Have you ever gotten up from watching Netflix to get ready for bed, only to realize you suddenly had a strong craving for cookies? Just me? Well, if you're a practiced nighttime snacker like myself, then you might be interested to know that when it comes to health, the best bedtime snacks have one thing in common: It's all about that protein, 'bout that protein, so yummy — OK fine, sorry, I'll stop.
Seriously, though, according to the results of a new study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, protein-rich foods are the way to go if you're snacking before bed. Per ScienceDaily, in order to explore the health effects of nighttime snacking, researchers from Florida State University gave their study participants (active young women in their early 20s) samples of cottage cheese containing 30 grams of protein, roughly 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. The researchers found that those who ate the dairy product just 30 minutes before falling asleep showed positive effects in their muscles, metabolism, and overall health. So if you take after 30 Rock's Liz Lemon and her obsession with "night cheese," then you're technically taking good care of your body, according to the results of this study.
But cottage cheese isn't only a winner because of its protein content. According to Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, CSO, a dietitian based in New York City, the tasty snack is also rich in a mineral that can help you drift off. "Calcium is important to aid with sleep, as it has been shown to be necessary to reach deep sleep cycles, and for the brain to release melatonin," she tells Elite Daily in an email. "Cottage cheese is chock full of calcium, making this a perfect bedtime snack."
Since the dairy product is also relatively low in sugar, munching on it before bed will help you avoid a middle-of-the-night sugar spike, Rifkin adds. The dietitian recommends the cottage cheese brand Muuna, as its products are both protein-rich and a great source of tryptophan (aka the amino acid found in some foods, like your Thanksgiving turkey, that make you sleepy after you eat), she explains, which aids as a precursor to melatonin. If you think cottage cheese is too much of a "health food" to make a delicious snack, check out Muuna's pumpkin spice flavor, because dang does it sound tasty.
But for anyone who is lactose intolerant, vegan, or just not a dairy fan, there are plenty of other great options for satisfying your late-night cravings. In addition to snacks like an apple with a slice of cheese or a peach and cottage cheese, Rifkin also recommends eating a banana with nut butter, plain nuts, or popcorn for a bedtime treat.
While some snacks are better for your sleep schedule than others, Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and co-founder of the sleep company Tuck, says it's best not to eat anything too heavy within two hours of your bedtime. "When your digestive system is working at full steam," he tells Elite Daily in an email, "it is quite difficult for the rest of your body to relax, thus making it more difficult to get to sleep in a timely fashion." In other words, try to fill up well before you're winding down for the night, Fish suggests.
But when you have those nights when it's hard to eat dinner at a reasonable hour, definitely make sure you're nourishing your body, even if it is kind of close to bedtime. On nights like that, just try to focus on foods that contain tryptophan, calcium, or even melatonin, Fish recommends. Reach for dairy products, or even a plain banana, and you should be good to go.