Circadian rhythms are processes in our biology that move our 24-hour body clock around light and darkness. They guide our behaviors, including that time we all have at the end of the day where we are relaxing on the couch or unwinding in our own way. After dinner, depending on how late we stay up, there can hit a certain hour where, like moths to the flame, we find ourselves scouring the pantry shelves for chips, cookies, just anything to eat. What’s worse is when you find yourself in the “salty & sweet trap”: first, a salty snack, then you need a sweet snack, etc. Terrible stuff…just terrible.
There can be any number of reasons we snack at night. It might be the association of sitting in front of the TV and needing something to occupy our hands. Or it may be that we didn’t eat a filling dinner. The point is that it can only help to start being self-aware of the pattern and start snacking healthy.
Eating too close before bed can be bad, sometimes. Weight gain can be a concern, but so can heartburn or even insomnia. On the other hand, a body does legitimately need nutrients to keep blood sugar levels stable.
There are some healthy snacks out there that not only promote good health benefits but can also help usher you more effectively into sleep. So instead of just providing one side of the coin or the other, here are tips for if you feel you need to curb snacking and/or starting a healthy snacking habit:
Tips for curbing snacking
- Brush your teeth after dinner – This sometimes works for me. Usually brushing your teeth is something you do right before you go to bed, but if you brush soon after dinner then you play this nice psychological trick on yourself where you think, “Well, surely I don’t want to dirty my teeth and have to re-brush.”
- Drink water with ice – You may have heard of the 8×8 rule: for good health we’re supposed to drink 8 eight ounce glasses a day. Nighttime is a great time to make up lost ground here, but it also provides two benefits that may help in wanting to snack less: drinking water helps you naturally feel more full and, if you put ice in your glass, it gives you something to chew on, making your mouth feel occupied.
*Bonus tip – If you like a good nighttime drink but want something besides water, decaf or herbal tea (or even decaf coffee) are nice to reach for. Instead of creamer and sugar, try honey which promotes melatonin production and can aid sleep. The darker the honey the better to get more nutrients, antioxidants, etc.
- Go to bed earlier – If you work toward slowly easing your bed time earlier then you have less potential to cycle around to getting hungry again. It’s an odds game too: if there is less time between dinner and sleep, then there are less opportunities to snack.
Tips for healthy snacking
- Purge the junk food – This means literally going into your pantry/cabinet/etc and throwing away (or bringing to work) the unhealthy snacks. If they’re gone then there is no temptation. In theory, this leaves you with just healthy snacking choices. Amanda is great at ritually doing this and I do thank her for it, though I curse the idea in the short term (not my cake!).
- Pre-plan your snack – Consider choosing and pre-portioning the exact snack you’ll have later. This control will help keep you out of the realm of mindless snacking.
*Bonus tip – Choose cherries for melatonin, milk and turkey (not together…bleh) for tryptophan, certain cereals for complex carbs (ex. Kashi), or our family favorite of bananas for potassium and magnesium which can serve as muscle relaxants (again another great tool in guiding you to sleep).
- Eat a snack that takes effort – If you choose a snack that makes you work for it then you’ll eat it more slowly and be more likely to feel full and satisfied. Some examples: pistachios (lightly salted and portioned to the serving size), a pomegranate (or any other fruit you have to peel/chop), or cheese on crackers. You can even go hunting for a squirrel in the dark with a bowie knife for a high protein meal that will really put up a chase…just kidding…or am I?
With all that said, I recommend not going to one extreme or the other. If you try to cut out night snacking outright, you may find yourself likely to fall back into bad choices for snacks. Or if you go full force into healthy snacking, you may find yourself burnt out or craving “unhealthy” things even more. Try a combination of a few of the tips, or even some of your own creative devices. I know someone who bought a Kitchen Safe (aff) for themselves which they lock snacks in after certain time of night and only their spouse knows the combination (I can just envision him with a doctor’s stethoscope listening to crack the safe for a few Oreos). But odds are if you are at least aware that you tend to search for grub when the moon is high then you can be more strategic about it.