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Bedtime snacks: Good or bad?

Q. For a healthier you, are bedtime snacks good or bad?

A. Having a snack before bed can either help or hurt sleep, depending on what you eat.

“If you’re really running on empty after dinner and before you crawl between the sheets, choose snacks that won’t add pounds or result in a restless night,” said Patricia Salzer, a registered dietitian and workplace wellness consultant at Univera Healthcare. “Large portions and high-fat foods interfere with falling asleep, spicy foods slow down digestion, and alcohol interferes with deep sleep and interrupts the sleep cycle.”

The stimulant powers of caffeine, found in coffee, tea or chocolate, are obvious no no’s, and take several hours to wear off. But Salzer cautioned that even decaf coffee and tea contain some caffeine.

But rest easy, because not all bedtime snacks are forbidden.

According to Salzer, some can help fill in the nutrition your body still needs for the day. She recommended choosing a small snack with some protein and carbohydrates. And consider incorporating oats, poultry or honey, which are foods high in serotonin, the calming and “feel good” hormone. Bananas and other foods high in potassium can help with sleep.

Salzer listed the following as healthy bedtime snacks:

  • Plain yogurt with a sprinkle of whole grain cereal or granola and a teaspoon of honey.
  • A small piece of fruit and cheese.
  • Whole grain crackers and a tablespoon of peanut butter or some low-fat cheese.
  • Oat cereal (hot or cold) with a banana and low-fat milk.
  • Cottage cheese and fruit.
  • Air-popped popcorn.
  • One ounce of turkey or chicken on a slice of whole grain bread.

If your hunger still isn’t satisfied, find evening activities to fill your time so you avoid mindless snacking in front of the TV. Salzer suggested reading a good book, going for a walk, or occupying your hands by tackling a long-avoided project around the house.

Salzer’s final recommendation also may be the most obvious: “Eat adequately during the day so you won’t be so hungry at night.”

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