Perhaps it is rest, relaxation, a good laugh or maybe even a good cry.
Smart bedtime snacks

If you've determined that you need to incorporate an evening snack into your daily routine, try focusing on food pairs that will satisfy you, be easy on your stomach and help promote sleep. Here are good examples:

  • Whole grain cereal + low-fat milk
  • 1/2 nut butter and banana sandwich
  • Low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit
  • 1 serving of cheese on whole grain crackers
  • Nuts with unsweetened, dried fruit
  • Small fruit smoothie
So here's my short answer to "Should I eat before bed?"

A healthy snack is okay if you're eating it for the reasons above. But if your nighttime munchies are more about boredom or just a bad habit, then replace that routine with something positive, like stretching or settling in with a good book. Remember, small changes can lead to big breakthroughs!