Late-night snacking: Is it helping or harming your health?

Midnight munchies are common, and research reveals potential upsides, including improved sleep. Unveil the full story behind nighttime snacking:

 Is your midnight snack actually good for you? (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Is your midnight snack actually good for you?
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

A survey by the International Council on Nutrition Information unveiled that 60% of adults in the United States confess to indulging in snacks after 8:00 p.m. Moreover, a recent scientific review, published in Nutrients journal, highlighted that these snacks contribute to 20% of adult's daily dietary energy intake, according to the Eating Well website.

Though nighttime snacking has its potential pros and cons, practicing mindful habits can help maintain a healthy eating routine:

The health benefits of eating at night

1. Nutrient boost

Late-night snacking offers an opportunity to provide your body with vital nutrients you might have missed during the day. Opt for nutritious, minimally processed foods like Greek yogurt with berries, whole-grain crackers with hummus, or a small serving of mixed nuts. These choices can curb hunger and supply your body with essential vitamins and minerals.

 The food you eat could be impacting your sleep (credit: INGIMAGE)
The food you eat could be impacting your sleep (credit: INGIMAGE)

Eating protein-rich foods before bedtime aids physically active individuals in resting and recovering. Dietician Kelis Connick explains that snacking at night can furnish the body with necessary nutrients, such as protein, crucial for muscle recovery during sleep.

2. Enhanced sleep quality

Consuming a light, well-balanced meal before sleep can enhance your sleep quality by preventing nocturnal awakenings.

A study featured in the ACSM Journal of Health and Fitness in 2018 proposes that a healthy bedtime snack is a viable solution for those grappling with nighttime hunger. Opt for snacks rich in tryptophan, such as nuts or seeds, which promote the production of sleep-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. Dr. Connick adds that foods rich in magnesium or melatonin can contribute to a more restful night's sleep.

3. Stabilized blood sugar

A scientific review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2022 indicates that late-night snacks containing protein can help maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the night. Opt for snacks that blend protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, such as applesauce with nut butter or whole-grain toast with avocado.

The potentially negative impact of late-night snacking

1. Digestive discomfort

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2020) notes that late-night snacking can lead to digestive issues during sleep, such as indigestion and heartburn. To mitigate this, opt for easily digestible snacks like a small bowl of oatmeal or a banana with almond butter.

2. Sleep disruption

Dr. Connick explained that consuming foods that require substantial digestion, such as high-fat or sugary meals, can result in more frequent awakenings during the night.

3. Unintentional weight gain

Late-night snacking often stems from boredom or habit, leading to excessive calorie consumption and unintended weight gain.

"Late-night snacking can contribute to weight gain, particularly when done mindlessly, such as while watching TV or engaging in other distractions," warns Dr. Connick.